Feds asked to expand probe of Galena Creek project | NevadaAppeal.com

Feds asked to expand probe of Galena Creek project

Feds asked to expand probe of NV highway project

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AP Photo NVREN103, NVREN101

By SCOTT SONNER

Associated Press Writer

RENO, Nev. (AP) – The discovery of cracks in the largest of a series of bridges under construction between Reno and Carson City prompted a congressional committee to ask federal inspectors Wednesday to expand their investigation into the safety of a $600 million highway project in Nevada.

At 300 feet high and 1,700 feet long, with a supporting cathedral arch, the Galena Creek bridge will be the largest structure of its type in the world.

“Given the recent developments, we are requesting that you expand the scope of this investigation to include the deficiencies discovered on the Galena Creek bridge,” leaders of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee said in a letter obtained by The Associated Press.

The Reno Gazette-Journal reported Tuesday that it could cost the state nearly $1 million to repair the cracks that are up to 30 feet long and about the width of a dime in the concrete supports of the arch.

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General launched an investigation in January into a smaller bridge – the Galena Forest bridge – at the request of the committee after an ex-construction worker complained he’d been ordered to do substandard concrete work to save money.

In the new letter, Rep. Jim Oberstar, D-Minn., chairman of the committee, and Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., chairman of its Subcommittee on Highways and Transit, told Inspector General Calvin Scovel III that he should now ensure that California-based contractor C.C. Myers and the Nevada Department of Transportation have verified that the construction of both bridges is “consistent with federal engineering requirements for safety and structural integrity.”

“Although NDOT claims that the cracks are not indicative of major structural problems, some believe that the design deficiency could shorten the bridge’s life-span by up to 10 years,” the congressmen wrote.

NDOT spokesman Scott Magruder said the state welcomes further investigation. He said the safety of Galena Creek bridge is in no way jeopardized, and construction should be completed by fall of next year.

NDOT project manager Brad Durski said the four affected areas of the southbound span will be strengthened with reinforcing steel and concrete, and cracks will be filled with epoxy at a cost of up to $900,000.

Durski said the state will pick up the tab because the problem had nothing to do with the contractor’s work or materials. The bridge was designed in-house by NDOT’s own engineers – one of nine bridges in the project.

Beth Ruyak, a spokeswoman for C.C. Myers in Rancho Cordova, Calif., said company crews will carry out whatever repairs the state feels are necessary even though the company is not to blame for the cracks.

Oberstar said bridge safety has long been a priority for him, particularly since the Interstate 35W bridge collapsed in Minneapolis in 2007. The collapse during evening rush hour killed 13 people, injured 145 and led to a closer examination of bridge safety throughout the country.

The congressmen also asked federal inspectors to determine if the flawed bridge design has been incorporated in other existing or planned NDOT structures, and who is responsible for the flawed design.

Magruder said the cracks are a different issue than the claims by David Lee, the former construction worker who sparked the initial probe by saying he’d been ordered to do substandard concrete work to save money.

“The first allegation we’ve been saying did not happen,” Magruder said.

Lee claims he was fired in retaliation for complaining to state transportation officials about the work.

He said the Galena Forest bridge was the only span where he was told to do cheaper work. However, he recalled pointing out cracks on the Galena Creek bridge to a foreman and being told the problem would be fixed later.

“Is it just me or can anyone else sense their only concern is to finish this project at any cost, no matter what problems arise along the way?” Lee asked.

Ruyak questioned Lee’s claim about the cracks, saying he has not been on the job for a number of months and the cracks now in question occurred during routine stress tests within the past two weeks.