Twin Spans, Boh Bros., Pontchartrain, accident
Angelle Bergeron
Although state officials ordered work to stop on the portion of the bridge where the accident occurred, contractors on another major section over Lake Pontchartrain, shown above, continued building October 31.

Construction of the $803 million Interstate 10 Twin Span replacement bridges halted suddenly at 11:15 a.m. Oct. 30 when a 135-ft. concrete girder beam rotated off its concrete support caps and fell, killing one man and critically injuring another.

Ten workers fell or were thrown into Lake Pontchartrain when the beam fell.

“An accident investigation is underway to determine why the girder fell,” says Vic Gremillion, safety director for Boh Bros. Construction of New Orleans, the contractor. “Once our investigation is complete, we will release more information.”

Boh Bros. identified the dead worker as Eric T. Blackmon, 44, foreman of the crew and an 11-year company veteran.

Three employees were treated at area hospitals for minor injuries and released last evening, Boh Bros. reports. The other six employees involved did not require medical attention.

“We are sincerely and deeply saddened by the tragic loss of a member of the Boh Bros. organization yesterday,” Boh Bros. said in a statement. The company added, “We have lost a fine employee and a good man.”

Boh Bros. says it is working closely with various regulatory agencies to understand how the accident happened. “Our initial assessment of the site indicates that proper safety procedures were followed.” The company says it will not resume work “on this activity of the project until we are confident that this situation will not happen again.”

The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development released a statement saying “no work will proceed on this project until DOTD receives from the contractor a viable safety plan that demonstrates this will not happen again. Rest assured, the department will work quickly and efficiently with all parties in assessing the cause of this tragedy and to ensure it never happens again.”

“We don’t feel we have any choice but to take that action,” says Mark Lambert, communications director. “It’s not punitive. It’s simply a due diligence measure on our part. We can’t in good conscience put people at risk. Ten people went into the water – one critically injured and one dead – that’s not supposed to happen.”

Boh Bros., whose company motto is “Safety Pays,” has a reputation as a family-oriented company. It holds a $379-million contract for the 4.5-mile low-rise portions of the bridge, which is a replacement for the east-west artery that was severely damaged in Hurricane Katrina. In addition to performing in record time the emergency repairs to the damaged bridges, Boh won the contract to open the westbound span of the new bridge by October 22, 2009 and the eastbound span by August 3, 2011.

Boh was racing to complete the westbound span early, by this December, and win a potential maximum early completion incentive of $4.5 million, or $15,000 per day for 300 days.

Fully funded by the Federal Highway Administration, the new bridges are designed to be more hurricane-resilient. The bridges are 21 ft. higher than the old ones, feature shear keys, increased span length, and reinforced steel and concrete tie-ins between the decks and caps. The low-rise portion is 30 ft. from the bottom of the girders to the surface of the water. The high-rise portion of both bridges is a roughly one-mile, 80-ft. elevated section that will provide 200-ft. horizontal and 73-ft. vertical navigational channel clearance.

The joint venture of Traylor Bros. Inc. of Evansville, Ind., Kiewit Southern Company of Peachtree City, Ga. and Massman Construction Co. of Kansas City, Mo. holds the $166.6 million contract for the “hump” portion of the Twin Spans.