Arup and Carlos Fernandez Casado SL (CFC), which previously partnered for the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Bridge in New Ross, Ireland, have been named as the new engineers of the already-underway New Harbor Bridge project in Corpus Christi, Texas.
In a news release shared by the Caller Times, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) highlighted the firms’ “more than seven decades of experience resolving design and engineering challenges, including involvement in more than 50 cable-stay bridge structures.”
The news comes after all new design work on the main span section of the bridge was halted in November 2019. FIGG Bridge Engineering, the project’s original engineer of record, was then fired in January per the request of TxDOT due to concerns over the firm’s involvement with the fatal March 2018 pedestrian bridge collapse at Florida International University in Miami.
FIGG pushed back on the decision and denied any fault in the bridge collapse at FIU, saying in a January statement that it was “shocked” by a TxDOT press release announcing that the firm had been dismissed from the New Harbor Bridge project.
“FIGG has strongly disputed the findings of the NTSB investigation,” read a January statement from the Tallahassee-headquartered firm founded by the late, noted structural engineer Eugene Figg. “FIGG engaged Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates Inc. (WJE), the preeminent forensic engineer in the nation, to review the Florida accident. WJE’s detailed research, in-depth analysis, and physical testing shows that faulty construction of the Florida bridge – which FIGG had no hand in – was to blame for the collapse, not its design.”
Project developer Flatiron/Dragados LLC said at the time that a newly instated engineer of record–now known to be Arup-CFC—would review the design work completed by FIGG. As reported by Engineering News-Record, major changes to the original bridge design are not expected.
Kicking off in 2016, the massive $930 million (a new cost estimate has yet to be announced and is likely higher) infrastructural undertaking—which will see the aging through arch bridge that’s carried U.S. 181 across the Corpus Christi Ship Canal since the 1950s be replaced with a modern cable-stayed bridge—was originally slated to be wrapped up and open to traffic this summer. That date has since been pushed back to 2021 and 2023. In June, Lynn Allison, public information manager with Flatiron/Dragados LLC, said that completion is still a “few more years away.”
When it is eventually completed, the Corpus Christi’s New Harbor Bridge, with a main span stretching 1,661 feet and a main tower topping out at 538 feet, will be both the longest cable-stayed bridge in the United States and the tallest structure in South Texas. Currently, the longest cable-stayed bridge in the U.S. is the John James Audubon Bride in south-central Louisiana. Completed in 2011, it boasts a main span that stretches 1,583 feet across the Mississippi River. (A planned cable-stayed bridge designed by AECOM that would link Detroit with Windsor, Ontario, is set to be longest in North America.)
Despite the engineering team shake-up and increasingly far-out completion date, construction work on the project is well underway with major elements outside of the span itself, including the bridge’s approach, coming together in recent months.
And similar to other major infrastructure projects, the coronavirus pandemic has actually helped work on the bridge move forward more swiftly than anticipated due to a dramatic reduction in traffic.
“Our COVID-19 silver lining is the reduced traffic over the last several months,” Corpus Christi Business News reported Allison as saying during a United Corpus Christi Chamber of Commerce Infrastructure Committee meeting held on Zoom in June. “It has really helped us in moving this project along.”
The New Harbor Bridge has an expected lifespan of 170 years.