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Investigation: Work Environment, Lack Of Training Contributed To Faulty Bridge Construction

FAYETTEVILLE (KFSM)- The three-person team appointed by the Washington County Quorum Court released the results of their investigation regarding faulty bridge c...
washington county bridge investigation

FAYETTEVILLE (KFSM)- The three-person team appointed by the Washington County Quorum Court released the results of their investigation regarding faulty bridge construction during Tuesday’s (May 5) Quorum Court meeting.

The report concludes the work environment and lack of training at the Road Department contributed to the incorrect construction of the Harvey Dowell Bridge east of Fayetteville and the Stonewall Bridge west of Prairie Grove.

To read the full report, click here.

The report was compiled by Justice of the Peace Eva Madison, County Assessor Russell Hill and Carl Gales, who served as a citizen adviser, after an investigation that began on April 22 and concluded on May 4. The team interviewed 16 current and former county employees, met with the structural engineer who prepared the plans, reviewed construction photos, work logs and engineering plans and visited the bridges.

The team interviewed several members of the bridge crew including the now-retired supervisor, former lead, who resigned during the investigation, and one crew member. Four crew members were unwilling to be interviewed and two of them also resigned during the investigation. Members of the tile crew were also interviewed, including the current supervisor, current lead and two crew members. The team was unable to interview the former supervisor who is currently on a leave of absence.

From their interviews, the team found crews made deviations from the engineer’s specifications for several reasons:

  • There was a lack of knowledge and training on how to read engineering plans and the significance of following the plans.
  • Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department standards, which were incorporated into the plans, were not consulted.
  • There was confusion as to who had copies of the plans.
  • The bridge crew was used to doing things the way they had always done and there was a mentality that “the County can build a bridge however it wants.”
  • Other crews and workers assisted on the projects, the tile crew in particular, and there was a breakdown in supervision on the job site with crews working independently of one another.
  • There were also questions about whether the Road Department had the proper tools and equipment to build bridges of this magnitude.
  • At the Harvey Dowell job site, witnesses described days where the site felt “chaotic” with too many workers not knowing what they were supposed to be doing.
  • Witnesses also described feeling rushed and sensed some type of artificial deadline on the Harvey Dowell project.

The team also questioned employees about who was responsible for the deviations and received a variety of answers. Some said the bridge supervisor and lead man directed their work, but others said they took direction from the superintendent, who was at the job sites almost every day. Meanwhile, the tile crew worked under their own supervisor.

The investigation concluded that the fact the engineer’s plans weren’t being followed “was no secret” after looking at work logs and visually inspecting the work itself. The superintendent and assistant superintendent were also often on-site, and witnesses state they were involved in and aware of the plan deviations. According to the report, County Judge Marilyn Edwards’ office was notified by at least Thanksgiving 2014, although there is no precise date.

The investigation report also pointed to problems with the work environment at the Road Department:

  • The department created a culture where it is permissible to deviate from written instructions, like engineering plans.
  • Witnesses were unaware of any written policies or procedures specific to the Road Department that must be followed.
  • Engineering plans were referred to as “guidelines.”
  • There is an attitude present that the County can do whatever it wants.
  • Witnesses were told not to ask questions.

According to the report, some Road Department workers were afraid of retribution if they raised concerns through their chain of command, while others liked and were comfortable with management.

The team suggested further investigation of the Road Department work environment and employees suggested the team interview all road department workers for a more accurate picture.

At Tuesday’s Quorum Court meeting, Edwards said she will have to look at the report, but said changes will be made.