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Sacramento, CA – The California’s High-Speed Rail Authority Board of Directors today voted to approve a $985 million contract with a group of builders based out of Southern California. A total of five bids were submitted, and the group’s bid was the lowest by $100 million. However, the Associated Press reports that the consortium’s bid received the lowest technical score for safety and design quality. The contract from California-based Tutor Perini-Zachry-Parsons joint venture was unanimously approved by a vote of 6-0.

The AP reports the selection has been criticized because the authority changed its rules for selecting a company after the process was made public, allowing the cheapest bid to be selected even though it had the lowest technical rating for safety and design quality.

“The questions really boil down to, can the successful bidder do the job, and will they do it within the confines of the contract as contemplated by the authority,” said board member Jim Hartnett. “The questions that I had were answered to my satisfaction.”

At the meeting, high-speed rail opponents questioned the possibility of cost overruns and the financial health of the firm. The company’s Chief Executive Officer, Ron Tutor, told reporters the criticisms of his firm are “all nonsense” fanned by the media “to create controversy that doesn’t exist.”

High-speed rail officials say the bids were kept in sealed envelopes while the other criteria were weighed. Those criteria included safety measures, engineering, scheduling, design quality, project approach and solutions to possible construction problems.

The authority’s attorney, Tom Fellenz, told board members Thursday that “the integrity of the process was pristine.”

The AP reports the competing firms will be paid for their bids which will allow the rail authority to keep the engineering and design work in those proposals. The contract is for the first 29 miles of track in the Central Valley. Construction is now scheduled to begin by late summer.

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