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TxDOT Letter to Coastal Bend Blasts Bridge Engineers

Work on other areas of the new Harbor Bridge in Corpus Christi continues as the chief contractor looks for new engineers. FIGG Bridge Engineers was fired last year after a federal investigation cited the company in a fatal pedestrian bridge collapse on a Florida University campus. Courtesy photo

Citizens of the Coastal Bend: The Texas Department of Transportation has written you a letter. The three-page, single-spaced missive can be a bit dense in parts, but one thing is clear: TxDOT is not backing down from its condemnation of the engineering firm recently fired from the Harbor Bridge project in Corpus Christi. It also noted in the letter that the move could result in further delay of the $930 million project, already two years behind schedule.

“While this vital step for additional review and verification could result in potential delays to the project with potential cost impacts, the value of safety and taking the time needed for this project is unquestionably the right course of action,” TxDOT Executive Director James M. Bass wrote in the letter. “Work on all other aspects of the project continues to move forward, including drainage, roadway and overpass construction, and reconstruction of a major new interchange at I-38/US 181/SH286. Motorists also have full access to the current Harbor Bridge.”

The Nueces County Legislative Delegation — Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, Rep. Abel Herrero, and Rep. Todd Hunter — released its own statement about the TxDOT letter.

“As your state elected officials, we have made clear that public safety and transparency are a priority,” the letter reads. “It is important for the public to know TxDOTs reasoning for their decision to direct the removal of FIGG from the main spans part of the project. We expect Flatiron/Dragados to find a replacement engineering design firm soon and remain confident in TxDOTs commitment to construct a safe bridge.”

FIGG Bridge Engineers were dropped from the project by contractors Flatiron/Dragados LLC after a National Transportation Safety Board investigation into a collapsed pedestrian bridge in Florida in 2018 that killed six people and injured 10 others. FIGG served as the engineer on that project.

FIGG fought back with a media campaign after the firing and even bought a full-page ad in the February 16 edition of the Corpus Christi Caller-Times.

“Over 3 billion vehicles have relied on FIGG concert cable-stayed bridges — over 460,000 vehicles cross every day,” the advertisement read.

It went on to tout the group’s safety record on 35 miles of bridges built along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts, stating that these structures have withstood multiple hurricanes.

Design work was suspended on the Harbor Bridge days after release of the NTSB report October 22. According to the report, design flaws were behind the collapse. FIGG has since blamed poor construction, rather than design, for the bridge’s structural failure. TxDOT disagreed.

“… FIGG continued to minimize its role in the tragedy and in an October 8th press release the company stressed conclusions from the engineering firm it hired that the collapse resulted from ‘a failure by contractors to conform to the final bridge design plans and comply with state of Florida construction requirements,’” reads the February 20 letter from TxDOT to the Coastal Bend.

The letter goes on to further dispute that claim, citing the NTSB report:

In particular, regarding FIGG, the NTSB found that:

• “... the probable cause of the Florida International University (FIU) pedestrian bridge collapse was the load and capacity calculation errors made by FIGG Bridge Engineers, Inc., (FIGG) in its design of the main span truss member...”

• “Factors in the collapse included bridge design errors ... and lack of redundancy in the bridge design.”

Further, TxDOT wrote, “NTSB’s findings were a result of a thorough investigation and analysis.”

The letter included a link to the full report.

And that’s not all. TxDOT also cited an Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigation into a bridge collapse in Miami in July 2019 that involved FIGG.

“The bridge had structural design deficiencies that contributed to the collapse during construction stage III,” the OSHA report reads. “The cracks on the bridge occurred due to deficient structural design.” The OSHA report is also available online.

The letter goes on. The full text is available here.

Meanwhile chief contractor Flatiron/Dragados continues to seek a new engineering firm while other work on the bridge continues.

Hinojosa, Hunter, and Herrero formally asked TxDOT for an update on the project’s competition timeline and cost impact “as soon as possible.”

“Any questions from the public or the media can be made to Rickey Dailey with the TxDOT Corpus Christi District Office at 361-808-2544,” the legislators concluded in their statement.

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