August 19, 2016 05:11 AM
Work has stalled on a key section of the St. Croix River Crossing, the largest and most expensive bridge project in Minnesota, after the lead contractor disregarded concerns from state engineers.
Documents obtained by 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS show officials at the Minnesota Department of Transportation alerted Lunda Construction in late July that it would not have enough space at a specific bridge section to use the necessary heavy equipment to tighten the bridge’s support cables.
Those kinds of support cables run through concrete sections of the bridge and when tightened with heavy jacks, increase the structural strength of the bridge.
MnDOT warned the contractor twice more in August that the jacks would not fit in a section of the bridge identified as Pier 4.
A construction worker involved in the project told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS that construction plans were not altered even after MnDOT expressed concerns, and Lunda can no longer use the necessary jacks to tighten the cables.
“We're at that point where we can’t go,” the source said, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
MnDOT confirmed cable stressing, or tightening, has been halted for more than a week at Pier 4 while contractors try to find another capable jack.
This is the latest delay in the two-mile long, $600 million project in Stillwater, which will connect Minnesota and Wisconsin. The project has been under construction since 2012 and is expected to last until late 2017.
The source involved in the construction said he fears demolishing and reconstructing that part of the bridge may be the only option.
“To make it work we're going to need to take something apart, part of the bridge,“ he said.
Sue Mulvihill, the Chief Engineer of MnDOT bridge and road projects in Minnesota, says Lunda does not currently know how they will be able to tighten the cables or how long the delay will last.
“They're trying to figure out how to put the jacks in to pull those cables and tension them,” Mulvihill said.
Executives from Lunda Construction did not respond to repeated requests for comment for this story.
Mulvihill added that MnDOT never directed Lunda Construction to stop work on Pier 4. Such directives must be followed by contractors but any additional costs then become the state’s burden.
Asked why MnDOT did not issue a directive to address the concerns at Pier 4, Mulvihill said, “Well, because it is really their responsibility."
“They have a lot of bridge experience so if they want to try something to see if it’s going to work, we'll let them to do that, but then they're responsible to figure out how to mitigate that if it does not work.”
Mulvihill added that she believes the issues at Pier 4 are not critical for an infrastructure project as large and complex as the St. Croix River Crossing, which is 80 percent complete but still a year behind schedule.
However, a former MnDOT commissioner says that while delays are common, it is not common for a contractor to disregard concerns from the state.
“It's unusual for this not to have been anticipated and a solution found before we got to this point,” said El Tinklenberg, who ran MnDOT from 1999-2002.
“If MnDOT had raised the issue, and the contractor didn't respond, that in itself (is) very significant,” he added.
Joe Augustine & Stephen Tellier
Updated: August 19, 2016 05:11 AM
Created: August 18, 2016 04:15 PM
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