Bridge fight delays construction in Arkansas



A Colorado-based highway construction joint venture and the Arkansas Department of Transportation are fighting over who must pay for an additional $11 million in costs over a stalled $100.6 million project to build a new bridge on Interstate 40 over the White River.

The joint venture, which includes Parson Construction Co. and CJ Mahan Construction Co., objects to the agency’s insistence that it pay for replacing a pier cap on the bridge over concerns the concrete wasn’t set properly last August in the midst of a lightning storm that interrupted the work.

The Arkansas Democrat Gazette reported that executives for the joint venture, appearing at a legislative hearing Wednesday afternoon, maintain that the storm should have triggered an “act of God” clause in which the department would shoulder the expense.

The executives said extensive engineering analysis and a review by a third-party expert of the pier cap shows the structure is sound and doesn’t need to be replaced.

Replacing the pier cap, they said, will further delay completing the project, likely into next year, especially if high water slows construction.

No work has been done since November 2019 when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released water from above Bull Shoals dam. Recent rains have aggravated conditions at the site.

The joint venture was awarded the contract in November 2016. If the pier cap isn’t replaced, the bridge likely would be finished before the end of the year, according to the companies’ executives.

The Highway Department’s deputy director and chief engineer, Emanuel Banks, said in a letter dated Feb. 14 that the joint venture has 10 days to advise whether it will replace the cap or “allow it to remain in place while appealing the Highway Department’s decision through an appeal to the Arkansas State Claims Commission.”

If Parson-Mahan doesn’t intend to replace the pier cap or file an appeal, the department will initiate “default proceedings,” a rarely invoked procedure, Banks said.

If a contractor is found in default, it falls to a surety company insuring the contract to find another contractor to complete the job.

Tony Geach, a vice president with Parson Construction Co., which has an office in Westminster, Colo., said the joint venture wants to put the matter behind it but hasn’t decided how it will move forward.

“We want to continue to work with ARDOT to get a quick resolution,” Geach said after the legislative meeting. “We haven’t made that determination yet. We’re going to respond shortly.”

He expressed satisfaction with being able to air the joint venture’s concerns before lawmakers even though the committee’s co-chairman, Sen. Jonathan Dismang, R-Beebe, made clear the committee wasn’t going to litigate the issue. The project is in Dismang’s district.

“We just wanted to bring to light the process and make sure everyone is informed of what the potential impacts would be,” Geach said. “I think we did that today.”

Geach and four others representing the joint venture appeared before the Highway Commission Review and Advisory Subcommittee of the Arkansas Legislative Council, which is overseeing an ongoing review of the department’s policies and procedures.

Source: Arkansas Democrat Gazette