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Ohio Span Nears End of Life, Receives Revamp

The crews are tackling one lane at a time, with three lanes of traffic maintained at all times.

Sat November 08, 2014 - Midwest Edition
Irwin Rapoport

The replacement of the 3,000 ft. (914.4 m) long deck of the six-lane bridge (three northbound and three southbound) on the I-77 in Independence (a suburb of Cleveland) for the Ohio Department of Transportation should be completed by The Ruhlin Company by June 2016.

The bridge, built in 1965, has 121,000 vehicles cross it daily and it spans Canal and Granger Roads, the Cuyahoga River and Valley, and Fuhrmeyer Road, as well as several businesses.

“The major piece of the construction started this year,” said Jim Ruhlin Jr., project superintendent. “The preliminary work began in 2013 with some minor work of building the crossovers. The $27 million project will be completed in 2016, with some paving work, finish ups, and the putting back of some of the barrier that were torn up for the crossover work. The major phases are for this year and next — running from the beginning of March to the end of October.

“This year we are removing and replacing 3,000 feet of bridge deck on the southbound side, which has a width of about 266 feet at the south end that is essentially four lanes,” he added. “It widens because this is the bridge just north of the 480 Interchange, with I-480 coming onto I-77. For each season, we are looking at about 6,500 cubic yards of deck concrete, along with the standard 42 inch parapet running down the outside of the bridge and the 57 inch parapet running down the center.”

The crews are tackling one lane at a time, with three lanes of traffic maintained at all times, which translates into outside and inside phases, with a small sub-phase on the south end due to its width.

Because maintaining traffic flow is crucial, Ruhlin crews have little room to maneuver.

“It’s pretty tight and we set up traffic zones daily,” said Ruhlin Jr.. “This results in temporary closures so that we can get materials in and out of the zone. Portable concrete barriers protect our crews from the traffic, but there is always a danger of cars coming into your temporary zones — so you have to pay attention to what you are doing and where you are working on a constant basis.”

The plan has crews working on a three-fold basis in a linear fashion, with one group removing concrete slabs, another prepping a section for the replacement (form work) and the final crew installing the new deck.

“We’re in phase two of the project — we started on the north end and the entire deck has been sawcut and slabs are being removed,” said Ruhlin Jr. “We recently started pouring the superstructure concrete, which is between 8.5 inches and 9 inches thick.”

The bridge has two abutments and 24 piers. Falsedeck has been placed under the bridge — for the section above the river — to keep material from falling into the water to meet state environmental regulations. When south bound is completed, the new deck and other repairs will have used 7,000 cu. yd. (5,351 cu m) of concrete, 1.8 million lbs. (816,466 kg) of rebar, 200,000 sq. ft. (18,580 sq m) of deck forms and 72,000 man-hours.

Many subcontractors will be participating in the project, including Karvo Paving Co. for milling and placing asphalt, A&A Safety Inc. for Maintenance of Traffic, Precision Procut for sawcutting the deck and parapets, On Site Stud Welding for welding studs on the beams, Ivy Development Agency for installing the rebar, DOT Diamond Core Drilling for deck grooving, Thompson Electric for installing light poles, and M P Dory for installing fence, guardrail and overhead signs.

Ruhlin has about 55 employees on average on the work site and subcontractors add another 10 to 15 depending on the day and nature of the work. The rebar contractor has about 10 people working on the bridge. The company has a daily 10 hour shift, and a 10 hour evening shift.

“There are pros and cons to running a double shift,” said Ruhlin Jr. “The positives of it are that you can accomplish double the work without spending as much overtime since both shifts are on straight time. However there are challenges to this as well the biggest one being communication between the two shifts. Without effective communication between the two shifts it can become counterproductive in a hurry.”

Because space is tight on the bridge itself, temporary offices (in a lumber yard) have been placed in the spacious areas below the structure, along with materials, oils and fuel, and space for equipment and vehicle storage. The section of the river where the bridge is located is not wide, and hence there is no need for barges.

In addition to replacing the deck, repairs also are being undertaken on the bridge itself, including work on the crossframes, the refurbishment of some bearings, and some substructure concrete patching work.

A Cat 330 excavator is being used to pull the concrete slabs off the deck and a Volvo 120F loader is placing them on trucks, which bring the slabs to a nearby recycling facility (Anthony Allega Inc.) where a Cat 336 excavator equipped with a concrete processor (a Kenco concrete pulverizer) is employed to pulverize concrete on the slabs and separate it from the rebar. The rebar is being sold to a recycler and the concrete is being sent to Anthony Allega Inc., which crushes it and resells it as gravel and for stone bases.

Due to the nature of the project, the recovered material cannot be used on site. In the end, Ruhlin expects to recover 12,609 cu. yd. (9,640 cu m) of concrete and 3.9 million lbs. (1.769 million kg) of rebar.

A Volvo 120 loader also is based in the storage area to unload the slabs off the trucks and place them in stacks. In addition, a Komatsu PC228USLC excavator is being used for the tight areas of the highway as it enables Ruhlin crews to unload material off the back of a truck in a single lane during the day when only one lane of traffic can be closed. This is necessary to avoid interfering with traffic due to the tail-swing of a normal excavator.

“We’re also using a Cat 330 excavator equipped with a Movax or a HMC Sonic Side Grip,” said Ruhlin Jr. “This is for the phase line sheeting on the north and south end of the bridge so that we can excavate the areas for the abutment work where we had to demolish backwalls on either side of the bridge and then reconstruct new backwalls. For the bridge deck we are using a Bidwell 4800 to place and spread concrete on the deck.”

There are no onsite mechanics as the project is only 35 minutes away from the main shop in Sharon Center. Due to daily operator inspections and electronic monitoring, Ruhlin Jr. has a solid idea of when potential repairs will be needed and how to schedule routine maintenance without impacting the overall work schedule.

Master mechanics Joe Stone and Brenton Kimble are playing a key role in maintaining the equipment.

“On large bridge projects such as this you get the opportunity to do multiple deck pours in a short time frame,” said Stone. “This gives you the ability to tweak the Bidwell and try some different finishing set ups to see what gives you the best product.”

Kimble, who has been with Ruhlin for 6 years, added that “operator feedback is crucial when it comes to equipment maintenance. A good operator can tell when there is something off with a piece of equipment and can help me to identify upcoming issues and fix them before they become major.”

No new equipment was purchased for the project, but some equipment was rented for the job like a couple Volvo 120F loaders and a 65 ton (59 t) Grove rough terrain crane. This equipment was rented from Rudd and Cleveland Crane and Shovel.

“It’s been a pretty busy year for us and some of our equipment was out on other jobs so we had to rent some,” said Ruhlin Jr. “All-in-all we have a great fleet of equipment that is well maintained. Pick-up trucks are usually replaced after 180,000 miles and equipment is heavily evaluated at 10,000 hours. At this point equipment is either repaired or replaced based on its repair cost history.”

He added, based on his inspections of the structure, that the bridge was constructed well at the time.

“There were areas of the deck that were poor shape,” he said, “but overall it was not horrible. The parapet on the bridge is in the worst shape. In the 1990s, when they did an overlay, they also did the parapet and the outside wall of the parapet has severely deteriorated since then and that was one of the main reasons for ODOT wanting to do this project — it has become so bad that there were large chunks of concrete falling off of it.”

While a lot of construction techniques have evolved since the 1960s, “you can also see that some things haven’t really changed — for example, they welded supports onto the bridge beams to carry their finishing machines, which ends up being in the exact same places where we are going to affix ours. With a large re-deck project such as this one you really get the opportunity to perfect your processes since the work is very linear, making each phase of the job faster and faster,” said Ruhlin Jr.

Scott A. Slack, the ODOT project engineer of the Independence project, stressed the need for the revamp.

“The project is located just north of the I-480 outer belt and is the major interstate route into Cleveland from the southeast suburbs and Akron and Canton — two larger cities south of the metropolitan Cleveland area,” he said. “The Average Daily Traffic is 121,000 vehicles. Work was needed as this interstate bridge had reached the end of its life span, and the deck and parapet walls were in particular need of major rehabilitation work.

“Bridges are expected to achieve a 50 year life span before needing major attention,” he added. “The infrastructure built during the Interstate construction boom of the 1950s and 60s has reached the end of its life cycle in many cases, so this bridge project is one of several that has been tackled in recent years. The work on this project is challenging due to the desire to maintain the same number of lanes during peak flow times as both bridges currently carry. Lane widths are reduced, a couple of ramps have been closed for extended periods of time, and multiple phases of construction are needed to achieve this.”

Asked if ODOT been able to create a database of common problems that are being found in Interstate construction boom structures and best practices that construction companies can follow to do the most efficient and effective repairs, Slack replied: “A recent change to our bridge inspection reporting system has allowed for a more complete database of bridge condition ratings on state maintained and locally maintained structures. Many construction practices have evolved from lessons learned during the maintenance of aging bridges, and technology improvements have provided more options in terms of materials used to rehab structures.”

ODOT is consulting construction companies to better understand what construction techniques work best and how ODOT can help them out in terms of guidance and as a source of information.

“The Department has a Value Engineering Change Proposal option in which a contractor can submit a proposed change that saves taxpayer money, and ODOT and the contractor then share the cost savings,” said Slack. “Two such proposals on this project were submitted by the Ruhlin Company and ultimately accepted for incorporation into the work. One is a minor change to the attachment assembly for the newly installed bridge inspection climbing system. The other is major: a change in the traffic sequencing in which a full year has been shaved off the project schedule.

“The two parties will share over $1 million in savings, and the proposed three years of major deck work is planned for two years,” he added. “While the Ruhlin company has had to fast track the work and work more hours weekly than originally contemplated due to the implementation of the VECP, the great benefit for the travelling public is one less year of dealing with the impacts of a major highway construction project.”

Just as construction companies have mentoring programs, so does ODOT for its engineers, particularly when it comes to getting a better handle on how to manage such projects, better understand the issue of aging infrastructure, and to pass on knowledge from senior staff.

“This project is staffed with two full-time ODOT engineers,” said Slack. “I am a 29 year veteran while my assistant, Erik Zippay, has three years of experience, with very little of that involving the bridge work and maintenance of traffic considerations that we experience daily, here. Couple that with the fast track nature of the project, and the learning experience is invaluable for a younger engineer on a project such as this.”

Irwin Rapoport

A journalist who started his career at a weekly community newspaper, Irwin Rapoport has written about construction and architecture for more than 15 years, as well as a variety of other subjects, such as recycling, environmental issues, business supply chains, property development, pulp and paper, agriculture, solar power and energy, and education. Getting the story right and illustrating the hard work and professionalism that goes into completing road, bridge, and building projects is important to him. A key element of his construction articles is to provide readers with an opportunity to see how general contractors and departments of transportation complete their projects and address challenges so that lessons learned can be shared with a wider audience.

Rapoport has a BA in History and a Minor in Political Science from Concordia University. His hobbies include hiking, birding, cycling, reading, going to concerts and plays, hanging out with friends and family, and architecture. He is keen to one day write an MA thesis on military and economic planning by the Great Powers prior to the start of the First World War.

Read more from Irwin Rapoport here.

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