The Collapse of Melbournes West Gate Bridge Case Study

An Analysis of the Projects Structure and Management
The structure of this project was expected to be remarkably strong due to the functions the bridge was expected to perform. The bridge was expected to serve Melbourne central business district and the eastern and western parts of Victoria. The Yarra River had served the population for many years (Horine 2009). In fact, the presence of various activities among these regions necessitated the need to introduce the use of a ferry to connect these regions. This implies that the bridge required a qualified team of experts to undertake the project. This factor was grossly disregarded by the team of experts heading the consultancy firm that brokered contracts on behalf of the government. It is common sense that construction of such a bridge requires a company that has vast experience in concrete and steel constructions.

However, it seems clear that there was no willingness to ensure quality work was done by the companys given the bridge contract. From the beginning, the Lower Yarra Crossing Company (LYCC) realized they were unable to provide quality consultation services to clients, and thus withdrew their services on request. This was due to their limited finance that made them voluntarily declare themselves bankrupt. This led to the 1965 establishment of the Lower Yarra Crossing Authority (LYCA) by an act of parliament as an independent statutory authority to oversee the planning, financing, and land acquisition, manage contracts and operate the toll services when the bridge was complete.

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The consultancy contract awarded to Mounsell and a lack of experience and ability to undertake the project. However, they were sincere, and recommended a London based company Freeman, Fox and Powers (F. F. and P) to undertake the work. This recommendation should not have been accepted since there is a clear indication of some conspiracy by these two companies. This shows that there was no seriousness put in awarding the contract to the first company if they doubted their ability to undertake such a monumental project (Smith 2010). Moreover, there was no need to rush the construction of this bridge since it was not a matter of urgency. In fact, there was a ferry that was already offering transport services across the river. Therefore, there was adequate time to make transparent and effective evaluation of all applicants interested in constructing the bridge.

When the contract was finally signed in 1967, it was decided that the project commences as soon as possible. This led to two companies being awarded the fabrication and construction companies (OConnor 2000). There was no indication of a competitive bidding process that would ensure only competent companies get the contract. John Holland Construction Company (JHC) was awarded two contracts of bridge foundation and concrete works. This was a clear indication that the project was going to fail. In addition, this company had not been evaluated to ensure it had the ability to carry out the project effectively. It was likely that there were some influential forces behind this company being awarded two contracts.

Having conducted an unsuccessful project of constructing a similar bridge (Milford Haven Bridge) in the United Kingdom that killed four people Freeman, Fox and Powers Company should have adopted a different strategy of dealing with cases of bridge collapse. The use of trapezoidal steel box girders as the main element that bears the load of the bridge led to the failure of the bridge span during erection. The structure and method used for erection were poor (Schmidt 2009). Even though, they advised the constructors in-charge that the bridge be strengthened, it was an exercise in futility since the structure had already been erected and adding other structures for reinforcements would not help.

In addition, when JHC took over the construction of the steel bridge structure, the bridge span (10-11) was not yet fully assembled to be fixed on the western side of the bridge. It was still lying on the ground half assembled. JHC inexperience made them risk their lives while bolting the piers while suspended in the air about 50 meters from the ground. It was inevitable to expect marginal differences in the structures regardless of their spirited efforts to make the reinforcements work. This was proved when the RVH (Relative Vertical Height) difference between the the required 110 millimeters. This was without doubt one of the main indicators that the bridge was bound to collapse. Therefore, the structure should have been reassembled and assembled once again from the ground. Erection of such piers requires complete assembly while the piers are still on the ground. Assembling such piers while they are already erected is bound to bring some dimensional differences. These variations have significant effects on the structure since they alter the horizontal level of the bridge.

Even though, WSC had not been provided with copies of the actual plan and stress calculations of the bridge under construction, they went ahead and continued doing their work. This was clear evidence that their work was going to fail. Another indication of technical inaccuracies was evident when JHC was given the contract to complete all the steel work that was being done by WSC. They knew too well that JHC was not an expert in large scale steel work, but went ahead and gave them the contract. This act shows that the management overlooked the technical aspect of giving contracts to qualified companies. The presence of terminating contracts prematurely affected the quality and quantity of work since every contractor had his experience, knowledge and expertise to handle the project.

The management that supervised this project showed laxity and compromise to quality service delivery. They awarded contracts to companies like F. F. and P without checking their performance records to identify any weaknesses in their delivery of service (Portny2010). In addition, there were many unresolved conflicts between construction companies and their union representatives leading to strikes and demonstrations. This led to delays and misunderstandings among the companies on site. The inability of this company to work together with JHC and provide relevant copies of the structure and stress calculations led to further strain in their relationship. This issue was not resoled properly leading to inadequacies in the project.

JHC was not competent in steel works but went ahead and took the contract after black mailing FF and P with a labor management contract. This shows that these companies were not closely supervised to warrant such wild undertakings at the expense of the project.

A Proposal for the Structure and Management of the Project
This project is one of the largest to be undertaken by Melbourne city and its representatives. It involves three main regions of Melbourne, the eastern and western regions of Victoria that were linked by river Yarra. There are several suggestions that would have worked well and ensure the project was implemented without risking the lives of contractors and wasting resources.

First, the tendering process was flawed from the beginning. Having created a chance for companies to bid for the project means there were more than two companies qualified to do the work (Verzuh2011). In addition, two companies were given three projects. This shows the presence of corruption and negligence to award one company two contracts even though there were other companies ready to take the offer. There was the need to conduct a free, fair and competitive bidding to allow qualified companies to get the contracts.

Secondly, there was a need to evaluate the performance of the companies awarded the contracts. Past records play crucial roles in determining the ability of a contractor to deliver quality work in time (Atkinson 2012). This was not observed, and companies with and poor workmanship like FF and P were at the expense of their ability to deliver quality work.

Thirdly, there was a need to have cooperation between these construction companies. Even though, they carry out different roles in the site, their cooperation will contribute immensely to quality work (Campbell 2006). Their specialization aims at bringing out a quality bridge and thus should have been enhanced. However, these companies failed to coordinate and to their counterparts to facilitate smooth operations. These firms mistook specialization with independency in delivering their services and this led to more cases of unhealthy relations among them.

Fourthly, there was the need to address workers plight with reference to the constant conflicts between their representatives and managers. This will reduce strikes and stop work actions that are responsible for delays. The structure of this bridge ought to have been built by a qualified company that has a reputable history of constructing bridges. However, it was given to a company that has limited experience, and was not a specialist in steel bridge construction. Infrastructure, especially roads that serve many modes of transport should be given much consideration.


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