Damaged bridge section to be replaced
By JENNIFER FARRELL, Times Staff Writer
CLEARWATER -- Better safe than sorry.
That's the sentiment guiding a decision Tuesday to replace an 80-foot section of the new Memorial Causeway Bridge that sank a foot and twisted in a construction accident last week.
An engineering review found no conclusive structural damage to the concrete span, but bridge builder PCL Constructors of Tampa has opted to tear it down anyway, according to PCL vice president Jerry Harder.
"We just think that's the safest, most economical and quickest way," he said Tuesday. "What we've built there may be fine. But ... ."
The alternative would have been to jack up the roadway and force it back into position. Problem is, engineers can't see through the steel framework holding the roadway in place during construction. That means they can't be sure there is no damage to the underside of the concrete.
"There are a lot of safety concerns," said city Public Services director Gary Johnson. "It's in everybody's best interest to remove that piece of the bridge."
Harder said engineers have not determined precisely what went wrong or exactly how to dismantle the roadway.
The main question is whether to break up the concrete and remove it in pieces or lower the entire span at once.
"It weighs several hundred thousand pounds" said Harder. "We're looking at all the options."
The mishap occurred on the morning of Dec. 3 when crews moved a large set of forms into which concrete for the roadway had been poured. As the forms were slid downhill to the west, steel cross beams under the hardened concrete rolled, causing the bridge section to sink and twist.
No one was hurt, and city and construction officials stressed the bridge section is stable where it stands.
The 80-foot section was built over several weeks as part of the $69.3-million project. Harder said it's not clear yet how long it will take to replace.
Launched in February, the four-lane bridge is roughly one-third complete. Before the accident, city officials had planned to open the bridge to traffic late next year, with a finish date set for July 2004.
Johnson said any additional costs related to the incident will be absorbed by PCL, not taxpayers.
"They are going to do whatever it takes to make it right and it will not cost us any additional money," he said.
Meanwhile, Harder said engineers are working to find answers.
"We would not anticipate it happening again," he said. "We are thoroughly analyzing every component to see what caused this and to make sure that it doesn't happen again."
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