WASHINGTON — President Trump's long-promised border wall may never be fully built, but the first test sections of what it could look like will start going up in the next few weeks.
Department of Homeland Security officials staged a live-streamed briefing Thursday to announce the selection of four vendors to construct prototypes — not the real thing — of a barrier that became a rallying cry at virtually every stop on the president's campaign for the White House last year.
In the mundane world of government contracting, the briefing may mark the most fanfare the government has ever mounted for the selection of builders for models of a project that has yet to secure full funding.
Still, Ronald Vitiello, acting deputy commissioner for Customs and Border Protection, said Thursday's announcement, involving only finalists for concrete models, marked a "significant milestone'' toward fulfilling the president's order to bolster border security.
The companies, representing Alabama, Arizona, Mississippi and Texas, won awards valued at up to $500,000 each to build reinforced concrete models of up to 30 feet high and 30 feet long.
Fisher Sand & Gravel, which houses some operations in Tempe but is headquartered in North Dakota, is the company representing Arizona.
“We are extremely excited and grateful for the opportunity to be a part of this important project,” company President Thomas Fisher said in a release Thursday.
Vitiello said construction could begin in a matter of weeks in a stretch along the San Diego border sector. The concrete prototypes are being envisioned as a secondary wall, to be built more than 150 feet inland from a see-through primary border barrier.
In the coming weeks, DHS officials are expected to announce vendors for up to four additional prototypes that will feature materials other than concrete, offering a more transparent barrier.
Following an order to proceed, the concrete vendors have 30 days to complete their projects. Vitiello said the models would then be evaluated for up to 60 days, assessing qualities ranging from aesthetics to durability.
Depending on the assessments, Vitiello said the structures could remain in place, be moved to other locations or be torn down altogether.
"This is the first tangible result of the action planning that has gone on,'' Vitiello said.
While money has been set aside for prototype construction, funding for the actual project remains in elusive.
Mexican officials have vowed that they will not pay for the wall, as Trump promised during the campaign. More recently, Trump threatened a government shutdown if Congress did not agree to fund the project.
The other vendors selected Thursday were: Caddell Construction Co., Montgomery, Ala.; Texas Sterling Construction Co., Houston, Texas; W.G. Yates & Sons Construction Co.; Philadelphia, Miss.
Contributing: Alan Gomez
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