Taoyuan International Airport Corp (TIAC) chairman Wang Ming-de (王明德) on Sunday last week said that a design change would be needed to attract bids on the main building of its planned Terminal 3, according to a Central News Agency report, because no contractor would submit a tender on a project with such a strange shape and difficult construction. Earlier this year the Executive Yuan agreed to increase the construction budget by NT$4.2 billion (US$135.04 million) to NT$78.9 billion, leaving little room to adjust the budget further.
Terminal 3 would be the nation’s single largest building constructed for public use in almost 50 years.
In 2015, TIAC opened international bidding on the project, and the design contract was won by the British architectural firm Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners, an internationally renowned team led by Richard Rogers, who has been awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize, the highest honor in architecture.
In Taiwan, the British firm is famous for its design of the large aluminum canopy over the Kaohsiung Central Park MRT Station.
With the design being developed by such a world-famous team, winning the bid and completing the construction would put the contractor on the map. However, no company dares to bid on the Terminal 3 project for the same reason that the Tamkang Bridge (淡江大橋) project failed to attract a bidder until the construction budget was increased many times.
On construction projects, the higher in the company hierarchy someone is, the easier it is to make money, but the closer to the construction someone is — on-site supervisors, building contractors, workers — the harder the work and the greater the risk.
A responsible designer and project planner considers a construction site’s location and the skill of the construction workers, conceiving a design that matches that context.
Here are four recommendations for attracting bidders and preventing contractors from going bankrupt midway through a project:
First, the government should tighten the requirements for serving on a procurement evaluation committee and train committee members how to match the procurement process to the size of the tender. They should receive remuneration commensurate with their expertise and be held legally responsible for the outcome. When power and accountability are in balance, experts are more willing to evaluate or review large contracts.
Second, some projects work well as turnkey contracts, where a single team designs, oversees and constructs the project. Team sections share the responsibility and turn the plans into a feasible construction, instead of becoming stuck in the present scenario, in which the designers, after turning over the construction drawings and receiving their fee, pass responsibility for the project’s construction on to the contractor and the owner.
The winning construction company is most unfortunate, as it must handle any construction difficulties while managing the pressure of completing construction before the deadline.
The owner is also to be pitied, as any leaks or other problems after construction will be sharply criticized and must be resolved by them. They will need to clean up the mess, while the architects and the design team have already taken the money and left.
Third, the public tender announcement should say that the winning bidder will receive a bonus for completing construction ahead of schedule.
In 2007, the MacArthur Maze, a large freeway interchange connecting Interstate 80 with the San Francisco Bay Area, was damaged by fire after a tanker truck flipped over. A contract to repair the damage within 51 days was won with a bid of US$876,075.
The winning contractor deployed 300 people to work around the clock and the project was completed in just 18 days, bringing the bidder a US$5 million bonus for early completion.
Compared with the economic effects of the collapse — a toll reaching into the tens of millions of US dollars — the US$5 million bonus was a no-brainer.
Fourth, the government should establish national construction teams, such as the previously state-owned RSEA Engineering Corp or BES Engineering Corp, so that major construction projects with engineering complexities that have failed to attract bidders several times can be rescued.
Lai Ming-huang is an engineer, with a doctorate in engineering from National Cheng Kung University.
Translated by Chang Ho-ming
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