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FDOT Awards Skanska $81M Contract

Thursday, October 7, 2021

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Despite facing nearly 1,000 pending lawsuits alleging barge-related damages, Skanska was recently awarded an $81.7 million design-build contract by the Florida Department of Transportation for an interstate project near Tampa, Florida.

According to a press release issued by Skanska, the reconstruction of Big Bend Road at the Interstate 75 interchange in Hillsborough County is slated to begin in August of next year and reach completion by the summer of 2024.

Bridge vs. Barge Background

In anticipation that Hurricane Sally would make landfall some 200 miles west of Pensacola, Skanska hadn’t planned to move its construction equipment but told Engineering News-Record that it had made all appropriate pre-storm preparations. However, when Hurricane Sally unexpectedly changed her course in the final hours of approaching land, it was too late to take additional action.

As a result, the Category 2 hurricane landed just 30 miles west of the Pensacola Bay Bridge (also known as the Three Mile Bridge) replacement project site, causing the dislodge of 27 barges, among other construction equipment.

Monsteroftech, CC-BY-SA-4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Despite facing nearly 1,000 pending lawsuits alleging barge-related damages, Skanska was recently awarded an $81.7 million design-build contract by the Florida Department of Transportation for an interstate project near Tampa, Florida.

One of the worst impacts, Pensacola News Journal wrote at the time, was a crane that passed under the Three Mile Bridge, smashing through the surface of the road from beneath, destroying the span. While the structure was closed immediately following the barge impact, it was reported that the bridge suffered a second impact the following day. Upon preliminary damage assessments, FDOT determined that at least five of the 105 spans were irreparable and would have to be reconstructed.

The Garcon Point Bridge was also affected by a dislodged barge and was also closed. While the Pensacola Bay Bridge remained closed for repairs, Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered the suspension of tolls on Garcon Point until traffic was fully open on Pensacola.

A few days after an initial overview of the losses, inspectors discovered that damages to the Pensacola Bay Bridge were worse than previously expected. During a preliminary inspection, crews reported that:

  • FDOT divers inspected 202 underwater footings while top side inspection teams assessed 105 spans, 202 piers and 525 beams;
  • The number of spans requiring full replacement remained at five and FDOT identified an additional two that would require partial replacement; and
  • FDOT would have to replace a number of beams and is still determining the specific number needing replacement.

At the beginning of October, FDOT announced that demolition efforts on the damaged areas of the Pensacola Bay Bridge had begun, with focus on areas that needed to be cleared for dive access to examine the final 22 footings below the waterline.

At the time, three of Skanska’s barges remained on or under the structure and would have to be removed with great caution. In wake of the efforts taken to repair the structure, Skanska fabricated 25 beams, various piers and other replacement beams and piers at its offsite yard needed to begin repair efforts. The contractor also reached out to other facilities to assist in production.

Providing a repair update at the beginning of December, Florida Rep. Alex Andrade (R-Pensacola) told the Pensacola News Journal that Skanska still had barges littered around the area, alongside crews accounting for safety, equipment and fuel, which in turn is driving up enormous daily costs.

While Skanska did not attend the town hall, the company was since reported to have hired two subcontractors to initiate repairs on the bridge. In their efforts, the teams were sending divers to evaluate pilings and repair concrete, in addition to replacing entire spans of the bridge.

Regarding the cost of the additional repairs, Skanska or its insurance companies are slated to pay for the repairs directly. Although many sections of the structure are being repaired ahead of schedule, the company is motivated to complete the project as soon as possible as its reported to be “building at a loss.”

The following month, numbers on the demolition and repair activities were updated to include:

  • Seven fully damaged spans removed;
  • Eight partially damaged spans removed;
  • 16 damaged pedestrian path beams removed;
  • 61 damaged I-beams removed, with eight replaced;
  • Four damaged trophy pieces removed; and
  • 11 replacement piles driven.

Over the course of the work, FDOT continued to monitor Skanska’s investigation with state and local authorities to determine if the line connecting the barge to the sea floor was severed, as another barge was also reported to break loose at the end of December.

In February, FDOT officials reported that the Pensacola Bay Bridge was scheduled to reopen in March; however, the transportation structure would still have lane restrictions. Although temporary, the bridge plans to open one lane in each direction for roughly the first mile and two lanes in each direction for the remining two miles.

Due to the impact on local businesses and tourism, it was decided that reconnecting the communities sooner rather than later would be the best option. However, Skanska has recently been delayed in its repair work due to inclement weather preventing the contractor from utilizing cranes, in addition to other obstacles.

Regardless, FDOT says it will continue to withhold $35,000 per day on the project until the full lanes are opened.

“We believe they are not providing what they're supposed to provide,” said FDOT Secretary Kevin J. Thibault at the time. “The contract requires us to get a four-lane bridge and we don’t have a four-lane bridge. Until we get that open and it’s accepted by us, we withhold $35,000 a day, so that’s the message we’ve given them.”

By the end of March, officials announced that the Pensacola Bay Bridge was scheduled to reopen the week of Memorial Day.

Once a connection is restored between Pensacola and Gulf Breeze, Skanska is slated to remain working onsite through until January of 2022 to complete all improvements to the new bridge.

Lawsuits, Liability and Maritime Jurisdiction

Back in October, FDOT issued a letter of intent to Skanska USA seeking damages and lost toll-related revenue because of the toll suspension on the Garcon Point Bridge. However, according to Sen. Doug Broxson, lost toll revenue caused by emergency closures are usually paid out by the Florida Legislature. In terms of tolls revenue, Broxson added that the loss was a monthly difference of between $700,000 and $4 million.

Additionally, lawsuits regarding the construction company and affected local businesses were ongoing within the court system as well.

In five separate filings—each representing a different barge—Skanska requested in January that the U.S. District Court in Pensacola, Florida declare the company not liable “for any loss, injuries or damages" related to barge damage, including economic losses suffered by businesses from the closure of the new span of the bridge in an attempt to significantly reduce or eliminate its liability for damages experienced at the Pensacola Bay Bridge construction project, caused by its own barges during Hurricane Sally.

The separate filings sought to have the barges recognized as vessels protected under maritime law.

Skanska valued its barges to each cost between $125,000 and $550,000, totaling $1.43 million, and requested that they be divided pro rata between all those submitting valid claims within a certain time period to be determined by the court. A copy of a security bond equal to the value of each barge was included with each filing.

In a late July ruling, Federal Judge Lacey Collier ruled that Skanska was operating under maritime law when its barges broke loose from its Pensacola Bay Bridge project site during Hurricane Sally last summer. The decision reportedly keeps the case in federal court—a win for Skanska.

However, the judge deferred to rule on litigation for the nearly 1,000 claimants who suffered property damages from the barrages, as well as those who took on economic damages due to the bridge’s closure for nine months.

While the case was expected to be revisited last month, it was recently postponed indefinitely because of Skanska’s New Orleans-based attorneys having difficulty after Hurricane Ida.

Latest Contract Award

Designed by Dewberry, a privately held professional services firm, the design-build project will encompass the widening and reconstructing of Big Bend Road and reconfiguration of the I-75 ramps, which are expected to improve traffic flow and reduce delays.

The project also plans to upgrade FDOT’s intelligent transportation systems, an initiative that uses advanced technologies and applications to collect real-time traffic information to manage roadway operations.

“With nearly 1.5 million residents, Hillsborough County is one of the state’s most populous counties and has multiple infrastructure projects underway like the reconstruction of Big Bend Road to accommodate the growth pace,” said Brook Brookshire, Senior Vice President of Skanska’s civil infrastructure operations in Florida. “These roadway improvements will help ease traffic congestion and improve the driving experience for commuters and visitors in the region.”

Currently, Skanska is building three additional projects on behalf of FDOT across the state: the reconstruction of Interstate 4 at SR 557 Interchange and the $2.3 billion I-4 Ultimate project, both in Central Florida, and the more than $400 million re-build of the Pensacola Bay Bridge in Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties.

The newly awarded contract doesn’t come without some frustration, though. While many are still upset over the lack of remediation efforts made regarding the barge damages related to the Pensacola Bay Bridge, state Rep. Alex Andrade said the process to disbar or essentially blacklist a company from bidding on future projects is clear cut, and Skanska's conduct hasn’t met those criteria.

“As a resident of Northwest Florida who’s not had a good experience with Skanska, of course I’m not happy they got another award, but I can guarantee if you delve into all the different circumstances that came about in awarding them it’s all above board,” he said.

Andrade also went on to note that the bid package presented by Skanska was the best option for the state, especially in a market where labor and material costs are increasing the average bid amount.

   

Tagged categories: Bridges; Bridges; Contract awards; Contractors; Contracts; Department of Transportation (DOT); Government contracts; Infrastructure; Infrastructure; NA; North America; Program/Project Management; Transportation

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