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Builder of crosstown's elevated lanes sues expressway authority for $21.8 million

TAMPA — Like the roadway's traffic itself, litigation over construction of the elevated lanes on the Lee Roy Selmon Crosstown Expressway goes on and on.

The latest lawsuit comes from PCL Civil Constructors, the project's builder. Last week, the company sued the Tampa-Hillsborough County Expressway Authority, saying it is owed nearly $21.8 million for its work.

But a spokeswoman for the expressway authority said Monday that a contract dispute over who should pay what to whom has been going on since 2007.

"It is the expressway authority's belief that we are entitled to recover funds from PCL," spokeswoman Sue Chrzan said.

She could not say how much the authority seeks from PCL, which has been paid $176.5 million on the project so far.

One of the things at issue in the contract dispute is the cost of repairing and finishing the roadway after one of its supporting piers collapsed during construction six years ago. Otherwise, Chrzan said, she could not comment on PCL's claims.

"Our outside counsel and our experts are going to put together the response to the lawsuit," she said.

The expressway authority receives no tax money, but finances its operations through the collection of tolls. The agency conceived the elevated lanes, a $370 million project, as a bold way to move traffic between downtown Tampa and Brandon and Interstate 75.

In the morning, traffic on the 5.5 miles of elevated lanes flows toward downtown. In the afternoon, the direction is reversed as traffic heads back to the suburbs.

In its lawsuit, PCL said it was on schedule before the collapse despite encountering problems in plans and the organization of the work caused by the authority.

Then, during rush hour one morning in April 2004, one of the 224 piers being built to support the roadway sank more than 11 feet in a matter of seconds. About 1,750 tons of concrete and metal collapsed, hurting two workers and creating a V-shaped crease in the deck of the road.

Three months later, a second pier settled more than three-quarters of an inch. Ultimately, repairs cost $92 million and delayed the project's opening by a year.

The authority sued general engineering consultant URS Corp. and its insurers in October 2005. Officials claimed URS did not adequately analyze the soils under the project, which varied from limestone to clay, sand and muck. PCL was added to that lawsuit more than two years later.

In its suit, PCL said the authority concluded that a series of design engineering failures were the "sole cause" of the collapse.

Since June, the authority has settled claims with URS's six insurers for more than $77 million. That was in addition to two settlements with the authority's construction risk carrier and the company that designed the segment over Interstate 75.

But the unresolved claims between the authority and PCL promise to generate more work for attorneys, experts and judges. With its attached exhibits, the complaint alone in PCL's new lawsuit fills three volumes at the Hillsborough County courthouse.

The case has been assigned to a judicial division that specializes in complex business litigation.

Richard Danielson can be reached at danielson@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3403.

Builder of crosstown's elevated lanes sues expressway authority for $21.8 million 04/05/10 [Last modified: Monday, April 5, 2010 11:07pm]
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