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Hawthorne Bridge contractor sues Charlotte for $115M, alleging breach of contract

Workers have installed track for the Lynx Gold Line along Hawthorne Lane, near Seventh Street.
David Boraks
Workers install track for the Lynx Gold Line along Hawthorne Lane, near Seventh Street in September 2019.

The construction company in charge of rebuilding the Hawthorne Bridge for the Gold Line streetcar extension has filed a lawsuit seeking millions of dollars against the city of Charlotte, arguing the city gave them inaccurate designs and won't pay them for extra work they performed.

In the lawsuit filed on Feb. 20, the Johnson Brothers Corporation said it was following designs by the city when the company ordered the wrong-sized girders and poured concrete incorrectly for the Hawthorne Bridge.

Construction stopped for months as the company ordered new steel girders.

At the time, Charlotte Area Transit System chief John Lewis blamed the company, accusing it of being "ineffective in project management, rail installation and bridge construction."

But in the lawsuit, the company blames the city for providing inaccurate information about the girders and beam seat elevations, and said it proposed a way to make the wrong-sized girders work, but the city refused, opting for a complete redo that was more expensive and time-consuming.

The suit also said the city "mandated and directed numerous extra-contractual design changes and plan revisions," because many of the city's original plans were "inaccurate, deficient, and inadequate in numerous ways."

In addition, the company said its contract with the city allowed crews to close entire sections of the road and work 24 hours a day, seven days a week to complete the project.

But once work began, the company said the city required them to keep one lane of traffic open in each direction at all times, and work was sometimes restricted to nights and weekends. Sometimes the city halted work entirely for sporting events, the lawsuit said.

Up to 15 utility contractors were also allowed into the work zone at various times with little coordination with the Johnson Brothers Corporation, causing delays and a disjointed workflow, according to the lawsuit.

The company said it's owed at least $115 million for work that the city has refused to pay. A city spokesperson declined to comment and said the city does not comment on pending litigation.

The Hawthorne Bridge reopened to vehicle traffic in Dec. 2021, about a year and a half behind schedule.

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Nick de la Canal is the host of Weekend Edition on Saturday/Sunday mornings, and a reporter covering breaking news, arts and culture, and general assignment stories. His work frequently appears on air and online. Periodically, he tweets: @nickdelacanal