The second attempt to pour concrete on the new S.C. 31 bridge proved successful, meaning the highway’s long-delayed southern extension is on track to be finished by Thanksgiving, authorities said.
Crews replaced the concrete late last month and the strength of the material was later verified, said Travis Patrick, an assistant district construction engineer with the S.C. Department of Transportation (DOT). However, that was just one part of the project. Additional work includes pouring some bridge walls, reinstalling the bridge drainage system and painting steel girders.
“The timeline for completion remains the same,” Patrick said via email, referring to the November target.
State and local officials had hoped the road would be open two years ago, but the highway’s final southern leg — which runs from S.C. 544 to S.C. 707— has seen numerous delays.
DOT officials have offered various reasons for the overdue road, including the devastating flooding from hurricanes in 2015, 2016 and 2018. But officials have attributed the most recent setback to concrete that cracked along a 150-foot section of the bridge over the Intracoastal Waterway.
“That’s been the major holdup for the project,” Leland Colvin, the DOT’s deputy secretary for engineering, told reporters in July.
Funded primarily by the State Infrastructure Bank, the bridge extends about 3,800 feet. The cracks in the 150-foot portion forced the contractor, Colorado-based Flatiron Construction Corp., to replace the concrete at the company’s expense. Flatiron has referred all media questions to the DOT.
Although officials maintain there is nothing structurally wrong with the bridge, the cracked concrete in the original project could have exposed the structure’s metal and led to premature rusting if left unaddressed. The bridge is designed to have a 100-year lifespan.
Problems with the project led the DOT to penalize Flatiron $5,000 per day for the work being behind schedule.
Despite the delays and problems, the project is close to its original $97.8 million construction budget. That work is expected to cost $99.7 million.
“It’s encouraging to hear that the schedule put out by DOT is still very much in play,” said state Rep. Russell Fry, R-Surfside Beach. “Hopefully soon residents will be driving on a long-awaited road project that tremendously relieves traffic pressure on the Grand Strand.”
Along with frustrating state and local officials, the project has also led to three lawsuits, including a federal case filed in April.
A lawsuit against Flatiron was filed in 2016 by AH Beck Foundation Co., a Texas-based subcontractor hired to perform foundation work. Beck alleged Flatiron owed the company more than $588,000 for work on the project, though the company voluntarily dismissed the lawsuit in in January 2017, according to court records.
In April 2018, Flatiron sued Transystems Corp., an engineering and project management firm headquartered in Missouri.
Transystems entered into a contract with Horry County Government in December 2011 to work on the southern extension of S.C. 31, according to court records. Transystems was hired to process project submissions and provide inspection and quality testing based on DOT guidelines.
Flatiron blames Transystems for delaying the approval of Flatiron’s submissions and holding up the contractor’s work, according to the lawsuit. For example, in March 2017 Transystems notified Flatiron that some metal bearing plates could not be approved because of rust in the bearing plate bolt holes. The same day, Flatiron submitted an industry repair procedure for review, but the proposal was rejected, setting off what Flatiron asserts was months of delay caused by the engineering firm’s demands.
“Throughout the construction of the Project to date, Transystems has substantially impeded Flatiron’s progress of the Project by instituting unreasonable inspection protocols not contemplated by the Specification, directing changes to means and methods, and directing changes to plans and specifications,” the lawsuit states.
Flatiron is seeking unspecified damages. In December, Judge William Seals issued an order staying the proceedings until a DOT review of the claims in the lawsuit. The stay can last up to a year.
The final case was filed in April by Florida Structural Steel, which was hired by Flatiron to fabricate steel and provide some construction work, according to court documents. FSS subcontracted work on the steel girders to another company, Willis Steel. But in March 2017, a DOT inspector found that Flatiron had improperly installed some of the pieces that are part of the support system for the road's girders, the lawsuit states. That meant Willis could not do its work on the project when scheduled. The issue ultimately delayed the schedule by nearly five months, according to court documents.
Even after the girders were placed in January 2018, Willis discovered some of the cross frames didn’t align properly because Flatiron had improperly installed the supporting structure, according to court records.
“FSS then repositioned the bearing members that Flatiron had incorrectly installed, and from there, FSS was able to reinstall the girders for a proper bridge alignment,” the lawsuit states. “FSS incurred significant costs and expenses to correct Flatiron’s improperly installed bearing members.”
FSS asked for additional money for extra work, but Flatiron refused to pay it, according to court records. FSS maintains Flatiron owes the firm more than $600,000.
In a response filed this month, Flatiron denies any breach of its subcontract and blames FSS for the faulty work. Flatiron is asking the court to force FSS to pay the $5,000-per-day cost stemming from the delays.