Figg Bridge's extraordinary defensiveness about their June accident at South Norfolk Jordan Bridge FOLLOW-UP
By Peter Samuel
2012-07-20: Having made a little light fun of Figg Bridge's announcement of "Free Fall Weekends for E-ZPass Drivers" they have accused us of "trying to stir things up with the 'free fall' comments and instill a bit of fear in potential drivers" with a reference to their construction accident.
It was the bridge company that chose to use the double-edged term "Free Fall..." - naive PR coming so soon after the extensive publicity for the free falls of huge bridge segments involved, first in the construction accident June 21, and then in the demolition of the damaged steel erection truss July 7.
For them to use the term Free Fall... was to almost beg for word play alluding to the construction accident and the truss demolition.
No cause for concern about bridge integrity
Certainly the construction accident is NOT cause - in our opinion - for motorists to be fearful about the integrity of the bridge.
The accident occurred when concrete box girder segments were being placed on the temporary erection trusswork.
It occurred before there were the number of segments required for a self-supporting span.
And it occurred before the 20 or so segments needed for a span were tied together inside with steel cables, and tensioned.
So the accident cannot reflect on the integrity of a finished span or spans.
Loose truss end
We published a picture of the construction just minutes before the accident. It shows the span two-thirds to three-quarters complete. Five or six more segments are needed to complete the span.
As we've written before - and the bridge company has not contested this - the odd thing shown in the construction picture is the yellow steel erection trusses floating free at their near ends. The farside truss end is slightly obscured so might be tied. But the nearside truss end is clearly untethered.
Every other picture and diagram we've seen of this construction method shows the ends of the trusses tied securely to one another and to the pier at this stage of construction.
Left floating loose as the photograph shows makes it easier for the trusses to move as a heavy segment is placed on them.
Erection trusses moved
We were told that the trusses moved.
But perhaps there was operator error and a segment was clumsily handled during placement?
Maybe that caused the trusswork to move.
Our guess is it may have been a bit of both - untethered truss ends and operator clumsiness.
Regardless, we know at least one full segment crashed to the ground and others were bounced around and left chaotically perched. Pictures show that.
"Hush, hush, hush..."
If anything is going to instill fear in potential drivers it will be the refusal of Figg Engineering to provide an explanation of what happened. We've been told forcefully that the story "doesn't have legs," that we've sensationalized it.
This was a bad accident. The pictures tell the story.
It was sheer luck people weren't killed.
The bridge company has had expensive demolition and cleanup to do.
New bridge segments have needed to be ordered and paid for.
New erection trusses had to be fabricated and delivered and erected.
And there are delays in opening - embarrassing because of all the fancy celebrations and opening events that have been indefinitely postponed.
And it will cost money in tolls foregone from the planned opening July 16.
Figg has done over a hundred segmental concrete box girder jobs like this, many bigger and more difficult, without serious incident. They're a great engineering company with a stellar record. They are world leaders in a splendid bridge-building methodology.
But the exceptional nature of this accident makes people want to know what went wrong here in South Norfolk.
If anything will instill fear it's NOT discussing the accident, and giving the impression it needs to be hushed up - editor.
This is a FOLLOW-UP to: