Design Error Blamed for I-40 Delays at NLR

A miscalculation in designing the Levy bridge in North Little Rock has pushed the completion date of the six-mile Interstate 40 project back several months — and possibly into 2007.

The $57.2 million project designed to expand Interstate 40 from four lanes to six from just west of Interstate 430 to the I-40 interchange was expected to be completed in January 2006. But now it might not be finished until January 2007, said Brad Fryar, vice president and project manager of Weaver-Bailey Contractors Inc. of El Paso (White County).

Randy Ort, a spokesman for the Arkansas State Highway & Transportation Department, said he isn't exactly sure how long the Levy bridge design error delayed the project.

Still, construction workers might be able to make up some of the lost time with good weather, Ort said.

"They are making very good progress out there now," he said.

Ort said the Highway Department is hopeful the project will be completed on its original schedule.

Meanwhile, Ort said the Highway Department is working with the Louis Berger Group of East Orange, N.J., which designed the project, to recoup the nearly $300,000 it paid to compensate Jensen Construction Co. of Des Moines, Iowa, as a result of being idle while the bridge was being redesigned.

The Berger Group declined to comment and referred questions to the Highway Department. The Berger Group was paid $2.3 million for designing the section.

The 6.3-mile project, which opened for bid around February 2003, is the most expensive single project in the Highway Department's history.

In addition to adding lanes, the project also calls for resurfacing the lanes and rebuilding three main line structures: The Levy bridge, an overpass at Valley View and Shillcutt Bayou. An overpass at Highway 107 also is under construction. The project is a joint venture between Jensen and Weaver-Bailey, with Jensen handling the bridge work while Weaver-Bailey is doing all the road work.

The Error Discovered

Jensen Project Coordinator Brad Peterson said Jensen workers arrived at the construction site in March or April 2003.

One of Jensen's first jobs was to build another bridge parallel to the 85-foot-high Levy bridge. The finished product would have two new bridges, one for east-bound traffic and one for west-bound motorists.

Ort said Jensen workers realized there was a problem.

"It had to fit together like a jigsaw puzzle," Ort said. But it wasn't going to fit properly. "There was an error in the plans," he said.

Fryar said, "As it turned out, there was not adequate room to build the inside two lanes of the east-bound bridge and maintain the existing two lanes of the east-bound bridge, ... which you have to do."

Ort wasn't sure exactly how far off the design was, but it was only a matter of inches.

"Unfortunately, [on] bridge plans this large and this detailed, you don't simply erase and draw a new line," Ort said.

Work on the bridge came to a halt for eight months as engineers redesigned the structure.

Also during the summer of 2003, the Highway 107 bridge was being redesigned, but that was because of a change order and had nothing to do with a design error. The plans had to be changed partly because North Little Rock city officials wanted to have a sidewalk open during the construction work on the bridge. But that project was halted about two months for the redesign.

Peterson said it was hard to determine how long the Levy bridge error pushed the project back. Since the construction on I-30 had to be sequenced in a certain way, Jensen employees couldn't work on another section of the project while waiting for the new plans.

"We were stopped work about eight months, I believe, in the area, but I don't know what that eight-month impact has on the completion date," Peterson said.


The delays on designing the bridge drove the cost of construction up by nearly $300,000.

"Jensen had moved in here with all this equipment," Fryar said. "They brought in all the supervisory personnel, and those are people you just don't put on a job and send them home for a month.

"They're here until the job's done," he said. "Well, that year's delay is not a delay that you include in your bid, quite frankly."

Ort said the Highway Department has paid Jensen approximately $100,000 for error-related change orders. It has also paid Jensen approximately $200,000 in delay costs because of its idle equipment and manpower during the redesign.

Ort said Highway Department officials and the Berger Group are in discussion over the payment resulting from the delays. Ort said at the end of the project the Highway Department will tally up the error-related costs and send Berger the bill.

Jensen's Peterson doesn't expect any more costs as a result of the delays.

He said if the bridge had been in an open field, it wouldn't have been such a big deal to alter the plans.

"It just so happens that the place that it was in there was no room for error," Peterson said. "And the little error went a long ways."