Work Stopped After Flaws Found in Missouri River Bridge

Wed March 03, 2004 - National Edition

LEXINGTON, MO (AP) Construction has stopped on a half-mile-long bridge over the Missouri River after surveyors discovered the span is as much as 6 in. (15.2 cm) lower than it should be over three stretches.

Contractors already had laid 200,000-lb. (90.7 kg) steel girders, some of them 120-ft. (36.6 m) long, when the flaws were discovered last month. The steel plates on which the girders rest, called bearing assembles, were built too short.

Once completed, the bridge will be the only Missouri River crossing for more than 20 miles in either direction. It will replace a narrow, crumbling 77-year-old structure upstream.

Lafayette County Sheriff Kerrick Alumbaugh said the aging bridge needs to be replaced soon. Recently, it was closed for a day so crews could repair a 4-sq.-ft. (.4 sq m) chunk that fell from the road surface.

"It’s a big concern for everyone up here," Alumbaugh said. "We saw the light at the end of the tunnel, and now it’s been put out."

The new bridge originally was scheduled to open in August. But before the flaw was discovered it already was behind schedule –– and now might not open until spring 2005, state officials said.

Officials said the problem could take months to correct, and a project designer called the problem particularly troubling because it was discovered later than most.

"At this point in the project, it is not normal to be faced with this condition," said Bernard Hopfinger of HNTB Cos., the Kansas City company hired to design the bridge.

Hopfinger said the state is not to blame.

The bridge contractor, Jensen Construction Co. of Des Moines, IA, was supposed to make sure the bearing assemblies were the proper height, said Royce Duffett, the state engineer overseeing the project. Jensen subcontracted the manufacturing to an Ohio company.

"It’s the contractor’s responsibility to build those to the elevation we want, and so it’s up to them to rectify the situation," Duffett said.

Jensen was selected to build the $18 million section of the bridge that goes over the river itself. The remaining section, built over land by another contractor, is made with concrete girders and is at proper height.

"We are working hard to find a solution," said Dan Timmons, manager of the bridge project for Jensen.

Timmons said Jensen is looking most closely at building up the low spot using concrete and supports. But the change would be made only after it was determined that the bridge could handle the extra weight.

"We are not going to do anything to sacrifice the integrity of the bridge,’" Duffett said. "We want what we paid for."