Contractor questions Southington bridge project, files claim for compensation

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State could face added costs

Compensation claims

Marino Crane: $300,000

Northern Construction: Undisclosed

Bonus for early completion

$150,000-$250,000

Total project budget: $6 million


SOUTHINGTON — The operations manager for the crane and heavy lifting company that installed two highway bridges over Marion Avenue last weekend said the state Department of Transportation took a “big risk” in tearing out both bridges on the same weekend.

“I thought it was absolutely ludicrous when it was first suggested,” said Jon Irwin, operations manager for Marino Crane of Middletown. “It wasn’t the best thought process.”

The company is also looking for $300,000 from the DOT to compensate for a last-minute date change for the highway closure. The general contractor on the job, Northern Construction, is looking for compensation for the delay as well.

DOT spokesman Kevin Nursick said state officials had no regrets about the project and that its success spoke for itself.

“We did this on the weekend and got it done ahead of time,” he said. “Clearly you didn’t need to space this out over two weekends.”

Doing the work over one weekend lessened the inconvenience to motorists, Nursick said, and was well within the acceptable “scope of risk.”

“We have no second thoughts moving forward,” he said, adding that future bridge replacements will likely be completed in a weekend.

Bridges carrying Interstate 84 over Marion Avenue were replaced without incident and hours ahead of schedule over the weekend. Marino Crane is a subcontractor for Northern Construction, the Massachusetts-based company that won the bid for the $6 million job last June.

Irwin said his company is one of only a half dozen in the world that could do such work. When Northern Construction requested bids for that portion of the project, only Marino and Canada-based Mammoet bid on it.

The east and westbound bridges could have been replaced on separate weekends, Irwin said, eliminating the risk of shutting down the entire highway if the project went wrong.

Shawn Clark, Northern Construction project manager, agreed that replacing both bridges on the same weekend was risky but managed by thorough planning.

“We had backup equipment for backup equipment,” Clark said.

The success of last month’s work means such concerns probably won’t be brought up again, according to Clark.

Construction and state officials refer to the method as accelerated bridge construction where a replacement bridge is built near the site and moved into place either with transports or on a track. Clark said such methods can cut costs by half and avoid months or even years of roadwork and accompanying traffic delays.

Marino Crane, owned by Barnhart Crane & Rigging of Tennessee, provided the transports that carried the bridge from its construction site beside the highway into place. Each bridge weighed 2 million pounds and was set 37 feet in the air.

Six months of planning and about 1,000 hours of engineering went into making sure the heavy bridge didn’t fall or crack while on its transport.

“I can’t say I wasn’t up nights for the last six months,” Irwin said. “There’ve been a lot of sleepless nights.”

All that worry and work was warranted, according to Irwin. With the heavy bridge high in the air, even a slight shift could have been disastrous.

“It’s like holding up a watermelon with 16 toothpicks,” Irwin said.

While Irwin was confident of the engineering behind the move, success was “all about the execution.” That meant getting the best crews from around the country.

“I reached out to the cream of the crop,” Irwin said.

There’s a chance in such projects that something could go wrong, he said, and thought it better to close only one side of the highway at a time in case a problem did occur.

“We pick heavy things up and put things down. There’s risk in that,” he said. “My business is all about mitigating risk.”

Irwin cited a similar bridge replacement project in New York last year. Bridges carrying I-84 over Dingle Ridge Road were replaced on separate weekends.

In late May, the DOT moved the date to close the highway and replace the bridges from June 21-22 to June 28-29. The original date conflicted with the Travelers Championship in Hartford, a conflict that Irwin said had been raised with DOT in previous months.

Nursick said the date change was due to “residual nail-biting” on the part of state officials eager for the project to go smoothly.

“There’s always a little bit of nervousness going into closing down a highway for the weekend,” he said.

Traffic backups never exceeded two miles, Nursick said. Traffic was flowing freely with no major delays during parts of the work, as it was on Saturday afternoon.

The date for the project was moved a number of times, with the original date in October of last year, according to Irwin. That would have allowed three months of planning.

“We told them that’s not going to happen,” Irwin said.

Claims, bonuses

About 70 percent of Marino’s equipment was dedicated to the Southington project, Irwin said, and the date change due to the Travelers Championship meant another week added to the project’s length. Marino officials asked for $300,000 from the DOT to compensate for lost opportunity due to the change.

“That blew the tops of their heads off,” Irwin said.

The claim is being reviewed by the DOT. Irwin said he was told the company would get fair compensation.

“What’s fair in their minds probably isn’t going to be fair in my mind,” he said.

Nursick said the claims are under review and declined further comment.

Northern Construction is also submitting a claim for the delay but Clark declined to release how much the company wants.

The 501-page contract between Northern Construction and the DOT imposed penalties if the company was unable to complete the bridge replacement work within the allotted weekend as well as bonuses if work was done early.

Interstate 84 was to reopen with all lanes at 5 a.m. on Monday. When the contract was first released to potential bidders for review the penalties, called liquefied damages, went as high as $600,000 for each hour beyond the deadline and continued without a cap.

“Everybody turned away from it because the liquefied damages were so onerous,” Irwin said. “Nobody wanted to even bid the work.”

Those penalties were reduced to $100,000 for each hour past the deadline and capped at $1 million.

As part of its contract with Northern, Marino stood to lose $12,500 for every 15 minutes of extended highway closure. The Middletown company also gets 10 percent of any bonuses given to Northern.

According to the DOT contract, those bonuses range from $150,000 to $250,000.

Although the highway wasn’t fully open until around 8 p.m. on Sunday, Clark said he believes the company qualifies for either $200,000 or $150,000 worth of incentives since the work planned for the weekend was completed early and work planned for early July taken on.

“We were so far ahead of schedule,” Clark said. “We probably did eight hours of additional paving.”

Nursick said the matter is under review and declined further comment.

Despite his concerns about risk, Irwin said the DOT emerged from the bridge project looking “like heroes.” He expects accelerated bridge construction to be used more frequently throughout the state. “There’s going to be more of these. This is the new wave,” Irwin said.

jbuchanan@record-journal.com (203)317-2230 Twitter: @JBuchananRJ



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