In Corpus Christi, there is a construction project that has been giving officials headaches for almost six years: the new Harbor Bridge.
The new construction is expected to replace the current Harbor Bridge, which was built during World War II. But work has stalled, as engineers involved in the project fear design problems could lead to a collapse.
Corpus Christi Caller-Times reporter Chase Rogers says the project has sparked a lot of controversy. He joined the Texas Standard to share the latest news.
This transcript has been slightly edited for clarity:
Texas Standard: First of all, could you give us some background on this bridge project? I understand it was supposed to be done by 2020, but now the work is stopped indefinitely. Is it correct?
Chase Rogers: Yes sir. It really was a decades-long process. TxDOT first considered replacing the current Harbor Bridge in the early 2000s. The 1950s bridge is, they say, obsolete. It’s not high enough to allow big ships to enter the channel, and there are public safety issues with walking and stuff like that for the bridge. This new bridge was inaugurated in 2016, and it will have a kind of higher vertical clearance to allow larger ships to enter, and it will be more accessible on foot. It will, in fact, when completed, be the tallest structure in South Texas.
For people who don’t live in Corpus, can you explain the importance of this bridge for getting around and for the community as a whole?
Yes, so the current Harbor Bridge connects downtown Corpus Christi to its historic North Beach, which people may know is home to the decommissioned aircraft carrier USS Lexington, as well as the Texas State Aquarium, which are two very popular tourist attractions. Thus, North Beach plays an important role in our local economy, and the bridge itself is just a signature of Corpus Christi. Chances are, if you’ve seen photos of Corpus Christi, you’ve seen the bridge before. It is truly a unique Corpus Christi landmark.
So what’s wrong with the engineers who said stop building now?
So it all started in mid-July, when TxDOT ordered the developer to suspend all construction on the bridge’s cable-stayed span. It is therefore the kind of main span on which the wagons circulate. Turns out they had hired an independent consultant to review the proposed design, and they found five main areas of concern, and those concerns were discussed for some time.
When they first announced this pause and held a subsequent press conference, they presented a timeline showing that these concerns had arisen earlier this year, but we had obtained correspondence that shows it had started as early as 2018 , 2019.
That people were discussing these potential issues?
Yes. This project has therefore already made national headlines. The former official engineer who designed this bridge, they had a bridge they also designed in Florida that collapsed and killed six people and injured 10. So after that, TxDOT kind of started the process with the developer to remove this official engineer. and find a new designer. So that also caused delays, and that’s why the project as it currently stands is about to go over budget by nearly $1 billion and is, in total, four years behind schedule. .
What awaits the people who are responsible for building this new bridge?
The latest is that TxDOT had given the developer a 15-day ultimatum to address these concerns or be removed from the project. We’re at the end of the 15 days, but TxDOT said they’ve entered into negotiations with the developer — talking about those concerns and coming up with a plan. So that’s where it was for the last time. They are still talking and discussing, and at the moment the developer is still on the project. As I understand it, they are still looking for potential solutions for these five design issues with the bridge.
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