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'We must restore public confidence' | Safety, transparency among concerns from area leaders on Harbor Bridge Project

Several leaders held a press conference Wednesday, one day after TxDOT told bridge developer Flatiron/Dragados LLC to respond to a notice of default or be fired.

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Safety and transparency are the main concerns from city, county and state leaders as the Harbor Bridge Project remains stalled.

Several leaders held a press conference Wednesday, one day after TxDOT told bridge developer Flatiron/Dragados LLC (FDLLC) to respond to a notice of default or be fired from the project. 

Here is what they had to say:

'Nothing more important than public safety'

Corpus Christi Mayor Paulette Guajardo began the meeting by stressing that public safety is their top priority regarding the Harbor Bridge Project. 

"Our elected officials are united in our belief that the safety of this project is our single most important and overriding concern," Mayor Paulette Guajardo said. "There is nothing more important than public safety."

Guajardo said the people of the Coastal Bend have the right to know exactly what is going on with the project.

"The public must receive information that is accurate and timely and builds trust in the process," Guajardo said. "We also must restore public confidence in the safety of the new Harbor Bridge."

More than 50,000 people travel across the Corpus Christi Ship Channel each day and residents must feel safe while traveling from Corpus Christi to Portland, Guajardo said.

"Today, we stand together, we stand united, we absolutely agree that is of priority and that must be attained."

State Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa's Chief of Staff, Luis Moreno, read a statement from the senator echoing Guajardo's sentiments on safety and added that this project is not only important for the community, but for the country, given the bridge's location near the Port of Corpus Christi. 

'This isn't supposed to be an obstacle course for public and media'

State Rep. Todd Hunter did not mince words at the press conference. 

"Let's just call this like it is... we keep calling it the Harbor Bridge... it's not a bridge, it's a big gap," Hunter began. "Until we finish it, until it gets built, it's not even a bridge."

Hunter stressed that the taxpayers deserve full disclosure and transparency from the project to lessen fears that have popped up surrounding the project. 

"I have people coming to me right now scared to even drive over in the area," Hunter said. "That is not the message we want to send from the coast."

Hunter said his number one concern right now is for transparency from TxDOT and Flatiron/Dragados LLC. 

"This isn't supposed to be an obstacle course for the public and the media to get information, this is safety," Hunter said. 

TxDOT has assured the Nueces County and state delegation that any cost overrun will not be the responsibility of our local government. 

"That's good news, but when is this going to be finished and what is the problem?" Hunter asked. "I will ask everyday: 'what is the timeline? What is the deadline? Is it five years? Ten years? Tell us. We deserve to know,' " Hunter said.

Hunter said, as a state leader, he wants to expand the local delegation that gets information from TxDOT and start holding town halls so the public can easily get updates and ask questions about the project. 

"Maybe its time to have a hearing, maybe its time to have a townhall," Hunter said. "Maybe that's the best way to be transparent and get information. Maybe that's a great way to let the taxpayers have some involvement."

Hunter concluded by saying he will do everything possible to get this project done. 

Taxpayers won't be responsible for delay costs

Not only is the safety of the bridge being built a topic of conversation, but the safety of the existing Harbor Bridge, which was built in the 1950s. 

"The Harbor Bridge as it exists will be utilized for a longer period of time than was anticipated," State Rep. Abel Herrero said. "So we are making certain that TxDOT assures the integrity of the existing Harbor Bridge."

Herrero also said he wants TxDOT's assurances in writing that the taxpayers won't be stuck with costs associated with delays. 

"In speaking with local elected officials, they've asked for a written statement, commitment, I would say contract, to that effect," Herrero said. "To me, those are reasonable requests that I would encourage, ask, demand that TxDOT provide because you should be able to back up what you're saying."

Watch the press conference in full: 

We bring a unified message

Nueces County Judge Barbara Canales said that herself along with other City-County leaders made sure to address their issues with TxDOT regarding the delayed plans on the new Harbor Bridge Project.

"We had the opportunity to hear from TxDOT at 3 p.m.," Canales said. "We explained to them that this was a little bit late as long as far as the information gathering occurred, and that this is something we needed to work on."

She added that herself, along with City-County leaders took initiative to keep gather information regarding the project so the public can have the answers they've been longing for.

"We were the ones that said we would like to have in writing the commitment of TxDOT to do exactly what they told us on a zoom meeting," Canales said. "That's what leadership is. It's not to keep that information to ourselves, but to memorialize it, so the people can know exactly what we know."

Canales added that while conversations between TxDOT and area leaders are still taking place, a timeline of events is crucial to know exactly where the project stands as a whole. 

"The maintenance that was just spoken about was also a specific note of topic in yesterday's 3 p.m. discussion," Canales said. "Once again, I appreciate very much the emphasis that has been placed in not just the press statement, but today's dialogue regarding the maintanencance of the current bridge. But I think what they mayor and I would both like to see is a timeline and a plan."

She added that with any project, the City wants to make sure that information is being properly communicated to the public for complete and total transparency.

"That way just how you know which City streets are being closed for good maintenance, we would like to be able to message that out effectively when good maintenance is being done with this bridge," Canales said.

The backstory

Work on the mainstay portion of the Harbor Bridge Project was halted by TxDOT on July 15 over safety concerns. Specifically, design flaws so significant that the TxDOT said "the bridge would collapse under certain load conditions" should developer FDLLC finish the bridge without making design changes. 

RELATED: New Harbor Bridge at risk of 'collapse' under current design, TxDOT says

On August 16, TxDOT held a press conference and released contents of letter between themselves and Flatiron/Dragados. Each entity blames the other for the project woes. 

"This is unfortunate, disappointing and unacceptable," Executive Director of TxDOT Marc Williams said about developer Flatiron/Dragados LLC's "lack of responsiveness" to safety concerns brought by TxDOT. 

Williams said TxDOT has long had questions about key design elements of the new Harbor Bridge. 

"Over the course of the project, there have been assurances by Flatiron/Dragados that these issues had been or would be addressed," Williams said.

TxDOT hired a fully independent bridge engineering firm, Systra International Bridge Technologies, to confirm that those concerns were addressed and found that they were not. 

"Earlier this year, this review identified several areas of concern that generally involved instances where the bridge design did not meet various industry standards specified by TxDOT," Williams said. Issues with foundations, load and weight capacity and the future stability of mainstay bridge were all included in the independent review. 

RELATED: TxDOT: Harbor Bridge developer did not take steps to fix flaws

In a letter to TxDOT dated Aug. 4 that TxDOT released Tuesday, Flatiron/Dragados LLC said it disagrees with the independent report from International Bridge Technologies that the bridge's design is defective. But it said TxDOT sat on that report for more than 18 months before halting work.

"If TxDOT was concerned by IBT's initial report, it should have raised those concerns to FDLLC and Arup-CFC back in early 2021," FDLLC Vice President and Project Manager Keith Armstrong wrote in the letter. "Inexplicably, TxDOT chose not to do so."

RELATED: The Harbor Bridge Project: A timeline of progress, concerns and delays

In a follow-up letter on Aug. 10, TxDOT said that's not true. It said the January 2021 IBT report was based on work from FDLLC's previous designer FIGG Bridge Engineers. TxDOT asked FDLLC to fire FIGG after a pedestrian bridge FIGG designed collapsed at Florida International University, killing six people.

FDLLC says in June 2021, TxDOT signed off on FDLLC's new bridge design from the design firm Arup-CFC.

"TxDOT allowed Arup-CFC to continue to design and FDLLC to continue construction of the foundations, footings, tower legs, and the precast segments," Armstrong said.

RELATED: Harbor Bridge developer says TxDOT sat on concerns for 18 months

City and state leaders said they want more answers about the project. 

"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."

Hunter said the public needs to stay informed every step of the way.  

"The key thing now is transparency, openness, and getting everything out to the public," Hunter said. 

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. 

"Let's take a constructive way of getting it on track," Hunter said.

RELATED: 'We all need answers': Lawmakers, City leaders call for transparency regarding Harbor Bridge Project

 

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