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SALT LAKE CITY -- A Utah contractor says state transportation officials were so swayed by political pressure while building the Legacy Parkway that they ignored safety warnings about bridge designs.
The Salt Lake Tribune reports Fred N. Stromness, a co-owner of Build Inc., said the five bridges are "are probably OK for everyday use, but could collapse during an earthquake."
The assertions are backed by George Goble, an expert who pioneered testing that determines how much weight bridge pilings can hold, said Stromness, whose company drove pilings for the bridge foundations.
If you see a government entity committing repeated wrongs, you need to rein them in.
–Fred N. Stromness
Stromness contends the Utah Department of Transportation ignored warnings from experts that the bridge designs were flawed. He said UDOT officials were under heavy pressure to finish the 14-miles Davis County parkway quickly after years of delays from environmental lawsuits.
He said he's speaking publicly now because of the recent controversy over a $13 million settlement paid by UDOT to a losing bidder in an Interstate 15 rebuilding project.
"If you see a government entity committing repeated wrongs, you need to rein them in," Stromness said.
UDOT officials declined to comment, citing involvement in a 3rd District Court lawsuit filed by Build Inc., last year.
"We have been working with Build Inc. for more than a year on this. UDOT believes that their claims are unfounded and that the dispute is best handled by the court," agency spokeswoman Tania Mashburn said in a statement.
Adan Carrillo, UDOT spokesman, told KSL Newsradio, "It is unfortunate they're taking advantage of recent of events to spread fear in the public. What we can do is just let the public know, let them rest assured that these bridges are safe -- they either meet or exceed state and federal guidelines -- and there is really no reason for anybody to come up with these unfounded comments."
"Safety is always our first and foremost priority concern and we'll make sure that remains the same in years to come," Carillo said.
Among the allegations in the Build Inc. lawsuit are that UDOT failed to perform a pile drivability analysis and that plans omitted references to pile-driving hammer requirements.
UDOT denies these allegations -- and others -- in court documents and said Build Inc., is responsible for any alleged damages.
Stromness said his company found it could not hammer hollow pilings to depths required by UDOT without twisting the metal for five Farmington-area bridges. He said the problem could have been solved by using with thicker external steel, or by redesigning bridge supports, but that UDOT would not approve the change because it increased costs.
Colorado engineer, Goble, said the test showed the pilings were not drivable as designed, nor would the bridges hold the loads desired. But UDOT would not make design changes, said Goble, who sent the agency a letter last year to "relieve myself of any ethical responsibility" about problems he saw.
In his letter, Goble said the piles are not "necessarily unsafe, only that they may be -- that the capacities are unknown."
In an interview, Goble told the newspaper it is possible that an extraordinary event like an earthquake could create stresses that exceed the safety margins for bridge supports and potentially bring the structures down.
Story compiled with information from The Associated Press and Andrew Adams.