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State Levies $3M in Damages for Bridge Fire

Monday, November 7, 2016

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The contracting firm that took responsibility for the fire that closed Pittsburgh’s Liberty Bridge for more than three weeks in September is receiving a bill for millions of dollars in penalties from the state transportation agency.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) is asking for $3,033,200 in liquidated damages from the Joseph B. Fay Co. of Tarentum, PA, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.

This figure is far and away the highest penalty levied against contractors in the agency’s District 11 region, PennDOT District Executive Dan Cessna said.

As the Tribune-Review reported, since 2003 a combined total of only $407,900 has been charged to contractors whose construction projects encountered unplanned bridge and road closures. The figure spans three counties and more than 50 contracts, Cessna noted.

Liberty Bridge after fire
Technology Publishing Co.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation has assessed $3,033,200 in liquidated damages against contractor Joseph B. Fay Co. for the bridge and road closures resulting from a Sept. 2 fire on its Liberty Bridge rehabilitation project.

According to a local news station, the figure could have reached $5 million, but the actual penalty was determined to be lower based on elements related to the bridge closure, as well as the terms of Fay’s agreement with PennDOT.

The damages will be deducted from the state’s payment to Fay.

24-Day Closure

The Liberty Bridge was closed to traffic Sept. 2 when plastic ventilation piping was accidentally ignited by a spark from a worker’s blowtorch and flames spread to a containment tarp.

The heat from the fire, which burned for about 30 minutes before fire crews had it fully extinguished, caused a 30-foot compression chord to buckle. It reportedly bent about six inches out of place and compressed by one and five-eighths inches.

Because the damaged chord sat at a critical weight-bearing spot on the bridge, the structure’s load-carrying capability was compromised, putting the structure at risk of immediate collapse.

The bridge, which carries an average of 55,000 vehicles each day, was closed for 24 days while efforts to repair the damaged truss, which included moving the steel chord back into place and reinforcing it, were underway.

The bridge reopened to traffic under a vehicle weight restriction on Sept. 27, then had the weight limit restored to its pre-fire limits on Sept. 30.

Assessing Liquidated Damages

“Under the terms of their contract, we can assess ‘liquidated damages’ when motorists are denied use of the road or bridge during a project, and that is what the department did here,” PennDOT spokesman Steve Cowan told the Post-Gazette.

The department’s contract with Fay reportedly called for fines of $8,400 an hour—about $201,000 per day—for each day the bridge remains closed. The contractor faced an additional $12,000-a-day fine for the related closure of an access ramp to the bridge.

Cowan explained that the agency assessed various situations during the closure at different rates, which resulted in a lower penalty.

“There were different RULD (Road User’s Liquidated Damage) amounts spelled out in the contract,” Cowan stated. “For instance, weekends were assessed at $79,800. Overnights were assessed at $50,000 [from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m.]. From 5 a.m. to 8 p.m., those hours were charged at $8,400 per hour. Also, there were four days the bridge was open at a reduced posting at $18,200. The total comes to $3,033,200.”

Although Fay has not commented on the announcement of damages, in a statement to the Tribune-Review representatives called the liquidated damages a “contractual matter.”

“We and PennDOT will reach a final figure that's in alignment with the conditions of the contract and considering the hard work of our employees and subcontractors to put the project back on schedule,” they said.

Contractor Responsible for Costs

The 88-year-old Liberty Bridge is a 26-span, 2,663-foot-long cantilever viaduct structure over the Monongahela River. The bridge has been undergoing an $85 million rehabilitation that includes cleaning and recoating of all structural steel surfaces on the bridge and approaches.

Joseph B. Fay was awarded the contract in October 2015, and work began in the spring.

In addition to the liquidated damages, the contractor is also responsible for paying to bring in the team of experts to consult on the structural repairs, as well as for the actual repairs.

In October, city fire officials cited Fay for failing to have the proper permits to do “hot work” in the city at the time of the incident. The firm could face up to $1,000 in fines over the permit issue.

Additionally, the incident is under investigation by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

In September, Fay indicated that, despite the expense, safety remains its top priority.

The project is slated to wrap up in 2017.



Tagged categories: Accidents; Bridges; Containment; DOT; Fire; Government contracts; Health & Safety; Joseph B. Fay Co.; North America; Safety; Steel

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