It wasn’t the splash Chris Ward was hoping Dragados would make in New York, a state where the Madrid-based construction company had aimed its recently-hatched aspirations at dramatically growing in the U.S.
In recent weeks, the firm had to withdraw late in the months-long bidding process to build one of the biggest infrastructure projects in the country, a $5 billion dollar replacement for the Tappan Zee Bridge in Westchester – a project that has triggered outcry for the $14 round trip toll state officials say the new bridge would have to charge, a dramatic increase over the current $5 fee.
“We did not bid on the Tappen Zee, which was a disappointing setback,” Mr. Ward, a former top New York executive of the Port Authority who joined Dragados as a top U.S. executive earlier this year, said in a conversation with The Commercial Observer.
Dragados had partnered with four other contractors, Flatiron Constructors, Samsung C&T, E&C Americas and Yonkers Contracting Company to form a joint venture the group called Hudson River Bridge Constructors to go after the Tappan Zee project.
The venture was one of four responses to the bid, a field that included several of the biggest construction companies in the world including Skanska, Tutor Perini and Kiewit.
“At the last moment when the bid was due, Flatiron, our partner was unable to submit the necessary financial qualifications,” Mr. Ward said.
Now the bidding will continue without Dragados and its partners.
Mr. Ward stepped down as executive director of the Port Authority last year, after three years at the sprawling bi-state agency. He is credited with helping to sort out the redevelopment of the World Trade Center site, restoring revised budgets and timelines for major projects there, implementing innovative construction techniques to complete major portions of the site’s memorial in time for the 10th anniversary of 9/11 and breaking an impasse with WTC developer Larry Silverstein.
When Mr. Ward joined Dragados, the company, which has a large international presence but is not yet among the U.S.’s largest contractor and construction managers, appeared to offer him the perfect platform for his credentials as both a construction expert and a skilled operator within government’s infrastructure circles. In a conversation with The CO at the beginning of the year shortly after his appointment at the firm, Mr. Ward said that he was aiming to help the company compete for massive contracts around the country such as highway and dam construction projects.
The Tappan Zee Bridge was exactly the kind of big-name, big-money assignment the firm appeared to be looking for to keep buildings its brand and pipeline of business in the U.S.
Mr. Ward said he was now turning his focus to the Brent Spence Bridge in Cincinnati, Ohio, a congested and aging bridge that Ohio officials are considering either replacing or renovating. Among the proposals for the Brent Spence Bridge is that it be done as a public private partnership, a structure in which a private party bears either part or all of the cost of building the bridge and reaps returns on the investment by collecting all or some of its toll revenue. Mr. Ward said Dragados has focused on these types of ventures in which civil infrastructure and contruction is handed to the private sector to guard governments against the risk of cost overruns.
The company, he said, is owned by the parent Grupo ACS, which has separate investment arms capable of raising the billions of dollars to make Dragados a player in cost-sharing construction deals between the private sector and the government.
“It’s an ideal opportunity for Dragados because we have an investment arm in ACS our parent company,” Mr. Ward said.