TxDOT Suspends Work on Harbor Bridge Span

FRIDAY, JULY 22, 2022

The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) recently halted construction on the new Harbor Bridge span in Corpus Christi, Texas, due to safety concerns. The halt reportedly only impacts construction regarding the new cable-stayed bridge portion of the project.

Once completed, the Harbor Bridge project is expected to address structural deficiencies and navigational restrictions of the current bridge, as well as improve safety, connectivity and level of service in the area. In total, 6.4 miles of new bridge and a connecting road to replace the current bridge will be constructed at an estimated cost of $1.1 billion.

Originally anticipated to be completed in 2020, the contractor recently estimated that it will not be finished by 2024. However, the latest delay could push that back even further.

Project Background

Beginning in 2015, joint venture Flatiron/Dragados LLC was chosen by TxDOT for the design-build contract for the new Harbor Bridge, in Corpus Christi, Texas.

The new bridge is slated to carry U.S. Route 181 across the Corpus Christi Ship Channel off Corpus Christi Bay, replacing the current Harbor Bridge, a through arch bridge that was built in 1959. Once completed, the bridge will be the longest cable-stayed bridge in the United States. According to TxDOT at the time, the total cost of the project—including the construction of the new bridge and the demolition of the current one—would be approximately $802.9 million.

In March 2017, construction activities began on the project, and by February 2019, crews had completed concrete placement on the first lift of the south tower.

The following month, Flatiron/Dragados LLC announced that the project would likely not meet its April 2020 completion deadline. However, the first span had been put into place on the north side of the ship channel, marking a significant milestone. Company officials attributed the delay to weather conditions and permitting issues.

In November 2019, TxDOT declared the suspension of design work for the Harbor Bridge. The announcement arrived after the National Transportation Safety Board released its findings related to the FIU bridge collapse in October, revealing that the probable cause was related to load and capacity calculation errors made by the Harbor Bridge project’s designer FIGG Bridge Engineers Inc.

Consequently, at the beginning of 2020, TxDOT requested that Flatiron-Dragados LLC replace FIGG. FIGG had overseen designs for the Harbor Bridge’s main spans—which are included in the cable-supported section of the bridge that will cross the Corpus Christi Ship Channel.

“FIGG was shocked by Texas Department of Transportation’s press release concerning FIGG’s design role on the cable-stayed main span and relating this to the construction accident on a pedestrian bridge in Miami," FIGG said in a statement.

Due to the suspension and previous delays, the Harbor project’s original completion date slated for 2021, was pushed back to early 2023, increasing the project’s total to $930 million.

Although FIGG is reportedly certified by TxDOT in bridge design, complex bridge inspection and bridge construction management, among others, the department insists that NSTB’s opinions “were significant enough” for the decision to replace FIGG.

However, in receiving comments on the matter, FIGG disputed the decision, stating, “FIGG engaged Wiss, Janney, Elstner Assoc. Inc. (WJE), the preeminent forensic engineer in the nation, to review the Florida accident. WJE’s detailed research, in-depth analysis, and physical testing shows that faulty construction of the Florida bridge—which FIGG had no hand in—was to blame for the collapse, not its design.”

Another Project Suspension

Despite work being taken over by new engineer-of-record Arup and CFC in June 2020, TxDOT has once again suspended construction work on the bridge regarding “certain elements” of the bridge structure.

In an update earlier this year, Flatiron/Dragados said the north and south cable-stayed bridge towers were both “rising steadily” and crews were installing 40 tendons of 31 strands each for tower table post-tensioning. Most of the substructure piers for the north and south approaches had been erected, and structure work for the interchange was underway.

Now, TxDOT has requested that Flatiron/Dragados, as well as Arup and CFC, resolve the issues before continuing work.

“We work hard to maintain productive relationships with all of our partners to deliver projects efficiently,” said TxDOT Chief Engineer Lance Simmons, “and we cannot compromise on safety. We have been transparent and direct in sharing our concerns with FDLLC as well as our expectations on addressing these safety issues.”

In a statement provided by the joint venture to the Caller-Times, the companies stated they were “confident in the safety and durability of the bridge as designed” and would continue work with TxDOT.

“FDLLC hired some of the most experienced and prestigious designers of signature cable-stayed bridges in the world,” the statement read. “FDLLC will continue to meet its contractual obligations and work in good faith with TxDOT.”

Lynn Allison, a spokeswoman for Flatiron/Dragados, said that construction unrelated to the spans, such as road work and work on the north and south approaches, will continue and not be affected by the halt. The main spans for the new bridge comprise roughly one-eighth of the project, Allison noted.

Allison added it was unclear if the halt would push back the project’s 2024 completion date.

“It's hard to say because it just depends on how the work progresses from here,” said Ricky Dailey, a TxDOT spokesman Dailey. “So it's a little early to give you a neat timeline on the completion date.”

However, despite concerns, the city manager has reportedly not been contacted.

“The construction pattern changes almost daily and you never know exactly which lane you're supposed to be in,” City Councilmember Mike Pusley said. “I, like many other people, have ended up going toward Portland instead of downtown Corpus Christi at least once or twice. So it is an aggravation and it is dangerous.”

He added that he thinks motorists have put up with the “traffic nightmare” long enough and he doesn't understand why TxDOT isn't sharing their concerns about safety on the bridge. Officials didn’t say what impact they expect the suspension to have on the project’s completion date. 

“They haven't shared any additional information with the City. I checked with the city manager and he said they haven't contacted him,” Pusley said. “So I'm a little disappointed at that. I think the State of Texas owes the City of Corpus Christi and the people here in this community an explanation of what's going on.”


Tagged categories: Bridges; Bridges; Contractors; Contracts; Department of Transportation (DOT); Engineers; Government contracts; Health & Safety; Health and safety; NA; North America; Ongoing projects; Program/Project Management; Project Management; Safety

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