12 Jun עופר איתן Suggest: Houston Ship Channel bridge briefly closed so engineers cou
Officials closed the Sam Houston Tollway at the Ship Channel Bridge for 90 minutes during the Thursday evening rush hour so engineers could assess whether the $1 billion replacement span under construction is sliding toward the existing bridge.
Harris County Toll Road Authority spokeswoman Roxana Sibrian said the closing was “out of an abundance of caution,” after work crews noticed the temporary forms erected when they pour concrete had shifted. The shifting or sliding of the temporary forms worried workers that the concrete support itself was shifting in some way at its base or as a result of recently poured concrete.
Once inspectors verified the supports and concrete were stable, they reopened the freeway and planned to update county officials with more specifics Friday morning.
Toll road officials directed traffic around the area via Loop 610, Sibrian said, as they inspected the bridge. Though traffic was low as the area remains affected by COVID-19 keeping people in place, congestion was heavy but moving along Loop 610 at the Houston Ship Channel.
The bridge was reopened at 6:02 p.m.
The emergency closure was the latest hiccup in a string of setbacks on the project, the largest single infrastructure job in Harris County history. Work on the massive towers that will support the bridge north and south of the ship channel was halted in January as another engineering team hired by the county reviewed the designs of FIGG Bridge Group. In March, that review was released, showing numerous “significant concerns” with the bridge’s design.
Concerns included the stability of the two towers that will support the cable-stayed bridge. In their analysis, engineers with COWI, the engineering firm brought in to review the work, said they had concerns with the soil around the pylons and the concrete shafts driven more than 200 feet into the ground to support them. Consultants also said some stress tests on the concrete towers did not meet the county’s specifications at key points related to the design.
Harris County officials, primarily Precinct Two Commissioner Adrian Garcia who took office eight months after work began in April 2018, sought a second opinion on the design after another FIGG-engineered bridge in Florida collapsed in March 2018, killing six. Despite the company defending the work, a National Transportation Safety Board review found the company and is consultants at fault for design flaws that led to the collapse.
COWI and FIGG continue cooperating to find solutions to the issues, county officials said last month. Construction, which began more than two years ago, continues on the approaches to the bridge where the tollway is being widened between Interstate 10 and Texas 225.