Plans to replace the aging Harbor Bridge
Environmental concerns and the "destruction" of city's Northside
Impact on Residents
Ground is broken after years of planning and discussion
A Florida bridge collapse prompts further new concerns
Work halted on main span of bridge
Construction on the new Harbor Bridge was halted by the Texas Department of Transportation on July 15 citing concerns with the overall design of the bridge.
This isn't the first time work has been halted on the $900 million project.
Here's a timeline of events surrounding the Harbor Bridge Project.
Plans to replace the aging Harbor Bridge: The Beginning
The current Harbor Bridge opened to traffic in 1959. Since then, the bridge has helped turn the Port of Corpus Christi into one of the busiest ports in the country; but after 50 years, engineers said it was time to work on getting it replaced.
Harbor Bridge Project: A timeline of progress, concerns and delays
The new Harbor Bridge was first discussed in 2001 when TxDOT entered a contract with Corpus Christi for engineering and environmental services related to building a new bridge. Several Citizens Advisory Committee meetings were held between 2001 and 2003.
A final draft of the feasibility study for the project was released in June of 2003. Years of planning and meetings about the design and cost of the project followed.
TxDOT held a meeting in 2011 to discuss a timeline for the project. TxDOT District Engineer John Casey told City of Corpus Christi leaders that a new Harbor Bridge would cost at least $600 million to construct. $100 million of that would have to come locally from the Metropolitan Planning Organization at the Port of Corpus Christi.
City council members approved the project on June 17, 2013. The Texas Transportation Commission approved the $601 million in funds to make the project possible just days later on June 27, 2013.
In September of 2015, TxDOT hired Flatiron/Dragados, LLC as the main developer of the Harbor Bridge Project. At that time, the bridge was expected to be complete by 2020.
Environmental concerns and the "destruction" of city's Northside: Impact on Residents
Just a year before Flatiron/Dragados was selected to build the new bridge, other concerns were coming to light.
In 2014, findings by the Environmental Protection Agency prompted concerns about the possible effects of the new Harbor Bridge on residents on the city's northside. The report dealt mostly with air pollution, specifically the amount that could be flowing into the nearby Hillcrest neighborhood, due to new bridge and its new route.
Not only were there concerns about pollution, but the destruction of the historic Hillcrest and Washington Coles neighborhoods.
Construction of the new bridge's path meant many residents had to leave those historic neighborhoods, which were rich in Black history and culture.
In 2015, The Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid Office filed a Title 6 civil rights complaint seeking to prevent the construction of the bridge from adding to the Hillcrest neighborhood's legacy of mistreatment.
Northside residents filed a formal complaint with TxDOT the same year, opposing construction of a new bridge. They cited increased health and safety hazards posed by the new bridge, as well as what they said would be a negative economic impact.
In early 2016, the civil rights complaint was resolved and the Federal Highway Commission gave approval to move forward with the Harbor Bridge Project. The Port of Corpus Christi then agreed to provide $20 million to buy houses in the area to move residents out of the pathway of the new bridge.
Residents were not eager to accept the Port's offer. The relocation program was open for three years, from 2016-19.
By the time the relocation program ended, about 100 residents remained. Those residents came up with a "livability plan," which was described as a road map for residents to navigate on what needs they might have.
Northside residents were given more time than initially planned to relocate, which pushed back some phases of construction.
Work Begins: Ground is broken after years of planning and discussion
On August 8, 2016, Gov. Greg Abbott joined federal, state and local officials at the Solomon P. Ortiz Center for the official groundbreaking ceremony for the Harbor Bridge Project. Phase one of the construction project had actually begun a month earlier, in July of 2016.
Construction on the new bridge was expected to take about five years, but the Harbor Bridge Project would face more hurdles in months and years to come.
A Florida bridge collapse prompts further new concerns: Safety
FIGG Bridge Engineers, Inc. was the initial firm hired by Flatiron/Dragados to design the new Harbor Bridge. The company also designed a pedestrian bridge at Florida International University in Miami that collapsed in March of 2018, killing six people.
Work was suspended on the Harbor Bridge Project by TxDOT after the collapse as officials awaited findings from a National Transportation Safety Board investigation into the Florida bridge collapse.
At this point, the project was said to be at least two years behind schedule.
In January of 2020, TxDOT announced that they had instructed Flatiron/Dragados to remove FIGG Bridge Engineers, Inc. from any future work on the main spans of the project.
At the time, TxDOT said all construction that was previously completed was built in compliance with contract requirements and specifications. Still, a new design firm needed to be chosen for the rest of the bridge.
In July of 2020, Flatiron/Dragados hired a new design firm, Arup-CFC, to review, re-certify and complete the design of the new Harbor Bridge.
In 2021, Corpus Christi city council members got an update on the project after the COVID-19 pandemic caused further delays in construction. At time time, TxDOT and Flatiron/Dragados told city leaders the bridge was expected to be finished by summer of 2024 -- four years behind the original schedule -- and it would cost more to complete.
Work halted on main span of bridge: Today
In July of 2022, TxDOT ordered Flatiron/Dragados to suspend work on the main cable-stayed portion of the new Harbor Bridge due to "overall concerns" with the design. This specifically affected work on the portion of bridge that will be over the water, which is approximately 1/8th of the entire design.
"We work hard to maintain productive relationships with all of our partners to deliver projects efficiently,” said TxDOT Chief Engineer Lance Simmons. “We cannot compromise on safety. We have been transparent and direct in sharing our concerns with FDLLC as well as our expectations on addressing these safety issues.”
In a statement, TxDOT told 3NEWS in part that, "TxDOT notified the public of a suspension of work on the main span cable-stayed portion of the project on July 15. The suspension stems from TxDOT’s concerns, confirmed by independent reviews, regarding the overall design of the main bridge."
TxDOT said that the current Harbor Bridge is "inspected annually and remains structurally sound" and they will continue to update the public on progress of the new bridge. In the meantime, they said all work on the SH-286 and I-37 interchange, the north and south approaches to the new Harbor Bridge, and related roadwork on North Beach to continue.
TxDOT has not given a new estimated timeline for completion of the project.
TxDOT released the letter they sent to the bridge developers on Thursday, August 4.
The letter stated the new Harbor Bridge has design flaws so significant that the TxDOT said "the bridge would collapse under certain load conditions" should developer Flatiron Dragados LLC (FDLLC) finish the bridge without making design changes.
TxDOT said it has "concluded there is or will be an emergency or danger to persons or property related to the design deficiencies."
"We cannot and will not compromise on safety," TxDOT said in a prepared statement to the media on Thursday. "We can assure the public that we are prepared to take the steps necessary to complete this project in the safest and most efficient manner possible."
3NEWS has asked to speak to TxDOT about why so much of the bridge was built with design errors still in place, when it realized there was a problem, and whether it believes portions of the bridge that have already been built will have to come down.
Developer FDLLC has not commented at all since TxDOT halted construction nearly three weeks ago.
Later in August...
The Texas Department of Transportation said August 16 the developer of the new Harbor Bridge has defaulted on its contract and has 15 days to fix design flaws with the bridge or TxDOT will fire them.
"This is unfortunate, disappointing and unacceptable," Executive Director of TxDOT Marc Williams said about developer Flatiron/Dragados LLC's (FDLCC) "lack of responsiveness" to safety concerns brought by TxDOT.
FDLCC said the Texas Department of Transportation is to blame for the half-finished bridge and the current impasse on the bridge's design.
Regardless of who is to blame for the impasse... city, county and state leaders want answers.
"It's absolutely frustrating," said Texas Representative Todd Hunter. "Here is a wonderful structure, a wonderful project, all of a sudden, the brakes have been put on."
Reaction also coming in from City Hall. Corpus Christi Mayor Paulette Guajardo saying:
Our paramount concern is public safety. An independent review by TxDOT has determined there are significant safety concerns. The City continues to require answers and transparency. The Harbor Bridge is important to our community’s safety and economy. The people have the right to be kept informed every step of the way. The Harbor Bridge must be built with the highest safety standards. More information must be provided to regain the public trust. We support the steps TxDOT is taking today to ensure public safety.
For now, the new bridge is halfway built and roughly two years behind schedule with no timetable to resume construction.
Today, Sept. 1, is the deadline for Flatiron Dragados, the Harbor Bridge Project developer, to present the Texas Department of Transportation their plans to move forward with an updated design for the main cable-stayed portion of the new bridge or be fired from the project.
Officials from TxDOT said this week, Flatiron Dragados gave proposed solutions to the issues TxDOT had with the bridge design, but those solutions are currently being reviewed.
"The next step is to continue this correspondence and make sure the communications move quickly," said Valente Olivarez Jr. who is a district engineer with TxDOT.
TxDOT said Flatiron Dragados is still under a notice of default until the solutions are reviewed and they figure out how to move forward.
"It certainly seems it's moving in the right direction and I would be very glad to know we could see a resolution in the next 30 days," said Nueces County Judge Barbara Canales.
It has been nearly one month since Texas Department of Transportation officials announced they would be reviewing solutions to new Harbor Bridge Project design issues from developer Flatiron Dragados.
TxDOT officials told 3NEWS on Wednesday they continue to have productive conversations with Flatiron Dragados.
State representative Todd Hunter said that even though the two sides appear to be making progress, much more is needed -- and soon.
“Bottom line: nothing specific. Bottom line: They’re making progress,” Hunter said. “But the real issues are: How long is it going to be? What’s the projected date? What’s the projected timeline? Explain what the issue is.”