Expressway Authority approves $75 million settlement with insurers in Lee Roy Selmon Crosstown collapse

TAMPA — The agency operating the Lee Roy Selmon Crosstown Expressway approved a settlement Monday to recover nearly $75 million after an elevated section of the road collapsed during construction five years ago.

The settlement, which comes nearly four years after the Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority sued general engineering consultant URS Corp., is the largest to emerge following the April 2004 collapse and comes after seven months of mediation.

"This is a big day for this agency. It really is. A milestone has been reached and a foundation laid for the future," the authority's attorney, Patrick Maguire, said Monday.

Under the agreement, five of URS' six insurers — American International Specialty Lines Insurance Co., Columbia Casualty Co., Arch Specialty/URS, Steadfast Insurance Co. and London Insurers — will pay the authority $74.75 million over the next 30 to 60 days.

Repairs had cost $92 million, Maguire said.

The authority approved a $6.5 million settlement with its construction risk carrier, Westchester Builders Risk, a few weeks ago and earlier accepted a $750,000 deal with Figg Engineering, which designed the segment over Interstate 75.

Still unresolved is a $5 million claim against URS insurer Security Insurance of Hartford, as well as a claim against PCL Civil Constructors, the project's builder. The authority maintains it is owed a refund for work performed by PCL, but the builder claims the authority owes it money.

The authority's board approved the $74.75 million agreement Monday afternoon at its regular monthly meeting.

"I felt like I got a Ph.D. in mediation, with all the various complexities of this," said board chairman James Hargrett, adding, "if you can imagine a table as long as this room filled with lawyers."

Before the settlement, the sides were expecting to go to trial in late 2010. The authority, which saw its legal bills climb to nearly $4 million, wanted to avoid a trial.

Maguire, hired by the authority in May 2007, floated the idea of mediation last summer and found URS and its insurers receptive.

Although talks had fallen through a few years earlier, the engineering company had by that point spent nearly $10 million on litigation, he said.

"I think they were just as anxious as us to put this behind them," Maguire said.

URS vice president Tom Lovett, citing a company policy, declined to comment on the agreement.

Initially, the project's designers had touted the plan as a bold way to get commuters from Brandon and Interstate 75 in and out of downtown.

Traffic flowing westbound on three lanes in the morning would be reversed in the afternoon.

But then, in April 2004, a segment of the road sank 11 feet, and commuters began to wonder whether the $370 million project would ever be safe.

The authority sued URS and its insurers in October 2005, claiming the consultant had failed to adequately analyze the soils under the highway, which varied from limestone to clay, sand and muck.

The collapse delayed the highway's opening by a year. Ultimately, crews had to strengthen 155 of 224 piers.

Sue Chrzan, a spokeswoman for the Expressway Authority, said the agency hasn't decided how to spend the settlement money. Some of it might be used to pay for debt that accumulated after the collapse.

The authority had borrowed money from the state to pay for the repairs, then floated bonds to repay the state.

Executive director Joe Waggoner proposed a July 14 workshop to discuss what to do with the money.

Expressway Authority approves $75 million settlement with insurers in Lee Roy Selmon Crosstown collapse 06/29/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 1, 2009 5:52pm]

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