Engineering Experts: Cuomo Bridge ‘Could Collapse Without Notice’
A new report alleges structural dangers on the Mario M. Cuomo Bridge were covered up and more. State officials responded to the shocking allegations.
In 2018, a source told NBC, dozens of steel bolts that are used to help hold together the Mario Cuomo Bridge broke apart during construction, causing concern for some who feel the bridge may not be safe.
A whistleblower turned over recordings showing officials knew of the bolt defects which prompted an investigation.
In a transcript of a recording, a foreman talked about a bolt failure and said, "It’s a major defect that does not normally occur," according to NBC.
Engineers told NBC there's no immediate safety issue, but the cover-up raises questions the bolts used on the bridge will need to be inspected or replaced.
In December 2018, a spokeswoman for Tappan Zee Constructors told Hudson Valley Post there wasn't an issue with hundreds of bolts that were tested.
A Thruway Authority spokesperson also told us in 2018, "independent experts concluded that the actual bolts and the bridge are safe."
However, a new report from the Albany Times Union alleges structural dangers on the bridge were covered up.
"Despite concerns from engineering experts that girders could separate and the bridge could collapse without notice, the state’s investigations moved slowly. Also, many workers at the site throughout the multiyear project — some with firsthand knowledge of the extent of the broken bolts — were never interviewed by investigators," Brendan J. Lyons wrote in his article for the Times Union.
The report from the Times Union also questions the thoroughness of the investigations into broken bolts on the bridge.
"A Times Union investigation raises questions about the structural integrity of the Gov. Mario M. Cuomo Bridge and the thoroughness of the state’s investigations into the 2016 coverup of broken bolts that were holding the structure together," the Times Union wrote on Twitter.
The Project Director for the New York State Thruway Authority, Jamey Barbas, says the Times Union's report "makes unfortunate, misleading, and erroneous statements." Barbas goes on to say the bridge is safe. The full statement is below:
In Sunday’s story, “Broken bolts: Structural problems on the Gov. Mario M. Cuomo Bridge were covered up,” the Times Union makes unfortunate, misleading, and erroneous statements that irresponsibly portrays an alarming and unsafe situation — one which is certainly not the case. First and foremost, the bridge has been and continues to be safe for the traveling public.
The article also implies that the Thruway Authority tried to cover up this issue or did not act in a timely manner. Upon learning of the allegations of bolt failures in 2016, not only did the Thruway Authority immediately inform the Inspector General, 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. The tests confirmed that the bolts met or exceeded the requirements set forth by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM). The very small number of bolts that were broken is not a cause for safety concern on such a large bridge consisting of more than one million bolts. It is important to note that there is no concern of hydrogen embrittlement. Additionally, all bolts tested were coated in Geomet, as required. None were hot-dipped galvanized. All experts agree that the steel is not defective. Prior to opening the bridge in August 2017, the experts concluded that the safety of the bridge was in no way compromised.
In addition to the extensive testing and analysis already performed, the entire structure is routinely inspected and monitored, and during our most recent biennial inspection, we found no additional bolt failures of concern. These inspection results match the findings of our testing program which concluded that future bolt failures, if any, will be extremely rare and inconsequential.
To be clear, the massive bolted steel plate connections on the girders are not in any danger of failing and the bridge is safe. A typical bolted connection has more than 500 bolts. The built-in redundancy of the bridge system allays any potential concerns that a failure would occur.
To incite a lack of confidence in the traveling public is just reckless, irresponsible and unsound journalism. Public safety is our highest priority and shame on the Times Union for their inaccurate assertions and mischaracterizations.
As much as we would like to share more information, we are unable to discuss it further at this time.
New York State Inspector General Letizia Tagliafierro says her office conducted a "thorough" investigation into the bridge.
"As soon as the allegation of potentially faulty bolts was brought to the Inspector General’s attention, investigative staff responded immediately, reviewing thousands of documents, collecting evidence and conducting interviews with specific individuals. The Inspector General’s Office reviewed audio of conversations between individuals who were involved in trying to conceal the replacement of bolts. Additionally, the Inspector General sought and obtained sworn testimony from engineers who admitted to covertly replacing broken bolts," Tagliafierro stated. "As part of this investigation, in March 2017, the Thruway Authority engaged an independent testing laboratory to evaluate broken bolts discovered on the project. The laboratory informed the Thruway Authority that the bolts did not compromise the safety of the bridge. The Thruway Authority communicated this finding to the Inspector General and also advised that it is undertaking additional inspections and testing of the bolts as warranted. The Inspector General advised the Thruway Authority of pertinent investigative findings during the course of the investigation, which were also shared with the Attorney General for further consideration. The Inspector General’s Office is currently legally prohibited from disclosing specific findings of its investigation."