Wakota Bridge's designer to pay MnDOT $20 million

  • Article by: JIM FOTI , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 18, 2008 - 5:57 AM

The settlement, reached through mediation with HNTB Corp. of Kansas City, nearly equals the amount the state spent to remedy engineering flaws on the span.

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The designer of a flawed span on the troubled Wakota Bridge project will pay the Minnesota Department of Transportation a $20 million settlement, the department announced Monday.

The settlement, to be paid by HNTB Corp. of Kansas City, Mo., is nearly identical to the amount that MnDOT had to spend to remedy the faulty engineering on the span, but it won't make up for the project's overall cost increases.

Construction of the Wakota Bridge on I-494 over the Mississippi River began in 2002 and was halted temporarily in September 2004 when the westbound span was more than half complete. Stress cracks had developed because of errors by HNTB.

"The settlement with HNTB is a fair and reasonable resolution to this matter," said Khani Sahebjam, MnDOT's deputy commissioner and chief engineer.

"We're very excited about it," he said, noting that working with a mediator had allowed the department to avoid litigation.

John O'Connell, a spokesman for HNTB, said the company agreed that the settlement was fair.

After the flaw was found, the westbound bridge was retrofitted, and the eastbound span was redesigned before construction on it began. While the eastbound bridge is being built, the westbound bridge is carrying three lanes of traffic in each direction.

Retrofitting the first bridge cost about $19.7 million. The cost of the second bridge, meanwhile, rose by about $30 million, Sahebjam said, because the new, stronger design was more expensive to build, and "inflation was a big part of it, too."

Construction on the eastbound span was delayed by the redesign and by the fact that MnDOT decided to rebid the contract, a move that drew criticism from some legislators and a rebuke from an independent mediation board.

Sahebjam said that, on major projects, MnDOT now requires a third party to look over designs submitted by outside engineers. Sahebjam said that MnDOT would have the settlement money in hand by the end of the year, and he hoped the department might be able to use some of it to speed up the Wakota project to provide some relief to commuters and nearby businesses. The construction method doesn't allow for a lot of flexibility, he said, but "I would love to be able to accelerate this bridge by a year and get it done."

The project is scheduled to be finished in July 2010. Its initial completion date was fall 2007.

Rep. Joe Atkins, DFL-Inver Grove Heights, said Monday that the House Labor and Commerce Committee, which he chairs, will hold a hearing next Tuesday on the project's current timetable and costs, what will be done with the settlement and "what lessons have we learned so that this doesn't happen to other folks." Jim Foti • 612-673-4491

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