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PennDOT: Contractor owes $3 million for Liberty Bridge fire

| Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2016, 12:18 p.m.
Flames are visible on Liberty Bridge as seen from behind the T Bridge on Friday, Sept. 2, 2016.
Steve Adams | Tribune-Review
Flames are visible on Liberty Bridge as seen from behind the T Bridge on Friday, Sept. 2, 2016.

PennDOT officials said the contractor responsible for the Liberty Bridge fire owes more than $3 million in damages, an amount that dwarfs the cumulative total of more than a decade's worth of such fines issued in the Pittsburgh area.

Since 2003, PennDOT District 11 — which contains Allegheny, Beaver and Lawrence counties — has assessed about $407,900 in “liquidated damages,” or penalties levied against contractors when construction projects encounter unplanned bridge and road closures. The figure is spread over more than 50 contracts, District Executive Dan Cessna said.

Officials said liquidated damages related to the Liberty Bridge fire Sept. 2 total $3,033,200, based on the contract between the state agency and West Deer-based contractor Joseph B. Fay Co.

Fay representatives in a statement called liquidated damages a “contractual matter.”

“We and PennDOT will reach a final figure that's in alignment with the conditions of the contract and considering the hard work of our employees and subcontractors to put the project back on schedule,” they said.

Frank Burg, a safety engineer and former Occupational Safety and Health Administration official, said parties often dispute such damages in court.

“No matter how it turns out, the question shouldn't be about this incident, because this is over now,” he said. “The question is: Are they going to do this right the next time to make sure it doesn't happen?”

Fay representatives have said the company's seven-decade history reflects its commitment to safety.

PennDOT officials have said Fay is responsible for all costs associated with repairs. That total was not available this week as crews continue to work on a permanent fix for the fire-damaged bridge, which opened to traffic in late September following short-term repairs that required a 24-day closure.

Cessna said the closure won't have a major impact on the overall $80 million bridge rehabilitation project's timeline.

The multi-year project is expected to conclude in 2017.

Michael Walton is a Tribune-Review staff writer. He can be reached at 412-380-5627 or mwalton@tribweb.com.

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