Cracks found in more 520 Bridge pontoons

SEATTLE -- Despite state assurances that the problem was fixed, more cracks were discovered in the second round of pontoons being built for the new 520 Bridge.

The Washington Department of Transportation insisted the problems were fixed, that the cracks found in the first round of pontoons would not carry over to the second. But the Problem Solvers have discovered at least nine concrete pontoon panels have already been rejected because of too many cracks.

This is cycle 2, the second set of six pontoons that Kiewit Construction is building for the 520 floating bridge.

Many of the interior walls of the pontoons are pre-cast, meaning they're built next door to the basin where the pontoons are assembled and then dropped in by crane from above.

Though the first batch of pontoons had myriad problems with the concrete cracking and breaking away, WSDOT hired an expert review panel and has consistently said the problems wouldn't be repeated.

"In cycle two, we are looking to implement the recommendations of the expert review panel. We don't expect that to occur in cycles two through six here," Program Director Julie Meredith said in September.

Last month, the Problem Solvers revealed that all six of the first pontoons built in Aberdeen were leaking, and last week the state admitted the four largest pontoons, which are now on Lake Washington, are still leaking. Repairs are set to begin early next year.

According to documents obtained through a public records request, there is evidence that Kiewit Construction has already experienced problems with concrete cracking in cycle two.

In one document called a "request for information," Kiewit asks WSDOT's approval to use six pre-cast panels headed for Pontoon Q, even though the cracking in the panels exceeded the maximum amount allowed under their contract.

Mark Gaines, WSDOT's construction engineer, recommended that the request "be denied and the panels recjected."

"Three of the six panels were recast, and the other three were found to have less than 30 feet of structural cracking and were repaired," WSDOT said.

The department also added that a total of nine concrete panels have been rejected during cycle two due to excessive structural cracking.

It is still early in the construction of this second cycle of pontoons, and WSDOT points out that it is a natural property of concrete to crack. Department officials say the cracking was both expected and planned for in the contract with Kiewit.

The Problem Solvers have also discovered that the Federal Highway Administration, which has oversight authority, has appointed its own technical advisor to join the state's review panel.