A $100-million bridge project in Arkansas is on hold as contractors and state highway officials wrestle over the need and responsibility for an $11-million pier cap replacement.
The dispute centers around an August 2019 lightning storm-interrupted concrete pour for a 120-foot-long pier cap being constructed as part of a new 18-span bridge that will carry Interstate 40 across the White River, 50 miles east of Little Rock. The Arkansas Dept. of Transportation rejected the pour, claiming the 2-1/2 hour interruption may have compromised the concrete’s strength. As such, ARDOT believes the contractor, a joint venture of Parsons and C.J. Mahan Construction, should pay for demolition and a replacement pier cap.
Parsons-Mahan officials counter that a retarding agent in the concrete mix virtually eliminated the potential of a cold joint, and that extensive analyses and third-party inspections have verified that the pier cap is sound. They add that even if the pier cap is to be replaced, the lightning storm falls under their contract’s “act of God” clause, making ARDOT responsible for any additional work.
ARDOT says the clause shouldn’t apply in this case, as Parsons-Mahan was aware of the weather risks before electing to go ahead with the pour.
The pier cap at issue is the last of 17 to be poured for the new bridge, which has been under construction since 2016. The project has been slowed since November due to high water from an upstream dam release and, more recently, heavy rains.
Parsons-Mahan has until early March to decide whether to accede to ARDOT’s wishes and replace the pier cap, file an appeal with the state Claims Commission, or do nothing—an option that would lead ARDOT to initiate default proceedings. Although the joint venture already has four claims pending related to ARDOT-imposed work suspensions due to high-water, company officials have expressed hope that the pier cap matter can be resolved.
ARDOT is currently the subject of a state legislature-mandated review of its policies and procedures by Guidehouse LLP, formerly PricewaterhouseCoopers, of McLean, Va.