- The bridge named after New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s father has newly disclosed safety issues.
- A report from the Albany Times Union found that “structural issues” were known for years.
- Opened in 2017 at a cost of $3.9 billion, experts say the bridge could collapse.
- Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.
Amid sexual-harassment allegations from five women, calls for resignation, possible impeachment, major staff departures, and a federal investigation into his administration’s undercounting of COVID-19 deaths tied to nursing homes, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is facing a new scandal.
The Mario Cuomo Bridge, which replaced the rickety and heavily-trafficked Tappan Zee Bridge in 2017, has “structural safety” issues that could lead to its collapse, an Albany Times Union investigation found. Cuomo named the bridge after his father, who was New York’s governor from 1983 to 1994.
Snapping bolts that are supposed to pin down the bridge’s suspension cables were the primary issue, the Times Union reported.
The eight-month investigation also found that “Tappan Zee Constructors, the private corporation building the bridge for the state authority, may have committed fraud by concealing the fact that large numbers of bolts had been breaking due to either improper installation techniques, manufacturing defects, or both.”
In January 2016, an ironworker got hit in the face with part of a bolt that snapped when he was trying to use a torque wrench to tighten it, with the piece of metal ricocheting off an overhang and splitting his lip open when he looked up.
“When you look at them, bro, the heads of them were like hollow, bad spot, sometimes the shank-lead to the thread has got a hollow spot,” one of the ironworkers told James McNall, the project’s safety director at the Port of Coeymans, the Times Union reported.
McNall, who was fired later in 2016 after problems with the bolts kept happening, secretly recorded conversations with engineers and ironworkers handling the bridge assembly at the port. He played them for a quality-assurance inspector at Alta Vista, a private firm hired by the New York State Thruway Authority.
During a meeting at a restaurant in the Albany suburb of Colonie, McNall told the inspector that Tappan Zee Constructors may have committed fraud.
A whistleblower later came forward to report the issue, and experts began to worry that the bolt snapping could lead to a collapse of the bridge, which has not even been moored in the Hudson River for a full decade.
The Times Union obtained records stemming from a False Claims Act case filed by McNall in the state Supreme Court, but the case has remained under seal since 2017.
State Sen. Joseph Griffo, a Republican from Rome, New York, sent a letter to the Senate’s Government Operations Committee calling the structural flaws a “clear and present danger,” and demanded an investigation.
The offices of the New York inspector general and the attorney general have launched investigations into the matter, the Times Union reported. The AG investigation “devolved from seeking an incisive probe of the bolt failures to pursuing an effort to arguably downplay the severity of the allegations, including any potential structural threat to the bridge,” Times Union reporter Brendan Lyons wrote.
A confidential report from the Thruway Authority put the likelihood of bolts failing at 1%, but also listed a snapping rate as high as 50% as a “worst-case scenario,” the Times Union said.
Since December 2018, the inspector general’s and attorney general’s offices have not spoken publicly about the bridge investigations.
A spokesperson for the Thruway Authority told Insider “this story has nothing to do with the Governor,” and referred to a LoHud story quoting the project director, Jamey Barbas, describing the Times Union report as “misleading and erroneous.”
“FACT: There was no state cover-up: The Thruway Authority learned of the allegations of bolt failures in 2016 and immediately informed the Inspector General,” the spokesperson wrote to Insider in a direct message on Twitter from the Thruway Authority’s official account. “We spent more than $1 million and engaged world-renowned subject matter experts, developed a testing program, conducted extensive studies, and examined more than 500 bolts. The tests confirmed that the bolts met or exceeded the requirements set forth by the American Society for Testing and Materials, which sets standards that govern the industry.”
When asked if the Thruway Authority would be in favor of unsealing the court documents, the spokesperson replied, “As much as we would like to share more information, we are unable to discuss it further at this time.”