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Bridge Builders Sue NY Thruway Authority

Thursday, February 18, 2021

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Tappan Zee Constructors, the design-build consortium currently working on the $4 billion Gov. Mario Cuomo Bridge, has recently filed a lawsuit against the New York State Thruway Authority seeking more than $961 million.

The lawsuit accuses the Authority of incurring additional costs and time associated with bad weather, a 2016 crane collapse and interference from another design-build team in TZC's performance.

In an emailed statement, TZC wrote, “Our objective in this effort remains reaching a fair and swift resolution with NYSTA, rather than continuing to draw out the claims process, which places an untenable cost burden on our companies and, ultimately, New York taxpayers.

“We are simply seeking compensation owed for our work on a bridge that has been complete, operational, and successfully serving as an essential transportation nexus for New Yorkers for over two years.”

Bridge Project History

The new Cuomo Bridge consists of twin cable-stayed spans, each stretching 3.1 miles total, with a 1,200-foot-long main span. The first of the two new spans opened in August 2017, at which point demolition of the old Tappan Zee began; parts of the old bridge were scuttled in the sea near Long Island to create artificial reefs in 2018. The original Tappan Zee Bridge was a 3-mile-long cantilever bridge opened in 1955.

The first of the new spans was converted to handle westbound traffic only after the newer, eastbound span opened to traffic; traffic had been traveling in both directions on the one span for the past year.

The Tappan Zee project has been touted as the largest bridge construction job in the state’s history and managed to remain largely on schedule and on budget. According to the New York State Thruway Authority, which has overseen the project, the construction required 14 miles of main span cables, 300,000 cubic yards of concrete and 200 million pounds of American-made steel.

The design-build team behind the bridge, Tappan Zee Constructors, includes Fluor, American Bridge, Granite Construction, Traylor Bros., HDR, Buckland & Taylor, URS and GZA.

In mid-September 2018, the opening of the bridge’s second span was delayed after a piece of the old Tappan Zee Bridge became unstable and threatened to fall. At the time, the Tappan Zee was being disassembled. Later that same month, after the opening of the second span was delayed twice, a paper trail revealed that Tappan Zee Constructors was concerned about whether the job could be completed on time, even after the opening date was pushed from Aug. 24 to Sept. 7.

By December, a number of steel bolts used in the construction of the Mario Cuomo Bridge broke apart during the building process, according to reports. There are also allegations that some in leadership positions tried to cover up the issue.

Previous Lawsuit

In November 2019, TZC filed a lawsuit against the NY Thruway Authority. In the lawsuit, TZC wanted the judge to have the Authority hand over internal records that would validate its claim that TZC is still owed $900 million in extra costs accrued during construction.

According to the Times Herald-Record, court records indicate that both entities are at odds over finances. Additionally, the construction group alleged that the Authority was illegally blocking access to a number of budget documents associated with the project.

In turn, however, the Authority accused the consortium of pushing the allegations as a move to better its own negotiation position. At the time, both entities were attempting to figure out who was responsible for what in terms of cost.

“The project remains within its $3.98 billion budget and the claim filed by the contractor is obviously nothing more than an ineffective negotiating tactic,” said Authority spokesperson Jennifer Givner.

The suit also claimed that the documents in question were first requested in 2018. According to Albany Business Review, TZC is seeking contingency budget reports; correspondence between the Thruway Authority and the governor’s office; and written agreements with consulting firm Pegasus-Global Holdings Inc., as well as the chair of its board of directors.

Attorneys working on behalf of TZC also reportedly filed the records request in April 2018. The lawsuit claims that the subsequent delays and unclear responses violated the Freedom of Information Law.

Though both bridge spans were currently open to traffic at the time, construction was reportedly focused on a path for pedestrians and cyclists. The underwater foundations of the old bridge were also being dismantled.

In March of last year, TZC’s request was denied.

Current Lawsuit

While not a part of the new lawsuit, TZC claims that the NY Thruway Authority hired engineering firm HNTB to oversee the Gov. Mario Cuomo Bridge on its behalf. As a hired firm, HNTB was tasked with reviewing and approving all TZC’s project decisions.

However, TZC claims that the extensive reviews and approvals resulted in negatively affecting productivity. The claims are in addition to other unapproved change orders related to weather delays and the crane collapse, which ultimately forced the team to accelerate work and tack on additional costs.

“What should have been a collaborative design review process, with minimal design checks by NYSTA and its consultants in order to deliver the design and build the Project on schedule as indicated in TZC’s proposal, became a long, drawn-out, more costly, and bureaucratic design review process,” the lawsuit reads.

In addition to its case against the Authority, TZC has also filed a suit against demolition contractor Foothills Bridge Co. for over $40 million. In the lawsuit, TZC accuses the contractor of negligence in its design and preparation of plans for the demolition of the main span of the Tappan Zee bridge in 2018. Because demolition efforts questioned the integrity of the bridge, TZC was forced to again incur the extra costs.

Sam Choy, TZC project executive and project manager wrote in a letter to the Authority, “Ignoring debts due does not make them go away. Interest accrues and the behavior drives the most experienced companies away from doing business with the State.”

Thruway officials have declined to comment on specific claims made in the lawsuit, which was filed in the New York State Court of Claims.


Tagged categories: Bridges; Bridges; Completed projects; Laws and litigation; Lawsuits; NA; North America; Program/Project Management; Project Management

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