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Harris County to halt Ship Channel Bridge construction to fix design flaw

HOUSTON – Following 20 months of construction of the new Ship Channel Bridge along the Beltway 8, the county has issued a pause.

Harris County Commissioner Adrian Garcia said the decision was made following the discovery of a design flaw with part of the bridge.

“I want to make sure that we are doing everything on behalf of public safety to ensure that everything is well,” Garcia said. “This was obviously concerning and alarming for me."

John Tyler, the deputy director of engineering with the Harris County Toll Road Authority and in charge of the project, said the flaw was discovered in the pylons used to widen the port.

“In the main pylons, the wall thickness below the driving service of the bridge needs to be stiffened,” Tyler said.

The discovery of the flaw was made by COWI, an independent consulting firm hired by the county in 2019, to oversee the construction project following the deadly collapse of a pedestrian bridge in 2018.

Figg bridge engineers who designed the bridge in Miami, are the same designers of the Ship Channel Bridge. The National Transportation Safety Board ruled Figg’s design was chiefly responsible for the collapse. The findings caused TxDot to suspend a bridge project designed by Figg.

But Tyler said HCTRA picked Figg in 2013 well before the bridge collapse disaster in Florida.

“FIGG has done seven of the 13 bridges similar to ours in the United States and they came highly qualified,” Tyler said.

Tyler said walking away from FIGG isn’t simple.

“We are pretty far along in it (project). It’s a very complex project and this is just one element within a very complex project and it’s addressable. We can move forward with constructing a very safe and sound pylon,” Tyler said.

But Garcia fears this discovery might be the beginning of more problems to come.

“It’s troublesome that we are already starting to put band-aids on this thing and it’s not even open,” he said.

Figgs will spend the next three weeks working on fixing the design and once the issue is addressed, construction will the resume. The bridge is expected to open by 2024.