Work on the Harbor Bridge was halted due to design issues

The Texas Department of Transportation said Thursday its decision to suspend some construction of the extended Harbor Bridge project last week was made following concerning findings from independent reviews of the bridge’s overall design.

The news comes nearly a week after TxDOT announced that progress on the cable-stayed portion of the main span would be suspended, which could lead to further delays and uncertainty over whether the project will meet its completion schedule of mid-2024 to the end.

“As we have previously stated, TxDOT is committed to ensuring and verifying that all security standards are met, and we are committed to taking all necessary steps to achieve this,” the press release reads.

It’s unclear if and to what extent the project could be delayed, TxDOT spokesperson Rickey Dailey wrote in an email responding to questions from The Caller-Times. TxDOT will provide updates of any “significant progress” as it occurs.

The independent review was conducted by a team of consulting engineers managed by TxDOT’s Bridge Division. That team, which Dailey said performed the independent reviews “as needed,” found issues with “various elements” of the main span cable-stayed bridge, he wrote. These particular concerns had not been raised during previous inspections by the engineering team.

On July 15, TxDOT issued a late afternoon press release stating that the pause in construction was the result of concerns about “certain elements” of the bridge’s structure that, if construction continues, could become security issues.

The state agency asked Flatiron/Dragados, LLC, the company responsible for building the bridge and subcontracting the design company, Arup and CFC, to resolve the issues before proceeding with work.

“TxDOT and FDLLC are currently coordinating and reviewing the concerns raised by TxDOT. The suspension halts construction while this process takes place,” Thursday’s press release read. “TxDOT expects to have more details as the coordination progresses and will continue to provide the public with important updates.”

Construction of all other work via the State Highway 286 and I-37 interchange, north and south approaches, and North Beach roadwork will continue, according to the news release.

Last week, Flatiron/Dragados said in a statement to the Caller-Times that the joint venture was “confident in the safety and durability of the bridge as designed” and would continue to work with TxDOT.

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

Construction on the $930 million bridge began in August 2016. Earlier this year, Flatiron/Dragados estimated the project would be complete and open to traffic by summer 2024.

The current Harbor Bridge, which the new bridge will eventually replace, is inspected annually and remains structurally sound, according to the press release. Demolition of the old bridge will begin immediately upon completion of the new one.

The project is no stranger to sudden shutdowns.

In 2019, TxDOT suspended design work on the bridge and fired then-designer FIGG Bridge Engineers Inc., which was the subject of a National Transportation Safety Board report criticizing the company’s work.

The report involved a Florida pedestrian bridge that collapsed in March 2018. Six people died. The FIGG pushed back against the report, pointing out that the construction of the bridge – not its design – was a contributing factor.

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