Designer of fallen Florida pedestrian span was initially on Bob Kerrey bridge project

Designer of fallen Florida pedestrian span was initially on Bob Kerrey bridge project
Fog rises from the Missouri River and covers the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge. (World-Herald News Service)

The same company that designed a failed pedestrian bridge in Florida was the initial designer of what would become the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge.

Florida-based Figg Bridge Engineers had the original contract to design the pedestrian bridge that spans the Missouri River between Omaha and Council Bluffs.

Figg was behind the design of the pedestrian bridge at Florida International University in the Miami area that collapsed March 15.

But Figg ultimately did not provide the design of the Omaha bridge. The reason wasn’t safety. It was cost.

Bids to construct the Figg-designed bridge came in at twice the cost that the cities were prepared to pay.

The original Figg design went out for bids in early 2004. The bridge was expected to cost $22.6 million, but bids ranged from $44.9 million to more than $50 million.

The City of Omaha worked with Figg for about four months to make the bridge design less expensive.

“All those alternatives turned out not to be plausible, so in the end we terminated our relationship with them,” said Larry Foster, then the city’s administrator of parks, recreation and public property. He was project manager for the bridge.

After the city scrapped Figg, it hired HNTB of Kansas City to design the S-shaped bridge.

The HNTB version wasn’t as wide and used simpler construction methods, helping make it less pricey. APAC Kansas built it.

“It’s very similar, just less expensive,” said Foster, now the director of parks and recreation in Council Bluffs.

The bridge, which opened in September 2008, is walked by a foreman at least once per week to look for problems, said Brook Bench, Omaha’s parks and recreation director.

This summer, it is due for a major top-to-bottom inspection, Bench said.

“Every five years we do a major inspection, which is the cables, under the water, top of the towers, the whole ball of wax. We did (the first) one five years ago. It is due for another major inspection,” he said. “There actually will be divers in the water.”

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