New 520 Bridge pontoons: Cracks, leaks and missing steel rebar

Image: WSDOT Flickr stream

Last week, KOMO News 4 reported that all six of the new 520 Bridge pontoons build in Aberdeen have leaked, prompting Governor Gregoire to request an independent review panel to investigate the situation. From KOMO’s report:

Two separate WSDOT insiders – who asked to remain anonymous – tell us they’ve never seen this many leaks and what they called “extensive cracking” in brand new pontoons. The videos we obtained include sections where an inspector videos chipped concrete on the exterior of a pontoon and says, “It’s already been exposed to seawater and the rebar is rusting.”

The internal leaks are presumably like this one WSDOT discovered and repaired in August:

It also appears that contractor Kiewit Construction has a lucrative deal paying them $90,000 for each day the pontoons are late getting to Lake Washington. Kiewit has two separate contracts with the State: one to build the pontoons in Aberdeen and one to build the bridge on the lake.

Here’s how the pontoon costs got so screwy: Every day Kiewit in Aberdeen is late with pontoons, they owe the state $10,000. But that also makes the pontoons late getting to Lake Washington, and on that contract the state has to pay Kiewit $100,000 a day. So every late day, parent company Kiewit makes an extra $90,000 even though the problems started with Kiewit’s other contract in Aberdeen.

And it gets worse. Now KOMO reports the first three longitudinal pontoons (the big ones — 360 feet long) do not have the required reinforcing steel in the joints that hook them together. With joints of inadequate strength, the pontoons could disconnect in a heavy storm.

Internal WSDOT e-mails from last spring show that structural rebar in Pontoon V was “missing”. WSDOT’s own engineer Patrick Clarke noted that he could not “structurally approve it” without those essential pieces.  In spite of that, documents show that contractor Kiewit opted to ignore Clarke’s recommendations for repair, and quote “proceed at risk“.

Jerry Purdum, a retired engineer who worked on the original floating bridge from 1960-63, said there were no cracks or leaks in the existing pontoons when they arrived on Lake Washington 50 years ago. He recommends WSDOT reject these new pontoons as faulty and start over.

KOMO would also like to remind you of their report on 520 Bridge contractors drinking on the job last spring. And remember: if these pontoons are rejected, there is no lack of ideas out there on how to reuse them:

STACK – Yusuke Obuchi and Toshikatsu Kiuchi

2 thoughts on “New 520 Bridge pontoons: Cracks, leaks and missing steel rebar

  1. Pingback: WSDOT responds to 520 pontoon problems | montlaker

  2. Pingback: Port Mann Bridge builder Kiewit faces construction concerns in the U.S. | No Strings Attached : Laila Yuile on politics and life in B.C.

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