Plans to replace the aging Harbor Bridge
Environmental concerns and the "destruction" of city's Northside
Impact on Residents
Ground is broken after years of planning and discussion
A Florida bridge collapse prompts further new concerns
Design firm removed from project
Work halted on main span of bridge
TxDOT finds safety concerns
Work resumes after stoppage
Estimated completion date: 2025
Construction on the new Harbor Bridge was halted by the Texas Department of Transportation on July 15, 2022 citing concerns with the overall design of the bridge.
This isn't the first time work has been halted on the $900 million project.
Here's a timeline of events surrounding the Harbor Bridge Project.
Plans to replace the aging Harbor Bridge: The Beginning
The current Harbor Bridge opened to traffic in 1959. Since then, the bridge has helped turn the Port of Corpus Christi into one of the busiest ports in the country; but after 50 years, engineers said it was time to work on getting it replaced.
Harbor Bridge Project: A timeline of progress, concerns and delays
The new Harbor Bridge was first discussed in 2001 when TxDOT entered a contract with Corpus Christi for engineering and environmental services related to building a new bridge. Several Citizens Advisory Committee meetings were held between 2001 and 2003.
A final draft of the feasibility study for the project was released in June of 2003. Years of planning and meetings about the design and cost of the project followed.
TxDOT held a meeting in 2011 to discuss a timeline for the project. TxDOT District Engineer John Casey told City of Corpus Christi leaders that a new Harbor Bridge would cost at least $600 million to construct. $100 million of that would have to come locally from the Metropolitan Planning Organization at the Port of Corpus Christi.
City council members approved the project on June 17, 2013. The Texas Transportation Commission approved the $601 million in funds to make the project possible just days later on June 27, 2013.
In September of 2015, TxDOT hired Flatiron/Dragados, LLC as the main developer of the Harbor Bridge Project. At that time, the bridge was expected to be complete by 2020.
Environmental concerns and the "destruction" of city's Northside: Impact on Residents
Just a year before Flatiron/Dragados was selected to build the new bridge, other concerns were coming to light.
In 2014, findings by the Environmental Protection Agency prompted concerns about the possible effects of the new Harbor Bridge on residents on the city's northside. The report dealt mostly with air pollution, specifically the amount that could be flowing into the nearby Hillcrest neighborhood, due to new bridge and its new route.
Not only were there concerns about pollution, but the destruction of the historic Hillcrest and Washington Coles neighborhoods.
Construction of the new bridge's path meant many residents had to leave those historic neighborhoods, which were rich in Black history and culture.
In 2015, The Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid Office filed a Title 6 civil rights complaint seeking to prevent the construction of the bridge from adding to the Hillcrest neighborhood's legacy of mistreatment.
Northside residents filed a formal complaint with TxDOT the same year, opposing construction of a new bridge. They cited increased health and safety hazards posed by the new bridge, as well as what they said would be a negative economic impact.
In early 2016, the civil rights complaint was resolved and the Federal Highway Commission gave approval to move forward with the Harbor Bridge Project. The Port of Corpus Christi then agreed to provide $20 million to buy houses in the area to move residents out of the pathway of the new bridge.
Residents were not eager to accept the Port's offer. The relocation program was open for three years, from 2016-19.
By the time the relocation program ended, about 100 residents remained. Those residents came up with a "livability plan," which was described as a road map for residents to navigate on what needs they might have.
Northside residents were given more time than initially planned to relocate, which pushed back some phases of construction.
Work Begins: Ground is broken after years of planning and discussion
On August 8, 2016, Gov. Greg Abbott joined federal, state and local officials at the Solomon P. Ortiz Center for the official groundbreaking ceremony for the Harbor Bridge Project. Phase one of the construction project had actually begun a month earlier, in July of 2016.
Construction on the new bridge was expected to take about five years, but the Harbor Bridge Project would face more hurdles in months and years to come.
A Florida bridge collapse prompts further new concerns: Design firm removed from project
FIGG Bridge Engineers, Inc. was the initial firm hired by Flatiron/Dragados to design the new Harbor Bridge. The company also designed a pedestrian bridge at Florida International University in Miami that collapsed in March of 2018, killing six people.
Work was suspended on the Harbor Bridge Project by TxDOT after the collapse as officials awaited findings from a National Transportation Safety Board investigation into the Florida bridge collapse.
At this point, the project was said to be at least two years behind schedule.
In January of 2020, TxDOT announced that they had instructed Flatiron/Dragados to remove FIGG Bridge Engineers, Inc. from any future work on the main spans of the project.
At the time, TxDOT said all construction that was previously completed was built in compliance with contract requirements and specifications. Still, a new design firm needed to be chosen for the rest of the bridge.
In July of 2020, Flatiron/Dragados hired a new design firm, Arup-CFC, to review, re-certify and complete the design of the new Harbor Bridge.
In 2021, Corpus Christi city council members got an update on the project after the COVID-19 pandemic caused further delays in construction. At time time, TxDOT and Flatiron/Dragados told city leaders the bridge was expected to be finished by summer of 2024 -- four years behind the original schedule -- and it would cost more to complete.
Work halted on main span of bridge: TxDOT finds safety concerns
TxDOT orders work to stop on Harbor Bridge project
In July of 2022, TxDOT ordered Flatiron/Dragados to suspend work on the main cable-stayed portion of the new Harbor Bridge due to "overall concerns" with the design. This specifically affected work on the portion of bridge that will be over the water, which is approximately 1/8th of the entire design.
"We work hard to maintain productive relationships with all of our partners to deliver projects efficiently,” said TxDOT Chief Engineer Lance Simmons. “We cannot compromise on safety. We have been transparent and direct in sharing our concerns with FDLLC as well as our expectations on addressing these safety issues.”
In a statement, TxDOT told 3NEWS in part that, "TxDOT notified the public of a suspension of work on the main span cable-stayed portion of the project on July 15. The suspension stems from TxDOT’s concerns, confirmed by independent reviews, regarding the overall design of the main bridge."
TxDOT said that the current Harbor Bridge is "inspected annually and remains structurally sound" and they will continue to update the public on progress of the new bridge. In the meantime, they said all work on the SH-286 and I-37 interchange, the north and south approaches to the new Harbor Bridge, and related roadwork on North Beach to continue.
TxDOT has not given a new estimated timeline for completion of the project.
TxDOT releases letter sent to Flatiron Dragados
TxDOT released the letter they sent to the bridge developers on Thursday, August 4.
The letter stated the new Harbor Bridge has design flaws so significant that the TxDOT said "the bridge would collapse under certain load conditions" should developer Flatiron Dragados LLC (FDLLC) finish the bridge without making design changes.
TxDOT said it has "concluded there is or will be an emergency or danger to persons or property related to the design deficiencies."
"We cannot and will not compromise on safety," TxDOT said in a prepared statement to the media on Thursday. "We can assure the public that we are prepared to take the steps necessary to complete this project in the safest and most efficient manner possible."
3NEWS has asked to speak to TxDOT about why so much of the bridge was built with design errors still in place, when it realized there was a problem, and whether it believes portions of the bridge that have already been built will have to come down.
Developer FDLLC has not commented at all since TxDOT halted construction nearly three weeks ago.
Flatiron Dragados defaults on contract
The Texas Department of Transportation said August 16 the developer of the new Harbor Bridge has defaulted on its contract and has 15 days to fix design flaws with the bridge or TxDOT will fire them.
"This is unfortunate, disappointing and unacceptable," Executive Director of TxDOT Marc Williams said about developer Flatiron/Dragados LLC's (FDLCC) "lack of responsiveness" to safety concerns brought by TxDOT.
FDLCC said the Texas Department of Transportation is to blame for the half-finished bridge and the current impasse on the bridge's design.
Regardless of who is to blame for the impasse... city, county and state leaders want answers.
"It's absolutely frustrating," said Texas Representative Todd Hunter. "Here is a wonderful structure, a wonderful project, all of a sudden, the brakes have been put on."
Reaction also coming in from City Hall. Corpus Christi Mayor Paulette Guajardo saying:
Our paramount concern is public safety. An independent review by TxDOT has determined there are significant safety concerns. The City continues to require answers and transparency. The Harbor Bridge is important to our community’s safety and economy. The people have the right to be kept informed every step of the way. The Harbor Bridge must be built with the highest safety standards. More information must be provided to regain the public trust. We support the steps TxDOT is taking today to ensure public safety.
For now, the new bridge is halfway built and roughly two years behind schedule with no timetable to resume construction.
Deadline for updated plans from Flatiron Dragados
Today, Sept. 1, is the deadline for Flatiron Dragados, the Harbor Bridge Project developer, to present the Texas Department of Transportation their plans to move forward with an updated design for the main cable-stayed portion of the new bridge or be fired from the project.
Officials from TxDOT said this week, Flatiron Dragados gave proposed solutions to the issues TxDOT had with the bridge design, but those solutions are currently being reviewed.
"The next step is to continue this correspondence and make sure the communications move quickly," said Valente Olivarez Jr. who is a district engineer with TxDOT.
TxDOT said Flatiron Dragados is still under a notice of default until the solutions are reviewed and they figure out how to move forward.
"It certainly seems it's moving in the right direction and I would be very glad to know we could see a resolution in the next 30 days," said Nueces County Judge Barbara Canales.
Talks ongoing between Flatiron Dragados and TxDOT
It has been nearly one month since Texas Department of Transportation officials announced they would be reviewing solutions to new Harbor Bridge Project design issues from developer Flatiron Dragados.
TxDOT officials told 3NEWS on Wednesday they continue to have productive conversations with Flatiron Dragados.
State representative Todd Hunter said that even though the two sides appear to be making progress, much more is needed -- and soon.
“Bottom line: nothing specific. Bottom line: They’re making progress,” Hunter said. “But the real issues are: How long is it going to be? What’s the projected date? What’s the projected timeline? Explain what the issue is.”
Work resumes after stoppage: Estimated completion date: 2025
Flatiron continues work through agreement letter with TxDOT
The agreement makes sure to outline that Flatiron Dragados is financially responsible for finishing the work at its expense, and to TxDOT's standards.
TxDOT Executive Director Mark Williams said he has been frustrated with the project, but the letter that spells out that the state's safety demands must be met under the threat of default.
"There's going to continue to be a notice of default until such time as all of the project safety factors get complete," said Nueces County Judge Barbara Canales.
One of five safety concerns resolved
One of the five safety concerns that halted construction on the new Harbor Bridge's main span has been resolved, according to representatives from Flatiron-Dragados, LLC, and the Texas Department of Transportation.
The developer joined TxDOT as they provided the first major update in about a month, when TxDOT announced that Flatiron-Dragados would remain on the job. Construction on the cable-stayed portion of the bridge's main span was halted back in mid-July when TxDOT identified five safety issue's with the bridge design.
One of the five safety issues centered around the delta frames for the bridge's main span. Those were being built at Flatiron-Dragados' pre-cast yard in Robstown, Texas, but that work has been on hold since mid-July. According to TxDOT and Flatiron-Dragados, a modified design adding steel connections between the delta frames was agreed upon on Thursday.
Officials said the Robstown pre-cast yard will resume building those delta frames on Monday or sooner if weather permits, and the delta frames that were built before the safety issues were identified will be modified.
TxDOT said they are still working with Flatiron-Dragados to come to resolutions on the four remaining safety concerns. As for construction on the bridge's main span itself, officials said it is still unclear when that will resume.
Officials also said they hope to have the new Harbor Bridge built by 2025, but they are still trying to see how much the stoppage in construction has put them behind schedule.
Work resumes on main span of bridge
Work on the main span of the new Harbor Bridge resumed Dec. 15, according to the Texas Department of Transportation.
It was in late October when TxDOT and bridge developer Flatiron/Dragados, LLC, announced work would resume at the Robstown pre-cast yard where delta frames for the bridge's main span are constructed. Those delta frames had to be modified after their design was identified as one of the five safety issues that initially halted work on the main cable-stayed portion of the bridge back in mid-July.
TxDOT says crews with Flatiron-Dragados will begin erecting elements of the bridge's superstructure, and that includes the first of those delta frames being put into place.
Work will also resume on the bridge's main span towers.
“The resumption of work on the main spans is positive news because it indicates construction progress is now underway on the project’s cable-stayed portion of the bridge. TxDOT and the developer are excited to begin this work because it represents a huge step forward for the project,” said TxDOT Corpus Christi District Engineer Valente Olivarez Jr.
The estimated completion date of the new Harbor Bridge is 2025.
TxDOT proud of progress following work stoppage
If you haven't had an opportunity to drive by it, the Harbor Bridge is coming along.
The foundation footing – literally the support structure of the tower that will hold the cables and the bridge deck that people will be driving on – are currently going up.
This important step in the bridge’s construction comes almost six months after work was stopped on the project’s main span because of construction flaws found by a third-party inspector hired by TxDOT.
And since TxDOT and Flatiron Dragados agreed to re-start work in October, overlapping construction has helped the project move forward, said TxDOT District Engineer Valente Olivarez Jr.
"The drill shafts of the foundation that go underneath the footings -- we'll complete those on the north tower this month,” said “And then we'll move over to south tower and work on those. And while we're working on the ones at the south tower, Flatiron Dragados’ team will continue to work on expanding the footing to go and encompass over the drill shafts that have been ports."
Outside of the main-span bridge work, a lot of roadwork and bridge work also has been happening around Interstate 37.
"Hopefully what we're looking at here, as far as Flatiron Dragados and their schedule, is that we may be able to shift traffic sometime in March on Interstate 37 which will open up a lot more areas to work underneath that interchange for the roadway and bridge crews to continue construction in those areas," he said.
He also said TxDOT plans to release information about the specific construction flaws that caused the recent delay after the fifth item is addressed this month.
Checking in with former Hillcrest/Washington Coles residents
The Hillcrest-Washington Coles neighborhood has long been the subject of intense discussion since the route for the new Harbor Bridge project was announced.
While the area also is surrounded by "Refinery Row" and Interstate 37, the new Harbor Bridge project is now perhaps the neighborhood's most visible symbol of change -- but not the sole cause of it.
Hillcrest's evolution from a thriving Black community to a near-ghost town has been a story decades in the making.
"In the past 10 years, the residential population of the Northside area has decreased as industrial activity increased and has encroached on traditional residential areas," TxDOT stated in a 2003 feasibility study related to the new bridge's construction. "To the west of the Northside area, refinery expansion has resulted in the removal of a number of houses."
As industry claimed properties and tore down homes, the new Harbor Bridge has forced the Hillcrest and Washington Coles neighborhoods to continue to weather the storm of growing industrialization.
In the 4000 block of Sam Rankin Street is where Unity Chapel Funeral Home owner Gwendolyn Coleman has operated her business for more than 20 years.
She said that the Northside was once a prosperous area that fostered growth and community – but now, that community has become hard to find.
“That bridge, that construction of that bridge -- which is not completed yet -- has devastated the community and so many lives,” she said.
Coleman said that the construction of the bridge has not only damaged a community that she has long served, but also made it more difficult for her to earn a living.
“They cut off certain areas into our community," she said. "There were some mornings where I didn't know how I was going to get to my own office.”
Developer announced work could be finished in first part of 2025
Developer Flatiron Dragados LLC expects the new Harbor Bridge project to be complete in the first half of 2025, said spokeswoman Lynn Allison during a regularly-scheduled Corpus Christi City Council meeting.
"That is the closest I can give you right now, but we are very dedicated to this timeline," she said.
The Texas Department of Transportation and new Harbor Bridge developer Flatiron Dragados LLC presented their quarterly progress report Tuesday, where Allison gave a presentation on the bridge's progress.
She said the project is being completed in sections, with roadwork being a major component to the project as a whole -- 90 percent of the roadwork has been completed on North Beach.
North side of bridge reaches 85 percent completion
Corpus Christi residents may have seen changes to the towers of the new Harbor Bridge as the north side of the bridge is at 85 percent completion.
Flatiron Dragados Spokeswoman Lynn Allison said they're hoping to open the Leopard Street corridor by this summer.
With the magnitude of the project, it's understandable that there are so many moving parts when it comes to getting closer to the new Harbor Bridge's completion.
Allison told 3NEWS that there have been a fair share of milestones, including what will be coming in May.
"We'll be running the first stay cable on the cable-stayed bridge. Running the first stay cable is very significant," she said. "If you look at images of the completed bridge, you'll see the cables coming off of the upper towers. So we'll be running the first stay cable on the north pylon in May."
One of the other milestones Allison presented before county commissioners Wednesday was a new turnaround at Nueces Bay Boulevard.
"We opened a new turnaround at Nueces Bay Boulevard for commuters to exit southbound IH-37 and a turn around to northbound IH-37, and also to allow more access to connect to State Highway 286 or Crosstown Expressway," she said.
Officials announce popular lights will be back
A couple of years ago the Harbor Bridge had colored lights. Changes were made throughout the year to honor fallen police officers, bring awareness to causes, and more.
The lights will be coming back, however this time on the larger new Harbor Bridge.
The lights illuminated the City of Corpus Christi for at least a decade. They will be added as part of the new Harbor Bridge Project, making them bigger and more colorful than they were on the current bridge.
Corpus Christi Mayor Paulette Guajardo spoke with 3NEWS and said she's excited to see what the new ones will bring to the Coastal Bend.
"These lights have always been a part of Corpus Christi, the Sparkling City. So, what they're going to look like across this new bridge is, is just going to be amazing." Guajardo said.
The lights were taken off in 2021. However, they'll be back as soon as 2025, when the new Harbor Bridge is scheduled for completion. The City of Corpus Christi said they will operate the lights, which can be programed to include most colors of the light spectrum.
Guajardo explained, "People will be able to apply to light up the bridge in awareness of whatever their, their organization or whatever their cause is."
There will be an application fee and the lights will be LED and computer programable. The current Harbor Bridge did not have the same type, so colors could be changed but were limited. She said lights on a larger bridge will give people even more of a reason to look forward to seeing it.
First stay cable going up
A major milestone in the Harbor Bridge project is coming up as developer plans to run the first stay cable.
"We'll be running the first stay cable on the cable-stayed bridge. Running the first stay cable is very significant," Flatiron Dragados Spokeswoman Lynn Allison said. "If you look at images of the completed bridge, you'll see the cables coming off of the upper towers. So we'll be running the first stay cable on the north pylon in May."
3NEWS will keep you updated as work continues.