The Democratic congressman who reps both sides of the Mario M. Cuomo Bridge is calling on the federal government to investigate concerns about the span’s structural integrity.
US Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-NY), who represents Westchester and Rockland counties, recently wrote a letter to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, asking him to probe claims reported by the Albany Times-Union earlier this month that bridge contractors “covered up” faulty bolts in the $3.9 billion structure.
Jones called on Buttigieg “to open an investigation into these claims and … to work with the New York state Department of Transportation to ensure proper inspections are conducted to assure the public of the safety of the bridge,” the Times-Union reported.
“It is key to the economic success of the region and critical to the livelihood of my constituents, many thousands of whom use the bridge to commute to and from work,” the freshman congressman wrote.
“I urge you to immediately begin a thorough and transparent investigation in coordination with the New York Department of Transportation into the structural integrity of the bridge and address any concerns about its safety.”
The upstate newspaper’s investigation alleged that Tappan Zee Constructors, the four-company consortium tasked with building the bridge, attempted to hide dozens of broken bolts from state authorities.
Whistleblower James McNall — who worked for a subcontractor on the project — alleged the engineer in charge of assembling the span’s girders “directed that a laborer be assigned to monitor the assembly bays and quickly discard any broken bolts into a metal scrap bin before the state’s inspectors would notice.”
An outside bridge expert hired by McNall, meanwhile, found “the volume of bolt failures on the bridge to be unprecedented and highly alarming,” the Times-Union reported.
The expert — University of Nevada engineer Ahmad Itani — assigned possible blame to “hydrogen embrittlement,” a phenomenon in which bolts become defective either due to manufacturing flaws or being installed too tightly.
Itani’s analysis said the issue was “among the most dangerous problems that can affect steel bridges,” and could cause the new bridge to collapse.
“The presence of any number of bolts with (hydrogen embrittlement) is generally unacceptable, but the situation is even more dangerous at the bridge because the failures to date have been concentrated in a few spans,” he wrote, according to the TU.
“If 30 bolts have broken, a much larger number — 300, 3,000, or more — could well be weakening and endangering the structure.”
A previous investigation by the state attorney general’s office resulted in a paltry $2 million settlement between the state and its contractor — and has not been released to the public.
The Thruway Authority has accused the Times-Union of making “unfortunate, misleading, and erroneous statements that irresponsibly [portray] an alarming and unsafe situation.”
“Upon learning of the allegations of bolt failures in 2016… we spent more than one million dollars and engaged world-renowned subject matter experts, developed a testing program, conducted extensive studies, and tested well over five hundred bolts,” project director Jamey Barbas said in a statement.
“To be clear, the massive bolted steel plate connections on the girders are not in any danger of failing and the bridge is safe.”
Tappan Zee Constructors, meanwhile, sued the Thruway Authority for $960 million last month — accusing officials of having “interfered with and delayed” the project through costly “change orders,” according to court docs.
The company “unequivocally stands by the quality of our work and the safety of the bridge,” a rep said in a statement.
“TZC performed additional testing and inspection measures of the high strength bolts on the bridge,” the statement said.
The new bridge replaced the Tappan Zee Bridge in 2017, and was named after former Gov. Mario Cuomo at the behest of his son, Gov. Andrew Cuomo.