Opening of Tobacco Trail bridge delayed
A last-minute construction snag will delay the opening to pedestrians of the American Tobacco Trail’s bridge over Interstate 40, in a worst-case scenario until sometime in December.
The problem involves the safety fencing that’s to line the sides of the bridge and surfaced after contractors began installing it last month.
Contractors, designers and city officials quickly realized the fencing’s supports weren’t sitting at the correct angle. Workers tried to improvise a fix, but on Friday the Public Works Department ordered a halt pending a round of strategy meetings.
Public Works Director Marvin Williams said the problem meant the fencing “had a lot of give to it,” more than had been expected.
“We want to make sure the fencing is as safe as it can possibly be before we open [the bridge] up for pedestrians,” he said, explaining the decision to delay the opening.
Officials nonetheless intend to go through with a scheduled Oct. 12 ribbon-cutting ceremony, as the trail expansion will otherwise be complete.
The project is filling in a missing link in the trail from the Southpoint area to Durham’s border with Chatham County.
As Tuesday, Public Works Contract Management Supervisor Ed Venable was telling administrators it is “not likely the public will be allowed to walk on the bridge” for the ceremony, although “some dignitaries could be given a tour and escorted on to the bridge.”
At least one such tour took place before Labor Day, after lead contractor Blythe Construction finished pouring the bridge’s concrete decking.
It was for members of the Durham Engineers Club and saw managers from Blythe and Parsons Brinckerhoff, the company that designed the bridge, voice confidence that the span would be complete by Oct. 12.
At the time, the bridge was equipped only with temporary wooden railings.
The strategy meetings Public Works sought unfolded in two stages on Monday and Tuesday. Afterwards, Williams said participants “think we may have the solution.”
It’d involve crafting new mounting plates to attach the fence supports to the span at the correct angle, he said.
A go-ahead for that awaits a review of the proposal by engineers from Parsons.
Asked whether the problem resulted from design or installation flaws, Williams responded, “It looks like it may be a little bit of both.”
Compounding matters, inspectors discovered last month that the paint on the fencing was also flawed. While not a safety issue, officials want it fixed to forestall any long-term maintenance headaches.
Some of the paint already was peeling, being too thin in spots and too thick in others. Mistakes by subcontractors and “less than ideal” conditions for appear to account for the issue, Williams said.
Venable’s emails indicate the strategy for correcting the fencing issues depends on Blythe and its subcontractors being able to do the work on-site. If that assumption holds, the fix by itself would take about three weeks.
But the paint problems could add another week or two to the timeline, as Blythe has to work around the availability of both fabricators and painters, Venable said.
Blythe and Parsons also have to work out between them how they’ll absorb the cost of the repair. Venable described the problem as a “$100,000 [to] $200,000 error” but said the city was not financially liable.
Paying for the fix is “not the city’s responsibility, we’ve been clear on that with everybody,” Williams said, adding that an agreement on its cost remains pending.
The bridge is by far the most expensive element of the $7.5 million contract the city awarded Blythe for completion of the trail. Construction managers estimate that it accounts for about 80 percent of the project’s cost.
Until the fencing problem emerged, the project was on track to be complete on Oct. 12, Williams said.
“It was unexpected by everyone, nothing that we anticipated happening,” he said.