Safety of new 520 Floating Bridge called into question

The Seattle PI reported today that a former quality control inspector says the quality of the first pontoons built in Aberdeen by Kiewit Construction was so shoddy that it’s a “disaster waiting to happen,” and that once built he would not drive on the bridge due to safety concerns. At the same time, a scathing internal audit shows that the state failed to hold contractor Kiewit accountable.

The inspector interviewed by the PI was an onsite quality inspector at Kiewit Construction’s pontoon casting basin in Aberdeen last winter. He was there during construction of the first six massive concrete pontoons designed to hold up the new 520 bridge. He was part of a Quality Assurance subcontractor team, O’Neill Environmental, hired by contractor Kiewit to ensure correct pontoon construction. The QA, as it’s called, is required by the state Department of Transportation’s (WSDOT) contract with Kiewit.

He’s been an inspector for 10 years and the new 520 Floating Bridge project is the worst he has seen with respect to quality of work. The inspector confirmed what two expert insiders had previously told the PI, that construction of the first pontoons was so shoddy it undermines the structural integrity and safety of the new 520 bridge.

Specifically, the inspector says every day he saw iron-workers misplacing or using the wrong-sized rebar; that’s the structural steel that provides the strength and framework of the pontoons.

He said contractor Kiewit routinely poured massive walls of concrete to form the pontoons when conditions should have prevented pouring. “They pour in such heavy rains and standing water that the cement is literally being washed out of the concrete,” he said.

He said they also poured concrete when conditions were too cold and the re-bar was frozen. “It shocks the concrete – and there’ll be a circumference around the rebar with weak and inferior concrete,” he said.

A WSDOT internal document called a Risk Register and dated August 22, 2012, confirms concrete cracking in pontoons is caused by Kiewit not following the plan for curing or hardening concrete – particularly during cold weather – and that it could potentially cost as much as $3 million.

According to what are called Crack Maps of the first pontoons, all six experienced significant cracking. Though Kiewit has undertaken several rounds of repairs of these pontoons, WSDOT confirmed last week that the four largest are still leaking. They plan to begin another round of repairs early next year.

Many of the issues raised by the inspector are substantiated in a scathing internal audit produced by WSDOT’s own Engineers. That audit found a “pattern of noncompliance and failure to implement corrective action” on the part of Kiewit, and that WSDOT “failed to hold the contractor accountable.”

Although completion of the 520 Floating Bridge project remains in the distant future, the quality control issues discussed above raise issues of responsibility for safe construction of roadways. If you are injured due to a hazard resulting from shoddy road construction, you are likely entitled to recover for your injuries.