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With contractor belly up, two bridge projects for barrier island at a halt

STORY BY SAMANTHA BAITA (Week of November 18, 2021)

Since work on two of the bridges that carry people on and off Vero’s barrier island was halted because the contractor announced it was ceasing operations, the Florida Department of Transportation has been “seeking new contracting methods” to get the impacted projects back on track.

FDOT Treasure Coast Operations Engineer Kris Kehres was unable to provide any immediate solutions to the work stoppage on the 17th Street Bridge in Vero Beach and the Wabasso Causeway Bridge after the contractor on the jobs, DBi Services, announced on Oct. 22 that it was ceasing operations.

According to Kehres, Vero’s 17th Street bridge repairs were about 65 percent to 70 percent complete when the shutdown occurred. The work, all under the bridge, includes strand-splicing or reenforcing the beams, a maintenance project which, Kehres states, does not compromise the safety of the bridge either during the work or while the work is on hold.

Work on the westbound side of the bridge is finished, and the eastbound side will be closed to traffic until the project is complete.

“The department is currently in the process of working with other contracts to ensure service is not interrupted. This will be covered by in-house and other existing contracts.  In the near future, FDOT will advertise for a new contract, but will also enforce the existing one,” an FDOT statement said.

In reality, that likely means Vero Beach and Wabasso can get in line with all the other cities DBi Services has left in a lurch.

Vero Beach City Manager Monte Falls last week had no more information than FDOT’s public statements. “DBi was the maintenance contractor for FDOT in our area and they were always responsive to our service requests. We look forward to learning how FDOT will replace DBi and how the current projects will be affected,” Falls said.

The collapse of the multimillion-dollar DBi Services Company last month is having a huge impact across the country: according to its website, DBi holds contracts with some 400-plus cities and counties in 45 states, and Canada, covering 4,000 structures and bridges, and 50,000 miles of railroad track.

Most relevant to local projects is that DBi had served as FDOT’s chief maintenance contractor for bridge maintenance.

The Wabasso Causeway bicycle/pedestrian safety project was already in pause mode when DBi announced it was closing. Bridge work had progressed no further than vertical posts installed east- and westbound across the high span last month, before residents became aware of the project details and realized the chain-link fence design would significantly obstruct the iconic river views.

After receiving a flood of complaints from local residents, FDOT quickly re-evaluated the project, and found a more aesthetically pleasing solution to the safety problem.

The new plan was presented at an MPO Bicycle Advisory Committee meeting, and it was approved by all concerned. However, at that same meeting, Kehres was not pleased to announce that DBi had just informed FDOT of its immediate work stoppage.

The east- and westbound vertical posts from the original, now-discarded project will be removed when a new contractor is in place and the new design is prepared.