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Published: Sunday, 10/24/2004

2nd truss crane fails, raising new doubts on bridge finish date

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

A telescoping leg fell off the I-280 Maumee River Crossing project s surviving truss crane yesterday, throwing the $220 million bridge s completion date into renewed uncertainty.

The incident occurred just hours after work on the bridge s East Toledo approach spans resumed after being halted for more than eight months by the Feb. 16 collapse of the truss crane s twin, which killed four workers and injured four others.

No one was hurt in yesterday s accident.

However, state officials immediately demanded that the project contractor, Fru-Con Inc., of Ballwin, Mo., use different equipment to complete construction. And no one could say last night how long the project, originally scheduled for completion by October, 2006, will now take.

I don t have the answer as to how this [accident] happened, but we don t have confidence in this piece of equipment, Richard Martinko, the Ohio Department of Transportation s assistant director for highway management, said during a hastily called news conference late yesterday afternoon at the project s command center near the construction site.

On the first day [construction] resumed, we had a failure. That is not acceptable, ODOT Director Gordon Proctor said from Columbus via teleconference.

We just thank God that no workers were injured in this accident but we are outraged and disgusted that it happened, Mr. Proctor said.

ODOT staff were video recording yesterday s moving of the crane when the mishap occurred at 1:53 p.m. The video, played during the news conference, showed the leg being lowered slowly into place atop a bridge pier when it suddenly fell out of the crane structure and hit a temporary catwalk around the pier below.

Several workers were standing nearby atop the pier, but no one was on the catwalk. Mr. Martinko, who witnessed the accident, said no workers were on the ground at the time.

All indications throughout the day were that the crane s movement was going as planned until the leg failure, he said.

Mr. Martinko said it appeared to him that either a steel tube inside the leg that allowed it to extend or cables associated with the tube failed, but he did not know which. The failure occurred within a matter of seconds. The leg was kept from falling to the ground by the catwalk s grated-steel floor.

The fallen crane leg was retrieved and lowered to the ground by two land-based cranes about three hours after the accident. Mr. Martinko said a crew of nine or 10 men was involved in moving the crane, with an uncounted number of supervisors and engineers present, when the accident occurred.

All the workers were sent home after the accident, and Mr. Martinko said that while he could not speak for the workers, he could understand why some might have doubts about returning to work at the site.

If they won t come back, it would have an impact on this project s productivity and safety, he said.

While Mr. Martinko was unsure of how yesterday s accident would affect the bridge s completion, he said it should not affect its $220 million cost to Ohio taxpayers. The contract contains a penalty of $20,000 per day for completion beyond an October, 2006, deadline.

There will be no expense to ODOT, no contract extensions, he said. It s Fru-Con s responsibility to build this project for the price they contracted for.

The accident threw the project s completion date back up in the air just two days after Matti Jaekel, president of Fru-Con, said his firm was investigating its options for acquiring additional cranes that might allow it to finish the bridge by late 2006, as originally

scheduled.

Southbound I-280, which had been closed through the area early in the day as a safety precaution, will remain closed for at least a week as previously scheduled, Mr. Martinko said. How soon after that it will reopen will depend on what needs to be done to dismantle the crane, he said.

Northbound I-280 was open yesterday and was not affected by the accident.

Ramp span assembly and pier construction in North Toledo, unaffected by either accident, will continue, Mr. Martinko said, as will construction of the bridge s central tower in the Maumee River. But the project s overall completion date hinges on when mainline span assembly can resume.

At a news conference Thursday during which a schedule for resuming construction was announced, Mr. Jaekel said the crane had been thoroughly inspected and that he was confident in our team s ability to complete this project safely.

Mr. Jaekel and other top company and ODOT officials were present yesterday morning when workers began the process of positioning the crane known as LG-1 for assembly of the 12th approach span of what eventually will be the southbound lanes of I-280.

Mr. Martinko said Mr. Jaekel left the site to catch a plane shortly before the accident occurred.

Mr. Jaekel was contacted by telephone before he boarded his flight and agreed that the crane should no longer be used on the project, Mr. Martinko said. Fru-Con officials at the site had no further comment yesterday.

ODOT will not ask local workers to be involved in dismantling the yellow, 900-ton erecting-truss crane designed by Paolo de Nicola of Italy, Mr. Martinko said. Instead, Fru-Con will have to provide its own employees to take the crane down and remove it from the site, he said.

And while ODOT cannot envision halting the project, we re going to do everything we can to make this as risk-free as possible, Mr. Martinko said. Whatever equipment Fru-Con proposes to substitute for LG-1 will have to be approved by state and federal officials and project labor unions, he said, just as was the case with the work-forward plan announced Thursday.

Representatives of neither the International Union of Operating Engineers nor the Ironworkers union, which represent most workers involved in crane operations and all of those killed or injured in the Feb. 16 accident, could not be reached for comment last night.

An Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigation report faulted Fru-Con for inadequately anchoring the large crane to the completed portion of the bridge, which the agency said was at least partially to blame for the fatal collapse.

Fru-Con is appealing that finding and the $280,000 fine that OSHA proposed as a penalty. Kip Reiher, an OSHA inspector, was to examine the equipment involved in the accident yesterday. No similar leg failure is believed to have occurred during the Feb. 16 accident.

During the mainline work suspension, the surviving LG-1 crane was modified to improve its stability during the positioning process, known as launching, and redundant control and safety systems were added. Officials pledged as well that they had revised operating procedures and retrained workers to assure safe operation of the crane.

The bridge is to be built by assembling more than 3,000 precast concrete segments made at a casting yard on Front Street.

The method of using horizontal gantry cranes to lift and hold precast segments in position for assembling and fastening, typically by epoxy and steel cables, has been employed in bridge building for decades.

But the cranes built especially for the Maumee River Crossing project were the first to have self-contained launching systems, a feature that eliminated the need to use ground-based cranes to reposition the gantries each time a bridge span is completed.

The accident yesterday and the Feb. 16 collapse both occurred during launching.

The overhead launching process is the complexity that ODOT expects to eliminate by forbidding the continued use of the LG-1 crane, Mr. Martinko said.

We will devise a safer, less complex, and simpler way of building this bridge, he pledged.

Contact David Patch at: dpatch@theblade.com or 419-724-6094.


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