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Public Eye on FIGG for Design Issues, CTDOT

Friday, March 27, 2020

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Once again, engineering company FIGG Bridge Group has been brought into the focus regarding its infrastructure design, construction engineering and inspection services.

One issue involves FIGG’s designs for the $1 billion Ship Channel Bridge in Houston, while the other involves a controversy between the Connecticut State Employees Association/Service Employees International Union Local 2001 and the Connecticut Department of Transportation.

Ship Channel Bridge Issues

In January, the Harris County Toll Road Authority announced earlier this month that it would be temporarily halting construction on the Sam Houston Tollway Ship Channel Bridge replacement project in order to review a section on the main pylons of the cable-stayed portion design.

According to reports, FIGG is the engineer of record for the project and will be given the opportunity to redesign the curved portions of the pylon legs.

Although HCTRA reported that it was confident about the work going into the replacement project, the agency decided to hire independent consultant COWI North America, Inc. (New York) to conduct an independent review of the engineering designs submitted by FIGG.

This is not an unusual occurrence for FIGG, as the company was previously required by the Florida Department of Transportation to retain an independent engineering firm to review its design of the FIU pedestrian bridge in Miami, which collapsed in March 2018. However, FIGG still disputes that the collapse of the Florida bridge wasn’t related to the design.

Regardless, FIGG was placed under scrutiny in November, when the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) stopped construction on the $803 million replacement of the Harbor Bridge in Corpus Christi, Texas, so that the company’s designs could again be reviewed.

By the end of January, TxDOT announced its request to joint venture Flatiron-Dragados LLC that FIGG be taken off the project and replaced as a result of National Transportation Safety Board’s opinions of the company regarding the FIU bridge collapse.

Ship Channel Bridge Design Review Results

Earlier this month, COWI reported that it found 21 areas of “significant concern” regarding the analysis and structural check of the Ship Channel Bridge.

The recommendations of COWI include:

  • Making plan revisions for components not yet constructed;
  • Undertaking corrective work for some components already constructed;
  • Undertaking additional investigations into whether the potential consequences of leaving certain already constructed components as-is would be acceptable even though this review has identified that they do not conform to the Project standards; and
  • Requesting the designer to validate the bridge design accounting for current information.

More specifically, the report cites lack of capacity required for the pylon curved leg regions, that cross-tie arrangements aren’t to American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials- Load and Resistance Factor Design requirements, and that additional reinforcements are needed on certain pylon legs and access door openings, among other issues.

On the report, FIGG stated, “Reviews are common in the bridge engineering profession and it is typical for engineering analyses from two companies to have differences. It was fully expected that there would be some comments to address. FIGG looks forward to the next stage of this process where all the engineering companies on the design team will be able to collaborate in reviewing any comments.

"We are pleased to work with HCTRA, their review consultant, the other design engineering companies, and the contractor to provide a final bridge that is a point of function and pride within the community."

Moving forward, the COWI recommends that the HCTRA’s Ship Channel Bridge design team (including FIGG) be authorized to work together while under contract to Harris Country to resolve the issues identified in its report.

During the joint effort, the team shall decide on what revision will be made to portions of the bridge not yet constructed, corrections needed to already constructed portions, decided what can be left as-is and ensure FIGG validates its bridge design.

Union & CTDOT Controversy

Adding to FIGG’s operation struggles, it has been pulled into yet another controversy, this time between the CSEA/SEIU Local 2001 and CTDOT.

In advocacy of Connecticut House Bill No. 5261—legislation requiring engineers employed by CTDOT on a full-time basis to inspect certain highway and bridge construction projects—the CSEA/SEIU Local 2001 has been distributing a flyer featuring the FIU collapse that references FIGG's role in the project.

The distributed media calls the attention to the state’s judgment, as CTDOT recently awarded FIGG a two-year contract for the construction engineering and inspection of the $46 million Arrigoni Bride rehabilitation project.

Other work on the project includes quality assurance and verification for methods and materials planned to be used on the project meet CTDOT specifications.

Regarding the flyer, a DOT spokesperson pointed out that FIGG’s role in the CTDOT Arrigoni project and other CT-based projects is not that of a designer and therefore shouldn’t be used as a "fearmongering" effort in getting the proposed legislation passed.

However, with or without the scare tactic, CDOT Commissioner Joseph Giulietti issued a written testimony to Connecticut’s transportation committee, writing that the legislation was unnecessary because under current state and federal laws, CTDOT transportation engineers already have the responsibility of signing off on agency projects.

Also pointed out in an analysis regarding the legislation, the CTDOT could have saved a total of $324.7 million between 2016-18, by using only state employees for construction engineering and inspection services.

FIGG has not responded to reporters’ request for comment regarding the flyer issue.


Tagged categories: Asia Pacific; Bridges; Bridges; Designers; EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); Engineers; Health and safety; Industrial design; Infrastructure; Infrastructure; Inspection; Latin America; North America; Ongoing projects; Project Management; Quality Control; Z-Continents

Comment from Mark Taylor, (3/27/2020, 9:09 AM)

FIGG = The Bad News Bears of bridge design.

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