Port Mann Bridge builder Kiewit faces construction concerns in the U.S.

Intrepid reporter Dave White of News 1130, came across a big story today…. http://www.news1130.com/news/local/article/420521–concerns-raised-in-us-around-bc-highways-contractor

“SEATTLE (NEWS1130) – Some alleged major problems with massive construction projects have been exposed in the US, involving a contractor also hired to build and maintain BC highways. The accusations centre around work done by Kiewit.

One of the apparent problems is near Seattle where Kiewit is rebuilding the SR 520 Floating Bridge over Lake Washington. Tracy Vedder is an investigative reporter with KOMO News; she tells us pontoons built to float the bridge may be failing.

“They’re basically marine structures,” she describes. “They need to be able to float and they need to be watertight. The first cycle of six pontoons that came out of Aberdeen that were constructed primarily by the prime contractors, Kiewit, has developed … quite extensive leaks.”

She says Kiewit is being investigated in California after allegations of construction flaws on the $6.5-billion rebuild of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.

“There were some significant construction issues,” she tells us. “It’s being built specifically to withstand a major earthquake in the future.”

Vedder had difficulty getting a response from Kiewit, but they eventually got in touch. “They did say that they stand firmly behind the safety and quality of the work they’ve done in all of the bridges they’ve built in North America.”

However, the company deferred her questions about the SR520 project to the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT).

Vedder says this all comes as the Seattle Mariners sue Kiewit for problems with steel structures at Safeco Field.

She emphasizes her work isn’t done yet. “There’s a lot more to find out.”

In an e-mail from a BC Ministry of Transportation spokesperson, the province says it has complete confidence in Kiewit-Flatiron, and that the contractor was selected after an extensive and multifaceted process. The ministry insists work on projects like the Sea to Sky Highway and Port Mann/Highway 1 Improvement Project has been frequently audited to ensure the highest standards are met, and that any problems found are the responsibility of Kiewit to repair.

Kiewit has had its problems in BC, most recently with a retaining wall rebuild at the Cape Horn Interchange. WorkSafe BC also investigated a worker’s death from a falling boulder at a dam project in 2008 in which safety provisions were brought into question.

News1130 has made requests for comment from Kiewit. We’re hoping to hear back from the the contractor today”

Interesting news and compelling to those who follow the transportation titans in BC closely, like both Dave and I do.

Do a little more searching on this Seattle floating bridge story and you find a host of other issues associated with that bridge, like workers drinking on the job, and contract terms that mean lucrative bonuses for the builder on one end… even if their own delays on the other end were behind it.

More alarming, are public records that indicate Kiewit installed faulty components despite being advised by a Washington State DOT engineer that he could not structurally approve it:

“Now the Problem Solvers have uncovered a new structural problem buried in thousands of documents we obtained through the Public Records Act: The type of structural weakness that could be as catastrophic as WSDOT’s own animation from 2007 depicting how the old bridge might come apart in a severe windstorm.  The key is the joints between pontoons and how they are connected with rebar called Hook Bars.

Internal WSDOT e-mails from last spring show that structural rebar in Pontoon V was “missing”. WSDOT’s own engineer Patrick Clarke noted that he could not “structurally approve it” without those essential pieces.  In spite of that, documents show that contractor Kiewit opted to ignore Clarke’s recommendations for repair, and quote “proceed at risk”.

Kiewit went on to do the same with the two other large pontoons so all three now on the lake are missing that critical rebar.  A second WSDOT engineer also found this was “not structurally acceptable.”  Documents and our insider also indicate that, just like in the WSDOT animation, the loss of that critical rebar would weaken the joints by as much as 50 percent, and could cause a similar “unravelling” in a severe, 100 year, windstorm event. “

The KOMO investigative reporter, Tracy Vedder, displays her exacting nature for facts in this telling email exchange between the herself and officials who are so busy spinning answers that they occasionally wrap themselves up in their own words.  http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/NR/rdonlyres/3F839B0E-7223-4D5D-A1AD-F0683F9FEC82/0/WSDOT_KOMO_Correspondence_Compilation.pdf

Now, when we take a look at the San Francisco- Oakland bridge KOMO reporter Tracy Vedder mentions above, we find another concerning scenario, and another case of  officials stating everything is fine, while documentation shows otherwise. http://www.sacbee.com/2012/05/26/4519092/caltrans-records-reveal-concerns.html

“A builder of the new San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridgefailed to disclose that a 19-foot section of concrete in the foundation of the span’s signature tower had not hardened before it was tested. By keeping quiet about the problem, the builder prevented further examination or repair.

The Bee found descriptions of the apparent defect in records provided by Caltrans last fall to reassure the public about the overall stability of the suspension segment of the bridge’s eastern span. Experts said the problem, combined with other construction and testing lapses by the California Department of Transportation and its contractors, raises new questions about the structural integrity of the bridge.

Kiewit-FCI-Manson, a joint venture, built the foundation as part of a $177 million contract. It did not provide the problematic 2007 test results until after a Bee investigation in November showed that a Caltrans employee skipped required test preparation for separate checks of the same foundation and fabricated results on other structures”

The story sparked a federal highways authority investigation into the response of Caltrans ( the state transportation authority) and ultimately a series of errors with testing concrete on other bridges and projects was uncovered.

I took a look at the Safeco field lawsuit, which has been going on for years, and to be fair the basis for the case was not based on Kiewits work, but rather steel products that were built by subcontractor for the project that were problematic. The Mariners sued the build team which included Kiewit for damages and liability.

Both Port Mann builders Kiewit and Flatiron worked on the San Francisco-Oakland bridge build detailed above.

More to come next week, but you might want to refresh your memory on the Public Safety Construction Corruption report that I obtained earlier this year on a freedom of information request…. http://lailayuile.com/2012/06/19/money-and-corruption-are-ruining-the-land/