The government is widening a whistle-blower probe into the safety of northern Nevada’s 8.5-mile-long Interstate 580 extension between Reno and Carson City, following the discovery of a hairline crack in one of its bridges.

Authorities are probing a hairline crack on the record-setting cathedral-arch bridge in Nevada.
Photo: Nevada DOT
Authorities are probing a hairline crack on the record-setting cathedral-arch bridge in Nevada.

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on March 24 directed U.S. Dept. of Transportation Inspector General Calvin L. Scovel to expand his investigation of the project’s final leg to include the 1,722-ft-long, 295-ft-tall Galena Creek Bridge. It will be North America’s longest cathedral-arch bridge when completed in fall 2011. Dickinson, N.D.-based Fisher Sand & Gravel Co. is the general contractor on $393.3-million project, with C.C. Myers Inc., Rancho Cordova, Calif., as bridge subcontractor.

NDOT designed the cast-in-place bridge, which consists of two parallel, 62-ft-wide three-lane structures with 689-ft center spans.

Engineers from the Nevada Dept. of Transportation discovered a 30-ft-long, 1⁄16-in.-wide crack on the exterior southbound span ring in an early March quality-assurance test. They say the crack was caused by high-pressure air pumped through a duct embedded into the concrete for cable-tensioning.

“We had some cracking occur while we were doing some testing,” says NDOT spokesman Scott Magruder. “You couldn’t fit a dime through it.”

C.C. Myers will perform the $900,000 NDOT-designed repair as a change order. The fix tentatively calls for reinforcing bolted steel plate and epoxy patches to prevent further cracking. Starting in April, work is expected to take a week or less.

David Lee, a former C.C. Myers employee, filed a whistle-blower complaint in January, claiming he had been ordered to use substandard concrete as a cost-saving measure during construction. A subsequent NDOT investigation found his allegations “without merit.” Says Magruder, “He never worked on the Galena Creek Bridge. He performed patching work on an approach bridge that, in his mind, was substandard.”

But Lee convinced the House Committee to go further, and, in January, it directed IG Scovel’s probe. Federal investigators, who will visit the site in June, have since been asked to investigate the bridge crack.

“Although NDOT claims the cracks are not indicative of major structural problems, some believe the design deficiency could shorten the bridge’s life span by up to 10 years,” said Committee Chairman Rep. James L. Oberstar (D-Minn.) and Rep. Peter A. DeFazio (D-Ore.), chairman of the Highways and Transit subcommittee in a March 24 letter to Scovel.

NDOT welcomes the outside scrutiny as a way to clear its reputation. “We feel like we will be redeemed,” says Magruder. “We want to assure the public.”