Engineering firm on team tapped to work on new bridge in Baton Rouge under fire in Florida, Texas

    A Florida-based bridge engineering firm under fire for problems in two states—including the 2018 fatal collapse of a bridge it designed in Miami—is among the subconsultants on the team selected by Louisiana Transportation Secretary Shawn Wilson to do site selection and environmental assessment work for a new Mississippi River bridge in Baton Rouge.

    FIGG Bridge Engineering is among 10 subconsultants to Atlas Technical Consultants, a Texas company owned by local private equity firm Bernhard Capital Partners.

    Wilson awarded the $5 million contract to Atlas earlier this month, overriding the recommendation of his technical selection committee, which evaluated proposals and ranked Atlas third among the finalists for the job—12 points behind first-place finisher AECOM.

    In a letter explaining why he overrode the committee’s decision, Wilson says the Atlas team’s proposal “foremost captured the consideration of the executive evaluation” for several reasons. His decision is being appealed by one of the top two rated firms that lost out to Atlas, though DOTD declines to say which one and has yet to respond to a public records request for the information. 

    The dispute over Atlas’ selection comes as one of its engineers on the project, FIGG, is battling fallout from its role in the design of a pedestrian bridge that collapsed in March 2018 at Florida International University, killing eight people and injuring several others. In 2019, the National Transportation Safety Board released findings that blamed FIGG for faulty design of the bridge.

    That prompted the Texas Department of Transportation, last fall, to stop work on the $800 million Harbor Bridge in Corpus Christi, which FIGG is designing, while it reviewed FIGG’s work. Last Friday, the TxDOT went a step further, removing FIGG from the project altogether, noting the NTSB findings “were significant enough” to pull FIGG off the job. 

    One day later, TxDOT halted construction on another FIGG-designed bridge—this one, over the Sam Houston Tollway Ship Channel. Independent consultants last March identified potential problems with the design that FIGG is now reportedly correcting in a redesign.

    When asked Wednesday if Wilson had any concerns about FIGG’s troubled record of late, DOTD spokesman Rodney Mallett responded by email saying, “The Secretary clearly stated his reasons for selection in the justification letter that was published on our public web site. The justifications are attributable to the entire team and not to any one of the 10 sub-contracts.”

    Atlas CEO Joe Boyer, meanwhile, defends the company on his team and says Atlas and FIGG have worked together in the past and notes that FIGG’s role on the Baton Rouge project will not involve designing a bridge.

    “This is more of a planning project and they have a lot of knowledge about planning,” Boyer says. “That’s what they’re on our team for.”

    He says Atlas has no plans to remove FIGG from the team at this point but that his company is monitoring the situation.

    “It’s certainly a concern when something like this comes out,” he says. “But they have been under a tremendous amount of scrutiny and had their designs reviewed. It is a concern, but one we are working through.”

    For its part, FIGG has challenged the findings of the NTSB, noting in public statements it hired a forensic engineering firm that found “… faulty construction of the Florida bridge—which FIGG had no hand in—was to blame for the collapse, not its design.”

    The company has also said it is “shocked” by the recent decisions of TxDOT.

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