Could beam disaster occur again on toll roads?
The Illinois tollway is suspending construction on the I-90 bridge at Touhy Avenue in Des Plaines where a steel beam fatally toppled onto a worker Tuesday until the agency is confident "a safe plan is in place to resume," an official said.
But with construction continuing on multiple I-90 bridges over busy suburban streets elsewhere, can the public rest easy future disasters won't occur?
"Our system is safe," spokesman Dan Rozek said. Safety is "our first priority -- there's no reason to be concerned about using our system."
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration is investigating the case, although it could take up to six months for a final report.
"With something as complicated and tragic as this, it takes a while," OSHA spokesman Scott Allen said.
The tollway's general consultant AECOM is also reviewing what caused the beam to fall on Touhy Avenue.
"As far as examining or changing practices for bridge beam removals, we'll wait for the outcome of the OSHA investigation before determining if changes are needed," Rozek said. "It's inappropriate to speculate about changes or revisions to the construction process until we get the results of these reviews."
The tollway is in the last year of widening the Jane Addams Tollway (I-90) with bridge reconstruction at key locations including Golf Road, Arlington Heights Road, Busse Road, Oakton Street, Mount Prospect Road, Wolf Road, Touhy Avenue, Mannheim Road and Higgins Road.
Touhy was closed when the accident occurred at 3 a.m. The tollway typically removes or installs steel bridge beams, which weigh about 40 tons, overnight, often requiring full road closures at 15-minute intervals.
The same night the fatality happened, crews were scheduled to work on bridges in Elgin at I-90 and Route 31 and on I-90 between Wolf Road and Lee Street in Des Plaines.
The prime contractor on the job is New York-based Judlau Contracting Inc. The tollway approved a $64 million contract with the firm in 2014 after it submitted the lowest bid. Judlau is in charge of bridge rebuilding and widening between Oakton Street and Mannheim Road and its subcontractor is Omega Demolition Corp. of Elgin.
An Omega crew was cutting bracing between two bridge beams that were to be removed when one rolled off a concrete support, killing Vincente Santoyo of Berwyn and injuring three other construction workers, OSHA reported.
Omega has been cited nine times since 2006 mainly for lead hazards by OSHA. The company did not return requests to comment.
The tollway has worked with Omega since 2006 and "has confidence in their work," Rozek said. "Unless there's a finding by OSHA or a third party, there's no reason at this point to speculate whether we need to stop working with Omega."
OSHA has cited Judlau for seven violations since 2007, including one in 2009 where a worker was injured after using a makeshift hoist to remove pipes from a ventilation shaft. The firm did not return calls to comment on the fatality.
Federal prosecutors in New York filed a civil complaint against Judlau for falsifying paperwork involving minority contractors and settled the case in 2012. The firm's attorney said previously Judlau had uncovered the issues during an audit and informed authorities.
The tollway is familiar with challenging projects as it forges ahead with a massive building program that includes rebuilding and widening the Jane Addams and extending the Elgin-O'Hare Expressway. In 2014, the agency safely removed the Des Plaines Oasis that reached across all lanes of I-90 using suction cups and cranes to remove glass panels.
But another serious occurrence on an I-90 bridge did take place on Dec. 1, 2014. Mechanical engineer Rudolf Das of Naperville suffered massive injuries when a crane component fell on him while on a barge on the Fox River. A lawsuit claimed the contractors, who did not include Judlau or Omega, failed to take safety precautions.
The Jane Addams project has caused extensive traffic delays during construction and tasked the patience of drivers. The tollway has promised to complete the work on time by the end of 2016.
Asked if the desire for a speedy finish had compromised safety on the job site, Rozek said no. "Safety is always, always first," he said.