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Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Multnomah County is About to Pay Out More for the Crumbling Morrison Bridge Deck

Posted by Dirk VanderHart on Wed, Oct 9, 2013 at 4:33 PM

Morrison_pic.jpg

Looks like Multnomah County is planning to dole out more money for a new, deteriorating deck on the Morrison Bridge.

County commissioners tomorrow morning will vote on a settlement with Conway Construction, the Ridgefield, Washington company responsible for installing polymer decking that has shown worrying wear in a year-and-a-half of use.

Bizarrely, the settlement comes in the midst of a lawsuit where the county blames Conway, and two other parties, for negligence in the bridge debacle. But not all of the settlement would be paid out at once—a portion would be held until that suit is closed.

The county is tight-lipped about any settlement proceedings, and has been unwilling to speak much about the Morrison Bridge's woes in general. It's certainly not revealing how much the tentative settlement is worth. But spokesman Mike Pullen released this statement:

"The settlement resolves the contractor’s payment claims for additional time and work performed on the Morrison Bridge rehabilitation project. The settlement amount is substantially less than the contractor's claimed amount. As part of the proposed settlement, a portion of the settlement funds will be held in reserve pending resolution of the County’s claims for problems with the Morrison Bridge decking. The settlement does not prevent the County from seeking compensation against the contractor or others for the bridge decking problems."

Of course, the settlement still needs to be approved by the Board of Commissioners. But with most-such proceedings, the vote is pro forma—commissioners will have been briefed on the matter ahead of tomorrow morning's meeting.

As first reported months ago by the Mercury—and finally caught by other news organizations in the city just this week (shout out to OPB, though)—the $4.2 million fiber-reinforced polymer (FRP) deck installed in 2011 and 2012 has begun cracking and shifting. Its screws are coming loose.

Those problems have led to no end of finger-pointing:

•Conway blames ZellComp Inc.—the North Carolina-based engineer and supplier of the decking—as well as the county, which picked the system.
•The county says Conway, ZellComp and another company are to blame for faulty work. It wants its money back.
•ZellComp stands by its product, and says Conway didn't install the deck correctly.

I've looked over hundreds of documents regarding this project, and can't recall seeing an exact amount Conway claims it's owed. But the issue of payment came up in a scathing letter Conway President David Conway sent to the county in April. In that letter, Conway made a case officials should have known there could be significant difficulties with the deck system—that a 2009 study said as much.

"Either CCC (Conway Construction Company) bears responsibility for this alleged failure or it does not," Conway wrote. "On the one hand, MC (Multnomah County) is protected in the highly unlikely event that CCC should be found to any extend liable for the alleged failure. ... Yet, MC persists in withholding payment from CCC."

As we've pointed out, the Morrison isn't Multnomah County's first bridge to struggle with FRP. A deck installed on the Broadway Bridge in 2005—and provided by ZellComp competitor Martin Marietta Materials—began cracking and filling up with water after installation. Part of the deck was replaced with ZellComp panelling when a streetcar line was installed on the Broadway.

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