MJ Engineering and Landscaping designed a 2002 bridge that failed during construction in Marcy
SLINGERLANDS – When the new rail trail bridge in Slingerlands buckled and failed while being installed July 12, it was not a first for the engineering firm that designed it. A similar collapse took place during the construction of an Oneida County span in 2002, killing one and injuring several others.
Albany County awarded the design contract to MJ Engineering and Land Surveying in 2018 for the new span to replace the almost 100-year-old railroad bridge over Route 85.
An independent engineering report ordered by the county to determine the cause of the buckling of the girders of the $1.9 million bridge pointed to flaws in design as a primary reason for the failure. The specific failure area on the girders, the steel spans on the outside of bridge that support the cross beams and decking, was a step that was put in to aesthetically mimic the old railroad span.
In 2002, MJ was brought in as a subcontractor to design a 170-foot pedestrian bridge over the future Utica-Rome Expressway in the Town of Marcy, Oneida County.
During construction, specifically while pouring the concrete deck, the bridge twisted and failed, killing one worker and injuring nine others.
After an investigation, an independent engineering firm determined that the MJ design used a single “tub girder” system without adequate bracing, which led to the failure.
According to the report, a bridge that uses a poured concrete deck as a structural element that helps support it is most vulnerable during the pouring of the material across its span. The Marcy bridge failed as construction crews neared the middle of the bridge. This was also the case in Slingerlands.
In the Slingerlands case, the bridge buckled and sank only to the concrete abutments that flank the roadway below. No one was injured in the Slingerlands collapse.
The Marcy bridge had no center support or abutments to stop it and twisted like a hammock between two trees, dumping the equipment, deck materials and workers to the roadbed approximately 30 feet below.
After an investigation by Weidlinger Associates, a New York City-based structural engineering firm, the NY Department of Transportation released the findings.
“After examining state and federal design standards for the construction of bridges of this type and the state review process for those designs, the Weidlinger report recommended a series of changes, including clarifying the standards at both the state and federal level, and expanding NYSDOT oversight of bridge designs considered unusual or unique,” DOT said in a 2003 statement.
The investigation also found a bridge design in Sweden that was similar to what was used for the Marcy bridge, a singular tub girder design, had previously failed during its installation prior to the installation in Marcy.
“This independent investigation was conducted to find out what caused the bridge collapse and ensure that it never happens again,” DOT Commissioner Joseph Boardman said in the 2003 statement. “In direct response to the accident and the report findings, the State Department of Transportation has instituted new bridge design review procedures, revised the bridge design code and explored the possibility of national code changes.”
The two bridge failures had many similarities.
According to a retired licensed DOT bridge engineer interviewed for this story, the concrete decking surface, when cured, would have provided added structural support to both bridges. When pouring wet concrete, a bridge is under a tremendous load without having the rigid structural support of hard concrete. During the pouring process the chances of structural failure increases and has to be accounted for.
Both bridges failed at the point where the screeding machine that smooths the concrete surface was near the center of the bridge during pouring of the deck. The Slingerlands bridge buckled and the Marcy bridge twisted and collapsed at this point.
In Reynolds’ report for the Slingerlands bridge, it noted that the designers should have provided more detailed analysis for stress points and said “it does not appear that the design accounted for this additional stress.”
DOT said of the Weidlinger’s report for the Marcy bridge, “the study concludes that the bridge design did not account for the unusual slenderness of the structure or the possibility of global torsional buckling, resulting in the bracing called for in the design being insufficient to keep the bridge stable during its construction.”
Bids for the design
Spotlight New has requested documents from Albany County detailing the bid process for awarding the design contract to MJ Engineering. We have also requested similar information from DOT. We will follow up when we receive them.
The original $95,000 contract was awarded on Oct. 9, 2018, for design and construction inspection services for the Slingerland bridge replacement project.
The amount of the contract increased to $284,700 after six supplemental agreements for additional work on the project. The last of the agreements was passed in March 2022 by the Albany County Legislature.
MJ Engineering, according to its website, also inspects bridges for DOT and Thruway Authority. Town of Bethlehem Controller Michael Cohen also confirmed MJ is one of the Town Designated Engineering firms.