- The Harris County Commissioners Court voted 3-2 on Tuesday to hire COWI North America, under a $24.9 million contract, as the replacement for FIGG Bridge Engineers on the $936 million Houston Ship Channel Bridge. The Commissioner's Court fired FIGG in August.
- COWI, first brought in as a consultant to review FIGG's bridge design, will serve as engineer of record and provide final design engineering services for the main span. The structure, which will replace an existing bridge, is part of improvements to Houston's East Sam Houston Tollway.
- The new contract with COWI also includes a HUB (historically underutilized business) component that was not in FIGG's contract. Also, COWI's agreement requires that the engineering firm notify Harris County officials if it sees any opportunities to save time or money on the project.
The Harris County Toll Road Authority stopped construction on the bridge in January pending COWI's review of FIGG's design for the main pylons at the cable-stayed section of the bridge. Originally, it was an opportunity for FIGG to work with COWI and submit a redesign if necessary, but the Commissioners Court ended up terminating FIGG, despite a direct plea from FIGG owner Linda Figg. COWI determined that there were a number of errors in FIGG's design.
The Commissioners Court decision came at about the same time as the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) announced that FIGG and FIU engineer of record William “Denney” Pate had been suspended from bidding on federal projects. In an unsuccessful lawsuit FIGG filed requesting that a U.S. District Court lift the suspension while the FHWA decided whether to debar FIGG and Pate for up to 10 years, the engineering firm said the Ship Channel project represented almost half of its revenue.
FIGG lost another Texas bridge contract — the $800 million Harbor Bridge in Corpus Christi — this year as well.
All of these actions against FIGG stem from the March 2018 Florida International University pedestrian bridge collapse in Miami that killed six people and injured several others. The National Transportation Safety Board found that although many contractors on the project had a hand in the accident for failing to stop work on the bridge — and to stop traffic underneath — after sizeable cracks began to form and grow in size before the collapse, it was FIGG's design that was the major contributor to the bridge's failure.
FIGG has consistently denied the NTSB's conclusions.
The FIU bridge project’s general contractor, Magnum Construction Management, filed bankruptcy after being decertified by the Florida DOT and after its insurance company paid out $42 million to victims' families and survivors. MCM and its insurers, according to The Real Deal, have paid out a total of $103 million in settlements.
But MCM is looking to recoup some of its losses, according to a lawsuit it filed in Miami-Dade County court last month. The company is suing engineeering consultant Louis Berger and WSP Global, which purchased Berger in late 2018, for Berger’s failure to conduct an adequate review of FIGG’s bridge design. FIGG hired Berger to perform an independent peer review of its work for the FIU bridge. FIGG is not named as a defendant.