City, companies still seeking bridge solution

Oct. 31, 2013 @ 07:06 PM

It’s now looking like the American Tobacco Trail’s bridge over Interstate 40 could be finished by Christmas. Maybe. Or maybe not.

Contractors, designers and city officials have met several times in recent weeks to hammer out a strategy for correcting problems that emerged after workers began installing the bridge’s safety fencing.

It now may be next week before the city receives from designers what Public Works Director Marvin Williams termed “a couple of different options” to choose from for fixing the problem.

Williams said the city has to make its selection before bridge contractor Blythe Construction and designer Parsons Brinckerhoff can figure out how they’ll split the cost of the work.

City officials are holding firm to the position that their government won’t pay for the remedial work. They believe both construction and design errors contributed to the misalignment issues that emerged in late September after installation of the fencing began.

Financially, “the responsibility all falls to them,” Williams said, referring to Parsons and Blythe. “The city is not picking up cost on this.”

But email exchanges between city officials and the two companies indicate that the who-pays issue, not so much the actual repair strategy, may emerge as the major barrier to further progress.

Neither company “is ready to start a repair process without knowing how much financial exposure they have,” given that the fix could cost up to about $200,000, Williams said.

Blythe officials say they built the fencing according to the blueprints they received from Parsons. The designers, in turn, contend Blythe didn’t follow the plans.

The various sides were supposed to work out a cost split this week, but as of Thursday there was little sign they had reached an agreement. A meeting on Monday led to plans for another on Wednesday.

Public Works’ contract administrator, Ed Venable, told the players Wednesday morning that he thought “all parties” were liable, and that they should determine the cost of the fix and “assign a percentage to be borne by each party.”

“There were warning signs and checks along the way that could have avoided this mess,” Venable told the companies via email.

The original plans for the fencing were unclear, they conflicted on at least one point and they didn’t specify an installation method, he said.

But “the contractor [in] their desire to move forward aggressively had opportunities to see the issues, but chose to press on” until city officials called a halt, he said, adding that the alignment problem was noticed early but “persisted unabated.”

Draft minutes of Monday’s meeting suggest Blythe, at least, isn’t necessarily buying the Public Works argument that the city is exempt from financial responsibility.

Another variable that could affect the repair schedule is the weather. Rain always hampers construction, and has slowed work throughout the project.

But a cold snap also could cause problems.

Workers have had trouble getting paint to adhere to the fencing and will need to try applying it again under cover. If temperatures fall, they’ll have to move into “a factory environment” to do the job instead of setting up a temporary paint booth on site, Williams said.