Houston Ship Channel Bridge Construction Halted


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 Bridge Engineers is the engineer of record for the project and will be given the opportunity to redesign the curved portions of the pylon legs.

Design Issues

While HCTRA reports that it is confident in the work going into the Sam Houston Tollway Ship Channel Bridge 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.

An Engineering Services Agreement with COWI was approved by the Harris County Commissioners Court on Mar. 26, 2019. Although a full review of the project won’t be completed until this March, the consultant has already reported an issue related to the design of the curved portions of the pylon legs.

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-based bridge wasn’t related to the design.

Regardless, FIGG was placed under scrutiny yet again two months ago 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.

Earlier this month, 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.

On the topic of scrutiny against FIGG, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Northwestern University, Joseph Schofer says, “Unfortunately, when major errors are made, confidence in the organization that made them erodes, and that motivates reaction, especially when those errors are very much in the public eye.

“Reactions can range from canceling contracts to stopping work and re-evaluating designs. In such circumstances, responsible leaders have to act, at a minimum for the optics, but in reality, just to be responsible.”

What’s Happening Now

Currently, FIGG is working on designing a solution for the curved portions of the pylon legs to be reviewed by COWI. Once a design solution is approved by both FIGG and COWI, the plan will be incorporated into construction so that work can resume on the pylons.

The endeavor is anticipated to take roughly three weeks from the project’s halt date (Jan. 11).

In the meantime, Ship Channel Constructors—a joint venture between Traylor Brothers, Inc. (Evansville, Indiana) and Zachry Construction Corp. (Morrisville, North Carolina)—will continue construction on the approaches and casting yard work. The joint venture’s team also includes T.Y. Lin International Group (San Francisco) for construction engineering and HNTB (Kansas City, Missouri) for construction management.


Tagged categories: Bridge cables; Bridges; Bridges; Construction; Design build; Engineers; Infrastructure; NA; North America; Ongoing projects; Program/Project Management; Project Management

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