Construction challenges on the Beltway 8 bridge over the Houston Ship Channel are illustrative of the problems involved in completing large-scale infrastructure improvements on time—and on budget across the country. You’re not alone if you are wondering exactly how the $1.2 trillion infrastructure package is going to transmit to results.
$291 Million Setback
Industry experts counsel cautious optimism, patience and advanced use of technology in thinking forward. It’s also useful to harvest insights from big builds gone awry. For example, in Houston, it’s been determined that the current construction project on the Beltway 8 bridge has flaws stemming from the original design phase of the project.
Construction on the bridge— the largest project in Harris County’s history—began in 2018. The design called for two towers and 128 cables—a big shift from the original “steep box girder” bridge over the Houston Ship Channel. Now, some sections of the “new” bridge need to be demolished, as an engineering review found 21 “significant” design flaws. According to the Houston Chronicle, the setback will cost Harris County $291 million—and, of course, push back the timing: “This development will push completion of the first span of the new bridge to 2025, and the second span to 2027. The engineering firm and contractor behind the designs, FIGG Bridge Group, attempted a new technique after winning its bid to replace the old span, which was built in 1982. FIGG’s new construction method involved fabricating sections of new roadway on the ground and hoisting the segments into place.”
Experts observe that insufficient investment over decades, as well as hurdles related to labor, materials, and the environment, create a plethora of challenges for builders to overcome when taking on big projects. The trend has in fact been projects that are over-budget and off-schedule. New York’s East Side Access project, the high-speed line from Los Angeles to San Fransisco, and work at the former Hanford nuclear site in Washington offer other examples of ambitious builds that have met significant engineering, cost and timing challenges.
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Good To Know
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) allocates $20 million per year, over five years “for advanced digital construction management systems and related technologies.” The language in the IIJA is quite broad, but experts anticipate support for
- Visual-based inspection technologies that connect job sites to engineering offices in real-time, boosting efficiency, reducing risk and accelerating project delivery.
- Construction management tools to administer contracts digitally.
- Electronic ticketing technology to remove paper from the construction material supply chain.
- 3D Modeling and digital twin technology.
- Drones applied to construction, operations, maintenance and disaster recovery.
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