Fourteen construction companies are on the short list of firms poised to bid for contracts to begin building California's high-speed rail system in the Fresno area later this year.

The list was revealed by California High-Speed Rail Authority CEO Roelof van Ark at the authority board's monthly meeting Thursday in Sacramento.

Van Ark said the companies have formed into five teams that the authority has qualified to compete for a contract on a stretch of the line through Fresno, from the San Joaquin River at the north end to American Avenue at the south end. The contract is expected to be worth $1.5 billion to $2 billion.

The builder teams are:

* California Backbone Builders, a consortium of two Spanish construction firms -- Ferrovial Agroman and Acciona.

* California High-Speed Rail Partners, composed of Fluor Corp. of Texas, Swedish-based Skanska, and PCL Constructors of Canada.

* California High-Speed Ventures, made up of Kiewit Corp. of Nebraska, Granite Construction of Watsonville, and Comsa EMTE of Spain.

* A joint venture of Dragados SA of Spain, Denver-based Flatiron Construction Corp., and Shimmick Construction of Oakland.

* Tutor Perini Corp. of Sylmar, Zachry Construction of Texas and Pasadena-based Parsons Corp.

The project includes building 12 street overcrossings or underpasses, two elevated viaducts, a tunnel and a bridge across the San Joaquin River. Laying the tracks will be done later under a separate contract.

While the authority has qualified the teams in a screening process, significant hurdles remain, and it could be months before the companies get a chance to submit bids.

The state Legislature has yet to approve nearly $3 billion in bond funds from Proposition 1A, a 2008 bond measure -- no sure thing, given a barrage of criticism of the authority's latest business plan by the state's legislative analyst, auditor and a peer review group appointed by the legislature.

Final environmental documents for two sections of rail routes through the Valley -- from Merced to Fresno and Fresno to Bakersfield -- must also be approved before the authority can seek bids. Van Ark said the authority's board will consider the environmental reports for Merced-Fresno in early May, but reports for Fresno-Bakersfield are going through more revisions.

Van Ark said appraisers will likely begin meeting with property owners in the Fresno area in late February and early March to explain how the authority plans to buy the right of way it needs to lay tracks through the city.

The route in Fresno generally follows the Union Pacific Railroad tracks near Highway 99 from the San Joaquin River through downtown, before curving south to follow the Burlington Northern Santa Fe freight tracks south of the city.

The reporter can be reached at or (559) 441-6319.