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Shoddy steel stalls bridge project

sdsd (Map courtesy of WisDOT)

Poorly welded steel girders could delay a bridge project spanning eastbound Highway 29 to northbound U.S. Highway 51 in Wausau. (Map courtesy of WisDOT)

By Sean Ryan

An Illinois steel company is suspended from Wisconsin work after delivering weak bridge girders to a state Department of Transportation project in Wausau.

Industrial Steel Construction Inc., Hodgkins, Ill., delivered poorly welded steel girders to Zenith Tech Inc. for the bridge project. After Zenith Tech installed the girders for the bridge, WisDOT inspectors discovered problems with the welds.

WisDOT and Industrial Steel officials now are searching for ways to avoid project delays by fixing the girders without removing them, said Scott Piefer, project manager for Zenith Tech, Waukesha.

“If it drags on longer,” he said, “I imagine it could impact the project schedule.”

The bridge linking eastbound Highway 29 to northbound U.S. Highway 51 is the final leg of a two-year, $25.3 million contract Zenith Tech won to rebuild highways 29 and 51, Piefer said. He said chances are good crews can reinforce the girders without removing them. The worst-case scenario, which Piefer said is unlikely, is if Industrial Steel must fabricate new girders and ship them to Wausau.

Industrial Steel officials in the company’s Hodgkins and Gary, Ind., offices did not respond to numerous calls for comment.

WisDOT on Monday decided to prohibit Industrial Steel from supplying girders for state projects, said Don Miller, WisDOT director of project development.

“The suspension process allows us to take the contractor off the plate for a while so we can investigate their quality control,” he said.

Miller said the state will let Industrial Steel work on future projects if the company’s quality-control programs pass muster. He said he does not know how long the review will take.

The company has had past problems with girder welding. The Iowa Department of Transportation in late 2008 banned Industrial Steel after girders it produced for a bridge project in Des Moines, Iowa, had welding problems and were unsafe, said Sam Moussali, Iowa DOT structures engineer.

“The welds,” he said. “They won’t hold the bridge together.”

Moussali said his inspectors discovered the welding problems at Industrial Steel’s plant before the girders were delivered to Des Moines, where they were to be assembled for a pedestrian bridge over the Des Moines River. The problems delayed the project by six or seven months, he said, because state officials constantly had to reject girders and force the company to make new ones.

“They couldn’t weld it right,” Moussali said of the Des Moines project. “They couldn’t make it fit right. They really have lost their top company people over there.”

Moussali said he has worked with the company for 15 years, and the problems have cropped up only recently. He said Industrial Steel is eligible to be reauthorized for Iowa DOT projects this year, but he wants to inspect the company’s plant before adding Industrial Steel to the approved suppliers list.

Piefer said if the girders in Wausau can be fixed in place, his crews should be able to complete the contract on schedule by the end of 2010.

“It’s June now,” he said. “Decisions that don’t get made in June affect things in the fall.”

One comment

  1. Maybe now we will start to see more of this steel work done inside the state.

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