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FIGG pushes back on TxDOT's Harbor Bridge decision

FIGG Bridge Engineers out as Harbor Bridge Project designers
Posted at 3:50 PM, Jan 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-10 22:32:21-05

FIGG Bridge Engineers, the design firm contracted to design the new Harbor Bridge, has been dismissed from a significant aspect of the project.

The Texas Department of Transportation released a statement Friday afternoon saying it has asked Flatiron/Dragados, LLC, the developer and construction company attached to the Harbor Bridge Replacement Project, to find a new designer for the project's main spans -- the part of the bridge that allows passage over the Corpus Christi Ship Channel.

Texas Department of Transportation Corpus Christi region spokesman Rickey Dailey told KRIS 6 News on Friday afternoon that some design work has been done on the main spans, but that work will be reviewed by the replacement firm chosen before anything is built.

FIGG issued a statement late Friday night expressing its dismay at TxDOT's decision.

“FIGG was shocked by Texas Department of Transportation’s press release today," the statement reads.

The company denies their design was at fault in the 2018 collapsed Florida International University pedestrian bridge incident, which is the basis of TxDOT's reasoning for suspending FIGG's future design work on the main span of the new Harbor Bridge.

“FIGG has strongly disputed the findings of the NTSB investigation," the statement said. "FIGG engaged Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates 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.”

The new Harbor Bridge's main span length is designed to be 1,661 feet -- almost 9 1/2 times the length of the FIU bridge in question, which was 174 feet long.

The new Harbor Bridge is also designed to stand 205 feet over the water and cable-suspended, similar to the design of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, a height that will allow bigger ships access to the Port of Corpus Christi.

The new firm also will be tasked with pinpointing and carrying out any modifications to the existing plans.

“As we have done since the inception of this project, TxDOT will continue oversight of all design work, including work performed by the replacement design firm in the future,” said TxDOT Chief Engineer Bill Hale. “TxDOT is committed to taking the time necessary to carefully ensure and verify that the highest safety standards are met.”

FIGG came under scrutiny after an October 2019 National Transportation Safety Board review of the pedestrian bridge collapse at FIU found the firm at fault. The March 2018 incident killed six people and injured 10.

Several weeks after the report's release, TxDOT confirmed to KRIS 6 News that it had suspended design work on the new bridge.

The NTSB determined that "load and capacity calculation errors made by FIGG Bridge Engineers, Inc., are the probable cause of the fatal, March 15, 2018, Florida International University pedestrian bridge collapse in Miami."

It also decided that design flaws by FIGG, and later corrective efforts by FIGG to address cracking in the bridge, ultimately led to it failing.

"The restressing ... was a manipulation ... to address structural cracking of unknown origination constituting a change to the FIGG design and should have been independently reviewed by a professional engineer before being implemented," the report reads.

TxDOT finished its review of the report last month, deciding the "findings regarding FIGG are significant enough for TxDOT to request a replacement design firm for the New Harbor Bridge main spans."

It announced in November that delays in the construction of the bridge would put its completion date sometime in early 2023. A previous expected finish date was set for 2021, and before that, 2020.

Work will continue on aspects of the project outside of the main spans, including drainage, roadway, overpass construction and construction of the new interchange at the Crosstown Expressway (SH 286) and I-37, Dailey said.

“We look forward to delivering on the promise of this project which, when complete, will be a significant improvement over the existing bridge," said Hale.