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OCTA Hires Expert to Help Fix Flaws in Freeway Bridge

Project oversight will be reviewed after concrete is found breaking from the 55/405 carpool ramp.

November 16, 2002|Dan Weikel | Times Staff Writer

Grappling with flaws found in a $12-million freeway bridge, the Orange County Transportation Authority decided Friday to review its oversight procedures for construction projects and hire an outside expert to help repair the damaged span.

The OCTA board of directors agreed unanimously to spend up to $100,000 for the services of Freider Seible, a highly regarded bridge expert and dean of UC San Diego's engineering department.

Seible has been helping the agency and Caltrans assess the damage to the carpool connector at the interchange of the San Diego and Costa Mesa freeways, one of the busiest in the country. OCTA officials now want him to help find a solution.

The towering flyover is part of a $125-million project to improve the interchange. The ramp was scheduled to open in April, but repairs could postpone that until the end of 2003.

Work was stopped in August after construction crews found that concrete had cracked and fallen off large sections of the sides on the elevated roadway. Although the bridge is in no danger of collapsing, its ability to carry heavy loads over many years has been compromised.

Board members said an outside expert is needed, given the number of agencies and private contractors involved in the project. OCTA is paying for the work. Caltrans is administering the project and providing oversight as well as design criteria.

CH2M Hill, an international engineering firm, designed the bridge. The prime contractor is C.C. Myers Inc., a construction company based in Rancho Cordova, near Sacramento.

"We need to get solutions and avoid finger-pointing," said Arthur Leahy, OCTA's chief executive officer. "That is hard to do sometimes with different perspectives, competing interests and substantial costs. We need to protect the taxpayers' interest."

The OCTA board also agreed to work closely with Caltrans to find a solution and assess whether the authority's oversight procedures are sufficient.

OCTA had hired a private engineering firm to monitor the construction and progress of the interchange project, including the two-way carpool connector.

Supervisor Todd Spitzer, OCTA board chairman, said he was concerned that he and his colleagues were not regularly or fully informed about work on the bridge.

With better information, he said, the construction defects might have been avoided.

Spitzer cited a Caltrans memo showing that C.C. Myers told the transportation department about potential reinforcement problems in June 2001, more than a year before the defects were discovered.

Records show that a Caltrans engineer, the designer and the contractor discussed the concerns and apparently concluded that no further reinforcements were necessary under Caltrans' design guidelines.

Board members, however, said they did not learn about the memo until this month -- 16 months after the concerns were raised with Caltrans and two months after the defects were found.

"We need to do a reassessment of our procedures and how we get information," said Tim Keenan, vice chairman of the OCTA board. "We need to see if we can be better and more informed."

Under Friday's measure, board members and the news media will receive regular updates on the bridge repair effort.

Meanwhile, state Sen. Joe Dunn (D-Santa Ana) said he has asked Caltrans for records related to the carpool connector. He plans to convene a Senate Transportation Committee hearing in Orange County to determine what happened.

Dunn, a committee member, said he also wants to make sure that Caltrans recovers the costs of repairs from the designer and contractor if the companies are held responsible for the defects.

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