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Hoover Dam Bridge Collapsed Cableway Settlement Finalized

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A four-year-long legal spat over Hoover Dam Bridge project's collapsed cableways has come to a close with a private settlement stemming from an April 20 arbitration ruling. On Sept. 15, 2006, a refurbished 42-year-old cableway system leased from American Bridge Co., Coraopolis, Penn., toppled over during 50-mph winds, bringing construction to a halt and delaying completion by two years. The 1,900-ft-long, 277-ft-deep twin-rib arched bridge will now open in early November.

View of the collapsed North and South Cableway Crane system at Abutment 2 area in Arizona after the 2006 incident.
Photo: FHWA
View of the collapsed North and South Cableway Crane system at Abutment 2 area in Arizona after the 2006 incident.
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In 2005, a general contracting joint venture led by Obayashi Corp., San Francisco, with PSM Construction USA Inc., Brisbane, Calif., signed a two-year, $105,000-a-month lease to use two pairs of 330-ft-tall lattice-framed towers with 2,500-ft of 3-in-dia. cableway strung between them over the Black Canyon, roughly a quarter-mile downstream from Hoover Dam. The high lines, as workers call them, function like a heavy-duty clothes line that shuttle 104 precast bridge segments into place 890 ft over the Colorado River.

The Nevada South tower fell after six months of incident-free use. It occurred after 3:00 p.m. without a live load. Obayashi/PSM blamed “tubular corrosion, welding defects, and other weakened conditions” for the collapse and sought $74 million in damages and delays. Yet, the joint-venture successfully negotiated a pact with the Federal Highway Administration to waive the contractual 1,217 working day schedule, which carried $8,000 per day in liquidated damages, prior to arbitration ruling. FHWA never ruled the incident a force majeure.

FHWA spokesman Doug Hecox declined to discuss settlement details or litigation, but noted that $240 million will finish within its original budget.

American Bridge Co., meanwhile, claimed that the joint venture's improper rigging led to cableway system collapse and sought $6 million for destroyed equipment. A three-person panel arbitrated the case in Las Vegas over 28 days and determined that “neither side established with certainty … the actual cause of collapse.” It rejected Obayashi/PSM’s claims for a lack of “proof,” but American Bridge Co. was entitled to reimbursement for lost lease revenue and equipment damage, with interest. The final settlement amount remains confidential.

“Ultimately, the joint venture's theories as to what caused the collapse could not be supported by engineering analysis,” says American Bridge Co. attorney Dave Dial, with Atlanta-based Weinberg, Wheeler, Hudgins, Gunn & Dial LLC. “The award completely exonerates American Bridge of the system collapse.”

The lease agreement specified the joint-venture was responsible for cableway erection, testing, operation and maintenance. Subcontractor South Lindon, Ut.-based, Olsen Beal Associates, who had been tapped for installation, testified that Obayashi/PSM didn't attach storm guys, or supplementary ties downs used to beef-up cableway stability, the morning of the collapse. “Obayashi failed, on a regular basis to attach the storm guys,” the ruling states, adding that “clamps had not been sufficiently tightened.”

Although the arbitration panel's decision is moot due to a settlement, the claim that the panel attributed the failure to a cause is incorrect,” said Obayashi counsel Tom McGuire in a statement. “In fact, the three lawyer panel opined that it could not determine the cause.”

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