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$500K Paid for Unwanted Bridge Designs

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

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A famous architect was paid a half-million dollars for unsolicited design ideas for two large bridge projects, a new report says.

Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava received $500,000 from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey for his designs for the Bayonne and Goethals Bridges., also known as The Record, reportedly obtained confidential agency documents and interviewed current and former Port Authority officials who said the agency had never requested and couldn't use the designs.

Goethals Bridge
Port Authority of New York and New Jersey

A new report says famed architect Santiago Calatrava was paid $500,000 by the Port Authority for unsolicited designs for the Goethals (shown here) and Bayonne Bridges. Goethals Bridge is the Port Authority's first new bridge since 1931.

The current bridge projects haven't incorporated any elements of Calatrava's designs, reports, and the payment was basically just for the right to view Calatrava's plans and compare them to the Port Authority's own designs.

Lawsuit Fear

Agency officials told the newspaper that concerns about a lack of transparency, potential lawsuits and investigations, and bad publicity led to the decision to pay Calatrava $500,000—the maximum amount the Port Authority can spend without a public vote by its governor-appointed commissioners.

The Calatrava plans have never been released, and the famed architect was never linked to the projects until now, according to the newspaper.

The two bridges connect Staten Island and New Jersey. The Goethals Bridge is the first new bridge by the Port Authority since 1931 and the first true private-public partnership surface transportation project in the Northeast Region.

Calatrava designed the $4 billion transportation hub being built at the World Trade Center.

'Forced' Meetings

The newspaper says that two Port Authority commissioners, David Steiner and Anthony Sartor, coerced the agency into paying for Calatrava's designs for the Bayonne and Goethals Bridges in 2012.

Sartor has since resigned, according to the newspaper.

Throughout 2011, says the commissioners advocated for Calatrava's designs, and Steiner even hand-delivered plans for the Goethals Bridge to agency staff.

"The meetings were basically forced on the staff," one official told, adding that private presentations were held at Calatrava's Park Avenue house.

Engineers and lawyers rejected the designs as "unworkable" and "unneeded," according to the newspaper's report. says neither commissioner has responded to questions about the Calatrava designs.

Peter Zipf, the Port Authority's chief engineer, defended the payment, telling the newspaper: "It gave us a chance to think about our own designs and decide, 'We don't agree with you, and we're moving forward with our program."

Santiago Calatrava
Wikimedia Commons / ???????? Forgemind ArchiMedia

Calatrava, who has faced multiple lawsuits over flawed designs in recent years, reportedly wanted $3 million from the Port Authority for his designs.

Zipf requested the authorization to make the payment, which was approved by executive director Pat Foye.

Numerous Legal Disputes

Calatrava has recently faced legal disputes over alleged design issues on other projects. Earlier this year, reports indicated plans to sue him over an opera house he designed in Valencia, Spain. The opera house had to be closed after sections of the roof fell off in high winds.

Another case against the architect involves a Spanish winery owner, who argues that Calatrava owes him $2 million to hire a new architect to fix a perpetually leaky roof.

In June 2013, a court in Oviedo, Spain, ordered Calatrava to pay about $4.3 million due to roof problems and a partial collapse in the Palacio de Congresos, which was completed in 2011.

Pushing to Pitch

Steiner and Sartor allegedly pushed agency officials to consider the unsolicted designs and help provide Calatrava with insider information to pitch the plans.

The agency decided to replace the Goethals Bridge with a $1.5 billion truss-style bridge with three lanes in each direction and a center section for future rail service. However, Calatrava proposed a modern arch bridge similar to a design the Port Authority had already rejected in 2008.

David Samson, then the Port Authority chairman, asked the agency's commissioners to think about Calatrava's plan, but engineers determined the design to be flawed, adding that it would delay the project and raise its cost by $235 million, reported.

Samson recently resigned from his position, amid federal investigations about conflicts of interest at the Port Authority and ongoing media scrutiny over an allegedly poltically motivated scheme to create traffic jams by closing the George Washington Bridge.

2nd Bridge Denied

After the agency rejected Calatrava's designs for the Goethals Bridge, Steiner started pushing for the architect's designs for the Bayonne Bridge, reported.

Bayonne Bridge
Port Authority of New York and New Jersey

Calatrava's office told that the architect was asked "to prepare and deliver a design feasibility study on two bridges ... and his firm was compensated for its time." The Bayonne Bridge (shown here) is being raised by 64 feet to accomodate larger ships.

The agency plans to raise the Bayonne Bridge by 64 feet so that larger ships can fit underneath it. According to, Calatrava's unused design split the roadway, placing the lanes outside of each side of the arch.

In a confidential memo from agency attorneys to Samson, the attorneys said Caltrava's design would tack $100 million on to the $792 million project cost.

The memo also reportedly said the design would "generate risks that seriously threaten to undermine the viability" of the project, and the attorneys warned that "there should be no further communications or review of submissions by Calatrava from this point forward."

Steiner reportedly passed the memo along to Calatrava, who responded that it was "quite troublesome that such a critical review has been made of our work without the courtesy of allowing us to either see the scheme against which we are being measured nor be granted access to even the most basic of information."

Months of Negotiating

Commissioners reportedly held a closed-door meeting in 2011 to discuss whether to pay Calatrava and decided on the $500,000 payment, partially to protect the agency from any lawsuits from Calatrava.

However, reported that Calatrava wanted nearly $3 million and spent months negotiating with the Port Authority. He finally agreed to the $500,000 in July 2012, but retained all copyright and intellectual property rights to the plans.

Calatrava's office told that the architect was asked "to prepare and deliver a design feasibility study on two bridges ... which included conceptual designs for illustrative purposes."

"Santiago Calatrava did not submit proposals to build either of the two bridges, which was never in the scope of this project," the spokesman said.

"He presented his study at the Port Authority, and his firm was compensated for its time."


Tagged categories: Bridges; Contracts; Department of Transportation (DOT); Design; Ethics; Program/Project Management; Santiago Calatrava; Transportation

Comment from Jeff Longmore, (5/1/2014, 10:17 AM)

On the face of it this is a ludicrous situation. I'm working on a design for a battery powered semi-submersible battleship for the US Navy - they never asked for it and may not use it but I think it's worth about a million dollars for them to take a look at...

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