Federal investigation provokes settlement with Cardi Corporation in IWAY railing case

According to RIDOT, the defect could be seen after concrete was chipped away.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Cardi Corporation has agreed to pay a $500,000 settlement following a federal investigation into what was determined to be the improper installation of the IWAY railing system, but the contractor emphasized RIDOT approved the modifications that were later said to be faulty.

According to the Rhode Island U.S. Attorney’s office, the Rhode Island Department of Transportation did not approve the design changes that the investigation determined left the railing in a defective condition.

The probe was conducted by the U.S. Attorney and U.S. Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General, with the problem originally surfacing after an unknown vehicle hit one of the barriers, cracking the concrete.

In 2014, Target 12 obtained a RIDOT engineering report that stated the railing system was “deemed defective and needed to be repaired” on the 1,200-foot bridge that was about seven years old at the time.

Pictures showed what was discovered after concrete was chipped away, with engineers claiming the way the embedded bolts and rebar were installed made the rail system vulnerable to collisions.

“In some areas, the rail is all that lies between the roadway and the river below.”

The ensuing federal investigation concluded Cardi made the mistake of “cutting, eliminating, or altering key segments of structural reinforcing steel rebar that was intended to anchor the railing to the bridge,” without getting prior approval from the RIDOT for the design change.

“The government alleged that the changes rendered the railing unsafe, inadequate and, unfit for its intended use and/or not in compliance with project specifications,” a news release stated. “In some areas, the rail is all that lies between the roadway and the river below.”

Acting R.I. U.S. Attorney Stephen Dambruch said the investigation is an example of how the government “will not hesitate” to investigate publicly funded projects to ensure federal funds are used properly.

“When the federal government spends money on infrastructure projects, it does so with the clear expectation that taxpayers will get what they pay for: safe, conforming, and adequate work,” Dambruch said.

Cardi Corporation Vice President and General Counsel Jeremy Ritzenberg said the Warwick-based contractor “has cooperated fully with federal and state officials investigating the issue.”

But Ritzenberg argued “the modifications arose from design defects” the contractor was not responsible for, adding the railing installation changes were approved by RIDOT during the process.

“Cardi was therefore not responsible for the fact that the railings were not in compliance with federal standards. Cardi was directed by RIDOT to perform those field modifications and the work was inspected and accepted during the project.” Ritzenberg said. “In order to avoid litigation with the United States regarding this issue, Cardi agreed to make the $500,000 payment.”

He said Cardi has not waived its right to recover the costs of its work on the railing system from RIDOT.

The IWAY is less than a decade old and cost about $12 million.

Under the terms of the civil agreement, Cardi’s $500,000 payment will cover the cost of the rail installation and will resolve the government’s civil claim.

The railing has since been replaced with a new design that meets Federal Highway Administration safety criteria. According to the Dambruch, the federal government did not fund or contribute to the costs of the repair.

RIDOT Director Peter Alviti told Target 12 in March that the total cost of replacing the rails was still being calculated and the state was in a claims process with Cardi to determine who would cover the project.

“The contractor should be responsible for giving us a bridge back in the condition that we originally paid for,” Alviti said.

The bridge project cost about $11 million and was lauded as award-winning by design and installation method, which involved floating the green, arched structure up the Providence river.

Send tips to Target 12 Investigator Walt Buteau at wbuteau@wpri.com and follow him on Twitter @wbuteau.