Hoback bridge delayed 2 years
Contract dispute puts new Snake River crossing well past October deadline.
By Kevin Huelsmann, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
August 1, 2012
A contract dispute could push a $25 million bridge project at Hoback Junction more than two years behind its planned completion date.
Wyoming Department of Transportation officials confirmed last week that they are trying to resolve their disagreements with the firm overseeing the job, Wadsworth Brothers Construction, of Draper, Utah.
The new bridge at Hoback Junction was supposed to be finished by October. State highway officials now estimate the bridge over the Snake River could take at least another two years once construction resumes.
“This will not be complete by the end of October,” WYDOT District Engineer John Eddins said Tuesday. “It will shift into next season.”
Construction of a new roundabout that is part of the project is expected to wrap up by the end of the month.
WYDOT officials were reluctant to divulge details about the negotiations. Their discussions are focused on a 1,300-foot-long retaining wall just past the south landing of the bridge along Highway 26/89, they said.
The wall is planned on a landslide-prone slope on the way to Alpine. Support structures for the new bridge also are part of the discussions.
In past interviews, WYDOT officials have that said there were “minor deviations” in the shape of the arches and that they needed to account for those variations so the bridge deck will be level.
WYDOT and Wadsworth Brothers now are negotiating how to proceed with these two parts of the project and who is responsible for paying for the extra work.
The two sides are working through the dispute using a process outlined in their contract for the project. Talks could last from several weeks to several months, Eddins said.
Attempts to reach Wadsworth representatives were unsuccessful. Messages seeking comment from the company’s leadership were not returned by press time.
The massive project began in the summer of 2010 and is supposed to drastically change how Hoback Junction functions. The center of the project is replacing the aging bridge that spans the Snake River and carries thousands of commuters daily between Jackson and Alpine, as well as much of the commercial traffic entering Jackson Hole.
The project is designed to improve traffic flow by removing the awkward Y-shaped intersection and replacing the bridge, built in 1950.
Transportation officials flagged the bridge for replacement because they didn’t think it would be able to handle growing traffic demands. It also has structural defects.
Over the past two years, drivers have had to navigate detours and cope with temporary closures at the intersection. Business owners have had to deal with changes that affect how customers get to them.
The project already has encountered several delays, but they pushed back work by weeks and months, not years. High runoff last year forced crews to postpone some work on the foundation of the bridge, and a production delay at a manufacturer slowed work at the roundabout.
While WYDOT officials expect to complete the roundabout this summer, a delay could mean years of having to reroute drivers across the old bridge.
“It’s not the most ideal situation,” WYDOT Resident Engineer Bob Hammond said. “We don’t like detouring traffic around, but the old structure is fine. It can handle the loads.”
While negotiations are under way, construction crews have been working on parts of the bridge project not involved in the dispute.
Eddins said crews have been working on temporary braces for the bridge as well as some roadway work.
Wadsworth Brothers Construction is supposed to submit an “erection plan” that lays out the details of the next part of the project, Eddins said. He said it’s a standard procedure in a project of this size and complexity.
“It’s one of the more complicated structures that we put out to bid,” Eddins said of the bridge.
There’s a slight variance from initial plans in arches that eventually will support the new bridge. While WYDOT engineers have said the difference shouldn’t affect the new bridge, they said the plans have to reflect the discrepancy.
“The arches are the foundation,” Hammond said. “If there’s a variance, we have to account for that.”
However, before crews address the arches, they’ll have to build a retaining wall where one side of the bridge is slated to land.
Construction on the retaining wall hasn’t started.
“The bridge lands at the end of the retaining wall,” Hammond said. “We have to have the retaining wall in place first.”
Part of the negotiations is about who picks up the tab for the additional labor required. Eddins said WYDOT officials hope to complete the project within the original $25 million estimate, though he wouldn’t explain how exactly that could happen with the additional man hours on the project.
WYDOT officials have said the project has stayed within its budget up to this point.
In spite of the delay, Eddins said transportation officials have a responsibility to ensure that the new bridge meets the highest standards and will be able to handle traffic for decades.
“We owe it to the taxpayers to make sure we get the project built so that it will last 20, 30 or 40 years,” Eddins said.
Transportation Commission Chairman Jim Latta, who represents Lincoln, Sublette, Teton and Uinta counties, said the project has raised concerns among commissioners but hasn’t gotten to a point where they would step in.
“The decision was to continue to allow the district engineer and his people to deal with the contractor issues,” Latta said when reached at home Monday.
The bridge delay is not expected to affect any projects WYDOT officials have slated for the coming years.
They’re supposed to wrap up work on a new roundabout at Hoback Junction within the next several weeks. Hammond predicted it would be open by mid- to late-August.
He said crews are finishing up the last pieces of the project, including pouring concrete for sidewalks and filling in the center of the roundabout.