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Flatiron/Dragados has 15 days to respond to TxDOT safety concerns or risks being replaced

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Posted at 2:07 PM, Aug 16, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-16 17:59:33-04

Texas Department of Transportation Executive Director Marc Williams said Tuesday that Flatiron/Dragados LLC hasn't responded to the agency's new Harbor Bridge project safety concerns for months, which forced TxDOT to issue the contractor an ultimatum Tuesday during a news conference.

The agency has given Flatiron/Dragados LLC, the project manager in charge of building the new Harbor Bridge, 15 days to respond or else be replaced.

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"Should the contractor fail to adequately address these concerns in this time frame, TxDOT will issue a formal default and begin the process to replace them as the contractor on the project," said TxDOT Executive Director Marc Williams during a news conference on Tuesday.

A Flatiron Dragados LLC representative told KRIS 6 News on Tuesday that it is continuing to work with TxDOT and plans to fulfill its contractual obligation to them.

The move comes after TxDOT shut down construction last month, citing safety concerns after a third-party review was conducted and raised safety concerns about the design.

"We had some concerns and questions regarding the design going back some time, and we attempted to resolve those issues," said TxDOT bridge engineer Graham Bettis. "We were working with FDLLC to try and do that, but given the concerns, we really tried to get a true, independent analysis of this done, and were very deliberate in keeping them independent. . . . So when they came back and independently corroborated the information and a lot of the concerns, that's really why a lot of this has sped up in the last couple of months."

A TxDOT release states that the design flaws would affect foundations, load and weight capacity, structure, and stability of the bridge.

In a separate letter to Flatiron/Dragados Project Manager Keith Armstrong, TxDOT specifically pointed to five "primary areas of concern:"

  • inadequate capacity of the pylon drilled shafts. This is a problem because the pylon's drilled shaft is what provides the support to the main span — or what is considered the "bridge portion" — of the bridge. If the capacity is inadequate, the pylon, or column, can't properly support the bridge.
  • deficient pile caps that could lead the bridge to collapse under certain load conditions. Pile caps are a type of foundation under the surface that, again, provide support for the bridge's pylons or columns. If these are "deficient," the whole bridge could be considered unstable.
  • delta frame design defects, primarily related to the connections between the delta frames and the adjacent precast box units. This is framing that supports the bridge from right underneath the main span.
  • significant uplift at the intermediate piers, and;
  • excessive torsion and other stresses related to crane placement during construction.

When asked if existing pylons and columns would have to be demolished and rebuilt, Williams said that because this is a design-build project — a project in which the designer is also the contractor — that TxDOT believed Flatiron Dragados LLC would be able to compensate for flawed design with thoughtful construction.

"We believe that there are remedies that can be undertaken, even now, to address those issues with the structure that's there," he said.

When ground was broken on the project, the bridge was scheduled to be complete in April 2020, with the old Harbor Bridge set to be demolished in 2021.

In February 2019, officials said the schedule had been knocked off-course because of permitting issues and bad weather, but the last time construction was stopped on the bridge portion of the project was in November 2019.

TxDOT halted progress in November of that year after the National Transportation Safety Board found FIGG Bridge Engineers — the original design company behind the new Harbor Bridge — partially at fault for a pedestrian bridge collapse that killed six people and injured 10 at Florida International University in 2018.

The NTSB determined that FIGG had not properly estimated the strength of that bridge, leading to its collapse.

The FIU pedestrian bridge was 174 ft. long. FIGG's design planned for the new Harbor Bridge's main span to be more than 9 1/2 times that length, at 1,661 ft., and would stand 205 feet over the water.

At that time, State Rep. Todd Hunter held a meeting with TxDOT officials as well as State Rep. Abel Herrero and State Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa. Hunter said after that meeting that the lawmakers were told the portions that had been built up to that point were solid.

"Everything to date we're been told is fine," Hunter said. "Good safety. Good construction. But for the construction that has not started yet -- their designs -- (TxDOT is) reviewing that."

At that time, the completion date was pushed back to 2023.

During a Corpus Christi City Council meeting Nov. 16, 2021, TxDOT District 5 Engineer Valente Olivarez Jr. said Flatiron/Dragados estimated the main span would be finished by 2024.

In April 2018, KRIS 6 News reported the columns had begun to be built. At the time, 88 columns were scheduled to be built.

"The next step will be putting on pier caps,” project engineer Nick Manfredini said at the time. “Soon enough, you’ll start seeing erection begin which is going to be an awesome feat."