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What Really Happened at the New Harbor Bridge Project?

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  • Published on Sep 19, 2022
  • -An overview of the drama unfolding over the ship channel in Corpus Christi, Texas.
    -Preorder my new book before the holiday rush: practical.engineering/book
    Errata:
    At 3:08 , the old Harbor Bridge actually does have narrow pedestrian walkways, but they lack connectivity with pedestrian infrastructure on either side of the bridge.
    At 3:21 , a clarification: The ships can't enter the port empty (because they would have too much air draft). That means they can't be fully loaded in the inner harbor because they are already carrying some weight when they enter.
    At 12:40 , I meant to say "20% above their capacity"
    In July of 2022, the Texas Department of Transportation issued an emergency suspension of work on the half-finished Harbor Bridge project in Corpus Christi, citing serious design flaws that could cause the main span to collapse if construction continues. Since then, they have continued a very public feud with the contractor that is far from resolved. This video explores some of the alleged design flaws and discusses potential next steps on the bridge project.
    Practical Engineering is a Flash-Player channel about infrastructure and the human-made world around us. It is hosted, written, and produced by Grady Hillhouse. We have new videos posted regularly, so please subscribe for updates. If you enjoyed the video, hit that ‘like’ button, give us a comment, or watch another of our videos!
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Comments • 2 316

  • Practical Engineering

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  • Jonathan
    Jonathan Day ago +3

    My sympathies to the unseen unheard people at FIGG who knew exactly what their company was doing and tried to fix things from the inside but were shouted down by varying levels of leadership. I see you.

  • Rick Carey
    Rick Carey 23 hours ago +348

    As a South Texan in the construction industry, thank you for this excellent explanation of the engineering issues at hand. The media, in calling this a safety issue, is making it sound like a simple case of people not wearing their steel toe boots or hi-viz vests, and not a very serious life safety issue.

  • Nick Gilby
    Nick Gilby 23 hours ago +41

    Your video is definitely making the rounds here in Corpus! The Caller-Times just posted about it and I've seen a ton of people around here saying they finally understand the problems.

  • Jimmy Bonse
    Jimmy Bonse 18 hours ago +159

    As a construction management professional, I absolutely love this kind of content. I haven’t found it anywhere else on Flash-Player

  • Jacob Mayer
    Jacob Mayer 20 hours ago +22

    I've been involved in commercial building construction for over 30 years, and I've almost always found the relationship between designer and contractor on a design-build project to be too cozy. Particularly in government, where the "buyer" is at no financial risk (they just fleece more money from taxpayers) DB is a way to shortcut due diligence up front. I work on the HVAC side of things, and I have seen many projects where my team has said "nah, that design isn't gonna work," only to be overruled in the moment and proven right later. The government ends up paying for the work twice (and only twice if we're lucky) and everyone goes on to the next bit of cozying up to the government teat.

  • Justin Vance
    Justin Vance Day ago +192

    As a Corpus native and fellow engineer, I'm very glad TXDOT is being as transparent as they are. I just a wish a solution comes soon as the current Harbor Bridge is beyond its life cycle by numerous years...will miss the view it gives to Whataburger Field when it's eventually gone though

  • toluun
    toluun Day ago +829

    As a bridge engineer I had been following this story and it amazes me that the EOR is still openly fighting some of these claims, specifically the rigid footing assumption. Every structure of this size goes through extensive review and throughout the design process there are many of these "battles" over design methodology, especially around footings. However to assume the footing as rigid seems ridiculous. This rigid assumption is usually used on standard highway structure to the simplify design of footings. It is usually a good assumption because the size of the footing as compared to the design loads are low(i.e. not enough force to make the cap deform). However, this method is losing favor as better software comes into play making it easier to better model distribution of forces in pile caps. As stated in the video the footings are 18ft deep. When designing footings this deep the code recommends the strut-and-tie method which if done correctly provides a conservative (sometimes overly conservative) design. The reviewer stated they looked into STM and found the decencies even worse, which would be expected. Based on the depth vs width ratio of the footing I think the reviewers design methodology to be best. Using computer modeling that takes into consideration the cap stiffness, the pile stiffness, and the soil stiffness should give a robust economical design.

  • Sean Griffin
    Sean Griffin 18 hours ago +42

    As an engineer, its the most important thing to remember the oath and what it means. The engineer is responsible for what they don't know and they are personally responsible for the safety of everyone using their design. If you don't know that its 100% safe, then you don't sign off. Management will always push for their profits, but the oath is clear. I've worked on safety critical systems and had to put my foot down; most of the time it works, once the execs were so forceful in meeting their business goals that it was clear the only option available is to get a new job. You know that management will find some other engineer to sign off on the design, but its not an excuse.

  • Ran Dom
    Ran Dom 18 hours ago +20

    I'm not very smart, and I don't understand load capabilities, or load bearings, but it's always interesting to hear / see about the complexities of such huge projects. The depth of engineering, the depth of potential failure, and the unity of corporate and federal companies all coming together to make it possible. Thanks for this. Hopefully this gets resolved and the bridge gets completed in a relatively timely manner

  • Holly Spratlen
    Holly Spratlen Day ago +33

    I am an electrical engineering student and a single mom of 3. My youngest son hasn't started kindergarten yet, so he gets to come with me to classes and absolutely loves it. This week we have been discussing concrete on our walks to class and why the "dirt" is important below it and what happens for different scenarios if something isn't built right with concrete. I am super excited for your book to come out finally so he and I can read it together.

  • Rudy Soliz
    Rudy Soliz 23 hours ago +35

    Thank you for bringing light to this situation! As a Corpus Christi resident myself, it sometimes gets confusing on what’s ACTUALLY happening with the bridge. Keep up the good work!

  • Ralf Bonenkamp
    Ralf Bonenkamp Day ago +71

    This is VERY interesting to see: here in Germany a very similar situation occurred around 2y ago. One of two major motorway bridges to cross river Rhine in the Cologne area was found in critical condition by sudden cracks in superstructure during a routine inspection 6y ago. As result the bridge was immediately closed for any vehicle starting from light trunks onwards. Only standard cars could pass the bridge from now on. This caused and still causes major traffic congestion and major headache to many businesses in the area (Ford Germany has two production plants nearby and other large scale factories depend on this bridge too). A high prio project was started to build a new bridge next to it with a higher traffic capacity as fast as possible. After 3y of construction work the first parts of the mid part steel superstructure should be delivered from China. There were already concerns in welding quality during on site checks in China. But the parts were nevertheless shipped to Rotterdam to get offloaded to small cargo ships passing river Rhine towards construction site. But after re-checking the parts in Rotterdam finally the decision was drawn to reject ALL parts due to insufficient welding quality and the contract was cancelled. So a new contractor had to be found and negotiated which put the whole project around 2y behind schedule and tax payer has to cope a 30% increase in total cost for the project...

  • TheWeaver
    TheWeaver Day ago +481

    Grady is so good at explaining things adequately to the laypeople like me, while also not sounding condescending or as if he's assuming that we're idiots. THIS is how you get people interested in engineering. Thanks for another great video. 🖤

  • irench
    irench 18 hours ago +11

    Engineering disasters was a favorite show of mine for a long time. My friend was the one who videoed the collapse of Big Blue at them Miller Park. You know Norm was a QC for P&H because the moment the turn bearing bolts began to fail from load he began to film the failure at its point.

  • GNX157
    GNX157 18 hours ago +29

    Glad you are doing this video. FIGG is a lot more to blame than they let on in Florida. It borders on criminal homicide. They knew and had advance notice that the Florida bridge was having problems but they persisted in trying to apply measures to fix a faulty design.

  • Norbert Luft
    Norbert Luft Day ago +44

    One of the most important lessons learned is that the owner must insist on an independent design review for each phase of a contract before one yard of concrete is placed. The very nature of DB projects is such that the designer is reporting to and being paid by the contractor who wants to get it done as quickly and cheaply as possible. You can't really blame the DB team either. After all, they're in business to make money. However, this is not necessarily in the best interest of the owner. It is therefore incumbent on the owner to have hands-on involvement in the project from day one to keep everyone honest. I know this all too well. I used to work for a state agency that built a large bridge using DB. We regularly went round and round with both the contractor and designer that tried to skirt around our requirements and water down their own proposal. We rejected work on more than one occasion and it often got ugly, but it was worth it. The final product was good.

  • oh no why
    oh no why 13 hours ago +3

    I'm no engineer, in fact I'm an art student, but I'd absolutely love to buy your book (i'll try saving up money.) I love watching your videos, its just so interesting and fun to listen to as someone with a fascination for architecture and bridges!!

  • gatewaysolo104
    gatewaysolo104 Day ago +21

    My experience with design builds has been that the contractor's consultant does most of the design during the bidding process so by the time contract is awarded by the owner and the design gets reviewed, there's little room for change. This can result in plan errors being propagated throughout the entire project and not being caught.

  • Dudok22
    Dudok22 Day ago +935

    Everyone is "confident in the safety and durability of the bridge as designed" until they get featured on Plainly Difficult channel because the bridge fails due to some preventable problem that was not fixed because someone wanted to save money.