Contractors struggle to complete bridge before Davis leaves office

Contractors, construction workers and California transportation department officials are scrambling to finish the $225 million Carquinez Bridge by Nov. 8. Originally slated to be finished by Nov. 15, the project’s deadline was moved up a week so outgoing Gov. Gray Davis could cut the ribbon before he leaves office.

Critics are calling it an expensive goodbye present the taxpayers will pay for. Over the past two weekends more than a dozen construction workers have been called out to do overtime work to help finish the electrical labor and complete bridge railings. Last week the state gave bridge contractors a change order number for which to bill all overtime expenses.

“They’re literally spending tens of thousands of dollars on overtime they don’t have,” an unnamed contractor told the San Francisco Chronicle. “We’re really trying to cram a month’s worth of work into three weeks.”

Nov. 15 is the day the recall will be certified and is also likely to be the day Governor-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger will be sworn in.

Kena Hudson, public affairs chief for the District Four Caltrans office, released a statement Oct. 16 saying the change in completion date was “dictated by the construction schedule” and that politics did not play a role in the date change. Hudson’s statement, however, conflicted with a press statement from former California Transportation Commissioner James Kellogg, who admitted he urged Davis to move the ceremony up a week. Kellogg told reporters Davis should be at the ribbon ceremony because he had done so much for organized labor and transportation.

The new completion date isn’t just a problem for contractors. The nearby town of Crockett had already planned a parade and fireworks display for Nov. 15, and had minted a special commemorative coin to mark the occasion. Now planners are struggling to reschedule bands for the parade and get new permits for the fireworks display. As for the commemorative coin, it already bears the wrong date.

Hudson said the fuss over the change in the schedule is something that should be forgotten, and that people should be celebrating that the bridge is opening sooner.

Planners, however, are also trying to figure out how they are going to get Gov. Davis’s parade convoy from the bridge to Crockett for the celebration. Crossing the bridge shouldn’t be a problem, because the bridge will be completed, but getting to Crockett might prove difficult because the off-ramp won’t be.