Ten pillars deemed flawed on US 290 project

Link to article here.

This is what happens when our highway department outsources its expertise and project management to these new Regional Mobility Authorities that have no earthly idea how to build highways. They're Rick Perry's Wall Street JP Morgan-Chase-First Southwest cocktails specializing in "innovative financing" and building debt bombs (like the subprime mortgage crisis), not highways. We have got to get  rid of these RMAs and of Perry's attempt underway to re-make of the highway department into a Goldman Sachs finance zone (eventually on track for massive taxpayer bailouts -- think Greece), and get back to TxDOT building traditional state highways (that used to be the envy of the nation).

Jacobs is also the firm that engineered the southern ramps of the 281/1604 interchange in San Antonio and it's also conducting the US 281 environmental impact study that involves preliminary engineering and cost estimates. FYI, Webber may be Houston-based, but it was purchased by Cintra's parent company, Ferrovial a few years back. So this is what we get when Cintra's on the job. We have confidence in none of the above!

10 pillars on U.S. 290 tollway project deemed flawed

By Ben Wear

Updated: 10:21 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 15, 2011

Published: 9:10 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 15, 2011

Ten concrete columns were built either too high or too low on the U.S. 290 tollway project in Northeast Austin and will have to be replaced or altered, an official with the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority said Thursday.

Two columns will be completely rebuilt. The other eight must be shortened or made higher.

The cost of the reconstruction efforts will be borne by the project's general contractor, Webber LLC , because the error was determined to be Webber's fault, said Steve Pustelnyk , spokesman for the mobility authority. Pustelnyk said the added work will not delay opening of the first mile and a half of the 6.2-mile Manor Expressway project, which will be owned and operated by the local toll agency and will run from U.S. 183 to just west of Manor.

He said that first phase of the tollway, including the four flyover bridges, should open by late 2012 .

The flyovers, which will connect U.S. 183 with what will be new, tolled express lanes on U.S. 290, are being built under a $52.5 million contract. The first section of toll lanes and access roads is being built under another $207.3 million contract, also with Webber.

That company is also the general contractor on the mobility authority's five-mile extension of the 183-A tollway in Leander and Cedar Park, a $75.7 million project that should open by spring.

Pustelnyk said Webber is "in concurrence that the cost is theirs."

Mario Menendez , general counsel with Houston-based Webber, said Thursday that he was not familiar with the problem and could not comment on whether his company was at fault, or whether it will cover the cost of repairs. Nor could he say what that cost would be.

"Certainly we're going to stand behind the contractual obligations we've assumed," Menendez said.

The flawed columns involved three of the four flyover bridges in the project: two on the flyover that connects eastbound U.S. 290 to northbound U.S. 183, four on the flyover that connects westbound U.S. 290 to southbound U.S. 183, and four on the flyover that connects northbound U.S. 183 to eastbound U.S. 290.

The problem was discovered about two months ago as crews were attempting to suspend a steel beam between concrete columns and found that "things were not lining up the way they were supposed to," Pustelnyk said.

But the origins of the flaw go back about two years, before construction began in spring 2010 .

Pustelnyk said that an original set of plans for the interchange by Jacobs Engineering Group , when it was reviewed by Webber, were found lacking. So Jacobs redesigned the project and the resulting plans were approved by the mobility authority and Webber.

However, "for an unknown reason, the old set of design plans was used to build these particular columns," Pustelnyk said, and that mistake was not discovered until they had been built. Initially, officials thought only one column was built under the wrong specifications, but a follow-up investigation confirmed that 10 of 117 would have to be altered.

On Thursday, one of those flawed columns and its triangular "bearing seat" on top was part way through a demolition effort in the median between the eastbound and westbound lanes of U.S. 290.

Pustelnyk said the new columns will be structurally sound. "Any of the changes that are being done have been reviewed and approved by licensed engineers," he said.

A column on the MoPac Boulevard (Loop 1)/U.S. 290 flyover project in Southwest Austin, found by inspectors to have inadequate concrete, had to be rebuilt earlier this year. That episode on the Texas Department of Transportation project was followed a few months later by the bankruptcy of the Nevada-based contractor and abandonment of the job. A new contractor resumed work this week on that job.

U.S. 290 in Northeast Austin is likewise part of the state highway system under TxDOT's control. But TxDOT ceded control two years ago of the future tollway section to the mobility authority.