Shortlist for Panama’s $1.2bn “fourth bridge” shrinks to four

The shortlist of consortiums bidding to design and build the fourth bridge over the Panama Canal has been reduced from six to four and the date for submissions has been put back from 11 August to 5 September.

The 1,2km cable-stayed main bridge will be 50m-wide and carry six lanes for vehicles and two for the trains of the future Metro Line 3. It will be built north of the Bridge of the Americas, near the Balboa port installations, and will connect Panama City to its western suburbs.

The cost of the works, including about 6km of highway has been estimated at between $800m and $1.2bn.

A consortium led by Brazilian contractor Odebrecht was asked to withdraw at the end of last year. This was one of a number of big infrastructure projects in Latin American that the company lost as part of the fall-out from the immense Lava Jato corruption scandal. The company announced its decision in January.

The second team to drop out was led by Korean contractor Hyundai and Spain’s Sacyr. The Panamanian Ministry of Public works confirmed the decision at the weekend.

A rendering of the fourth bridge, with the Bridge of the Americas in the background (TY Lin)

The Madrid-based contractor told Panama’s La Prensa that it was unable to bid owing to its success in winning other projects in the region. A spokesperson said: "In the past two years we have won two important bridge in Colombia and we are working on motorways in Colombia, Chile and Italy that will also require large bridges. The fourth bridge would need our best team, which unfortunately we cannot now spare from these other projects."

The four teams still in the race are led by:

  • Spanish infrastructure contractor Dragados’ Panamanian subsidiary
  • Astaldi of Italy and Daelim of Korea
  • China Communication Construction Company and its China Harbour Engineering subsidiary
  • China State Construction Engineering Corporation and China Railways Group.

All the Chinese companies are state-owned enterprises.

The Panamanian Society of Engineers and Architects has criticised the decision to bundle the design and construction contracts together, arguing that spitting them would have given better value for money.  

The programme management contract was awarded to San Francisco-based consultant TY Lin International in April 2016.

Funding is being arranged by Goldman Sachs. It is likely that the work will be financed by debt taken on by the National Highways Company repaid using toll income.

Top image: President Juan Carlos Varela Rodríguez (third from left) is briefed on the fourth bridge (Government of Panama)

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