The Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDot) recently filed a lawsuit for $19.6 million in damages against Florida based engineering contractor Figg Bridge Engineers (Figg) and its engineering subcontractor MACTEC Engineering (MACTEC). The suit alleges that the two contractors provided inaccurate and incomplete information regarding the geotechnical evaluation of the embankment surrounding the Indian River Inlet in Sussex County.
The existing bridge was originally built in 1965, and is in need of repair due to tidal erosion that is threatening the bridge’s support system.
Figg’s original plans called for traffic lanes that would approach the inlet and bridge along sharp-sided, heavily reinforced earthen slopes rising to a height of about 50 feet on either side of the river crossing.
MACTEC was hired in 2003 to study land on either side of Indian River Inlet and design a replacement for the current bridge, which has been deemed unsafe.
Problems with the Project
DelDot originally collaborated with Figg and MACTEC on the project to refurbish the bridge, but the project had to be cancelled because the, “underground soils supporting fill dirt on the bridge approach ramps were settling slower and deeper that expected, making the ramps unstable.”
DelDot hired an outside consultant to evaluate the project and find out what was going wrong. Their findings provided the groundwork for the lawsuit.
The suit, filed in Sussex County Superior Court, claims that the, “the studies done by MACTEC were inadequate, resulting in tilting, twisting, bulging and sagging of the embankments as they settled.” It goes on to claim that “MACTEC did not account for the complex sand and clay layers beneath the site and failed to inform DelDOT of signs the embankments were unstable.”
Carolann Wicks, DelDot secretary, claims that, “investigations have determined that there was nothing wrong with the construction of the “mechanically stabilized earth” walks supporting the embankments, and that the problem was improper analysis of the underlying soils.” One embankment that was expected to drop only 36 inches, actually dropped 74.
State officials said they were forced to sue after being unable to reach an out-of-court resolution that is fair to taxpayers.
Response to the Lawsuit
Figg maintains its innocence in the project, “noting that Delaware’s complaints are focused on MACTEC’s performance, and not any design or other engineering work performed by Figg.”
MACTEC denies the allegations in the lawsuit citing, among other things, DelDOT’s actions, project management, and decision-making as factors that led to increased costs for the bridge.
Another company has been hired to build the bridge just west of the original site, which is scheduled to open later this year.