Concerned about delays in 13 of the county's top 20 highway projects, the Orange County Transportation Commission awarded a $249,171 contract Monday to a unit of Irvine-based Fluor Corp. to assist beleaguered, short-staffed Caltrans.
Fluor Daniel, in a joint venture with the engineering firm of Parsons, Brinkerhoff Quade & Douglas Inc., will study ways of improving Caltrans' project delivery schedules.
Caltrans officials previously welcomed OCTC's plan to provide oversight assistance, saying delays have been caused partly by a lack of personnel. The $1 billion widening of the Santa Ana Freeway and reconstruction of that freeway's interchange with the Costa Mesa Freeway are among the delayed projects.
Meanwhile, Lee M. Vandevort, scheduling consultant for Newport Beach-based Project Dimensions Inc., said Monday his firm lost out on the contract because the commission is "politically biased" toward big engineering companies such as Fluor and runner-up Boyle Engineering.
OCTC officials disagreed and told Vandevort that the weaknesses in his firm's bid would be explained to him later.
After the meeting, Vandevort said the commission has "built-in institutional favoritism" toward certain firms but added he did not mean to "insinuate" that commissioners are influenced by campaign contributions.
Supervisor Roger R. Stanton, an OCTC member, abstained during the contract vote Monday because Fluor has contributed to his campaign fund.
Vandevort said his concern was that OCTC has had a longstanding relationship with big engineering firms. He pulled out a copy of OCTC's annual "report to the people," which lists many of the firms as "co-publishers" because they helped pay for the publication.
The selection was unrelated to the list of "co-publishers," OCTC Executive Director Stan Oftelie said. Bidders were ranked according to points awarded by what Oftelie termed an independent panel of technical experts, he said.