TX Bridge Work Resumes, Completion Delayed
After suspending work earlier this year due to design concerns, work has partially resumed on the construction of the Harbor Bridge in Corpus Christi, Texas. A design fix for the delta frames was recently approved by the project’s engineer of record, with elements regarding the bridge’s main span design still outstanding.
However, due to the delay, the project now has a tentative completion date in 2025. An official timeline is expected to be provided when design concerns are resolved.
Beginning in 2015, joint venture Flatiron/Dragados LLC was chosen by TxDOT for the design-build contract for the new Harbor Bridge.
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 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 insisted 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.”
Latest Project Suspension
On July 15, TxDOT halted construction on the new Harbor Bridge span due to safety concerns. The halt reportedly only impacted construction regarding the new cable-stayed bridge portion of the project.
Originally anticipated to be completed in 2020, the contractor estimated earlier this year that it will not be finished by 2024. However, the latest delay could push that back even further. TxDOT requested that Flatiron/Dragados, as well as Arup and CFC, resolve the issues before continuing work.
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.
In a letter released to the public, which dated the same day construction was halted, TxDOT wrote to Flatiron/Dragados Project Manager Keith Armstrong in response to the upcoming installation of delta frames and the suspension of work over safety issues.
Earlier this year, the department noted it consulted bridge design and engineering service International Bridge Technologies to independently review the designs. The company concluded that there are “significant design flaws that raise serious concerns about the safety of the New Harbor Bridge.”
While IBT found “numerous technical findings and observations” to be addressed, the department explained that the five areas of primary concern include:
The letter also adds that Flatiron/Dragados, as well as its Engineer of Record Arup-CFC, have failed to “adequately address the nonconforming design,” continuing to deny any problems with the design “despite ample evidence to the contrary.
The full letter can be read here.
In the middle of August, TxDOT gave FDLLC 15 days to present a plan to correct the identified deficiencies or risk termination of the $803 million contract. The department also released the independent reports from IBT for public viewing.
Flatiron/Dragados also sent a letter to TxDOT dated Aug. 28, acknowledging full responsibility for a safe design and construction of a safe bridge. The contractor committed ...to do whatever needs to be done, including any changes to our teams’ culture as necessary, to assure that the FDLLC and the TxDOT teams are able to work collaboratively toward the successful conclusion of this project.”
As part of the commitment, Flatiron/Dragados will provide design and install the items of work to resolve the concerns listed in the report at its expense. In the coming weeks, TxDOT said it expects to continue conversations to resolve these issues.
On Aug. 30, Armstrong provided a follow-up letter outlining a preliminary schedule and action plan regarding the bridge’s design concerns. The plan defines the following proposed design changes:
At that time, the notice of default had not been lifted and will reportedly not be until TxDOT has certain information regarding the fixes in writing. If satisfactory, a new construction timeline will then be established.
Last month, TxDOT sent a letter to the project executive with FDLLC proposing an agreement to move forward while comprehensive settlement negotiations are taking place. The Department did note, however, that the agreement does not alter the legal writes of either parties and TxDOT could still remove the developer without issuing an additional notice until it decides to rescind it.
TxDOT has also reportedly said it has taken preemptive steps to continue construction should it remove the developer.
The announcement that work would be moving forward was made by TxDOT and FDLLC during a recent tour of the incomplete north and south bridge approaches with local media outlets.
“Flatiron/Dragados feels pretty confident that we are looking at a 2025 date with completion and opening, but … it depends on finalizing the [design] solutions,” said Valente Olivarez Jr., TxDOT's Corpus Christi District engineer.
Olivarez said that engineer of record Arup-CFC resolved the design dispute regarding the bridge’s delta frames, which was approved at the end of October. The redesign will reportedly include additional steel to specific parts of the frame, with crews working on precasting the delta frames.
The Caller Times reports that, as of last month, the north approach is 81% complete and the south approach is 87% complete. Roadworks for the north and south approaches are 91% and 84% complete, respectively, and utilities are at 95%.
According to FDLLC, all of the concrete approach segments have been completed. The main span segment casting is reportedly 59% finished, with the delta frame casting at 77% completion.
Reports indicate that deficiencies in the bridge's main span design, including elements of the bridge's foundation and stability in certain wind conditions, and the specific crane placements during the construction process of the main span, have yet to be addressed.
Any costs associated with design adjustments and repairs will be taken on by FDLLC, said Rob Boyce, Harbor Bridge construction manager for Flatiron/Dragados, but that total amount is unknown at this time. Earlier in October, TxDOT spokesperson Rickey Dailey said TxDOT had paid Flatiron/Dragados $786 million for its work on the project, which was initially estimated to cost $930 million and is likely to exceed its budget.