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After Much Debate, Memorial Bridge Project on Fast Track to Completion

Tue August 28, 2012 - Northeast Edition
Jay Adams

In a sepia-toned, grainy silent movie, five-year-old Eileen Dondero (later Foley), a pixie with scissors, cuts the ceremonially wide ribbon and two stately governors — Fred H. Brown of New Hampshire and Percival P. Baxter of Maine — shake hands on the brand- new bridge that spanned the Piscataqua River to connect their two states.

That historic August 1923 day on the new World War Memorial Bridge remained with the young girl who later served as Mayor of Portsmouth, N.H. for eight terms. Precious to Eileen Foley, the bridge was just as special to the residents of her town on the south side and the residents of Kittery, Maine, up river, 1,000 ft. of steel away.

Fast forward nine decades.

From that day until July 27, 2011, people could walk or bike or drive from state to state across Route 1, carried over the Piscataqua. Then, owing to the toll taken by 88 years in a marine environment, Maine and New Hampshire Department of Transportation officials shut the bridge to vehicles. On January 9, 2012, the bridge was permanently shut down so it could be demolished and replaced by a new bridge.

A month later, the bridge’s center lift span, consisting of some 2 million pounds of well-worn steel, was removed from its supports and lowered onto a barge to be taken away to a Boston-area scrap yard.

For several years, locals had argued vehemently to have the bridge repaired, not replaced. They wanted the original span to remain, improved. But with escalating maintenance costs reaching the million-dollar mark annually, officials, commuters, pedestrians and bicyclists from both states of the river agreed that a new Memorial Bridge was needed.

By summer 2013 they will have one.

Challenges Overcome

Enter Archer Western Contractors of Canton, Mass., and welcome to the Memorial Bridge Project, a $90 million enterprise on the fast track to completion.

Formidable economic, calendar and environmental challenges have been overcome. First, Archer Western had to win a competitive bid process, which they did in part by submitting a proposal to do the work months ahead of what would be considered the usual schedule for a project of this magnitude.

Then, add working over a river with one of the biggest tide sets in North America, in a very crowded and historic setting with two million pounds of steel and concrete to remove.

“The biggest challenge has been the foundation construction, the piers,” said Senior Project Manager Steve DelGrosso. “The river here is pretty tough to work on. The strong current and the tides are very difficult to deal with. You need experienced personnel and the correct marine equipment to deal with this environment, especially on our tight schedule.”

Archer Western was selected through a public bidding process for three salient reasons, said DelGrosso:

1) The company’s outstanding “technical proposal” on the design-build plan, along with its quality of design from their team

2) Price of the bid

3) And, equally important, a schedule that promised a finished job five months faster than anyone else who bid it.

“Ultimately, that is what separated us from the other bidders on this project,” said DelGrosso. “We worked closely with the New York and Boston offices of the engineering firm, HNTB, to provide NHDOT with an innovative design-build proposal.

“Our team proposed to change the coating system on the structural steel from paint to a ’metalized’ finish,” he added. In layman’s terms, the spans are sprayed with a zinc coating. It’s a galvanizing coat that can triple the life of the coating on the bridge.”

Removal of a Landmark

The old bridge’s demolition and removal was sub-contracted out to North American Site Development, Inc. (NASDI) a division of Great Lakes Dock and Dredge Inc. of Illinois. DelGrosso said the bridge’s steel weighed more than 2,000 tons (1,814 t).

In June, the demolition of the approach structure in Kittery, Maine, had been completed. Water levels on that side of the river were not high enough at low tide to allow access by barge, so the company built a temporary trestle in order to build a new Kittery approach structure.

Old, rare sepia-toned films (posted on the www.walkportsmouth.blogspot website) show barges, assisted by tugs, pulling the original spans into place more than nine decades ago; not unlike the process that will be used this time.

New micropile foundations have been completed on Pier 1, on the Portsmouth, N.H., side of the river. New micropile work on Pier 4, on the Kittery side, were finished by the end of July. All of the foundations will be completed in September, according to DelGrosso. Installations of the drilled shaft foundations, which will support the new Scott Avenue approach on the Portsmouth side, also were completed in July.

From this writing through autumn, passersby will see only four stubs of the old piers above the waterline. New cranes have been erected on the Kittery side to support construction and lifting of steel and other material there. Utility relocation work to facilitate new construction continues on both sides of the bridge, according to Archer Western.

An Amazing ’Float’

Archer Western conducted the challenging river “float-outs” to remove the existing steel superstructure downriver earlier this year. They floated three spans (sections) of the old bridge over to the side of the river, starting with the lift span on Feb. 8. This critical central portion of the bridge is lifted to allow taller marine traffic (up to heights of 150 feet above mean high water) to pass underneath it.

“It was a challenge,” said DelGrosso. “At low tide, we positioned a barge under each 300 feet long span. The barge was outfitted with steel towers to receive the span. As the tide came up, we lifted the bridge spans off their bearings. Following removal of the lift span, the 450-ton counterweights were dismantled and removed from each tower, which then allowed for the demolition of the steel towers. The approach spans were removed in a similar way during February and March.”

The Coast Guard agreed to shut down navigational waterways leading to the secured area for only 72 hours to complete the delicate operation. The navigation channel was opened to marine traffic four hours early.

“There were many engineers videotaping the float-out and the lifting of the spans off the barge,” said DelGrosso. “If you Google it, you can see the whole operation on video.”

Structal Steel is the structural steel fabricator.

Archer Western is part of the Walsh Group, whose New England office is based in Canton, Mass. The Walsh Group, headquartered in Chicago, has divisions across the nation and has built many such bridges across the continent.

“The company has an extensive amount of experience building bridges. We have worked on many movable bridge jobs, including bascule bridges and vertical-lift bridges,” said DelGrosso.

Study and History

According to its history online, and an executive study, the Memorial and Sarah Mildred Long Bridges provide two of the three crossings over the Piscataqua River between Portsmouth and Kittery. The effective operation of the two bridges, both eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, provided a transportation system that affects trade and commerce, tourism, community life and the historic and aesthetic character of both towns.

Both bridges are owned and maintained by a 50-50 joint responsibility agreement between Maine and New Hampshire DOTs. The bridges have been determined to be structurally deficient by both states, and their continued operation requires increasing maintenance costs of more than $1 million per year for each bridge. Through long study, it was determined that, without improvements, the Memorial Bridge would likely be closed within one to three years.

Similarly, without improvements, the Sarah Mildred Long Bridge will likely need to close within seven to 10 years. This timeframe necessitated immediate action by both Maine and New Hampshire DOTs.

In 2008, the two states went out to bid for a major rehabilitation of the Memorial Bridge. The final bid costs for this work were 30 percent higher than anticipated. As a result, knowing that the Sarah Mildred Long Bridge also would soon need major rehabilitation, the two states joined in December 2008 to conduct a bi-state planning study to conduct detailed bridge inspections and assess transportation needs for the region through 2035.

The study arrived at a plan to achieve goals that included, among others:

• Improve local and regional economic growth and stability, tourism and recreational opportunities

• Maintain or improve access to Portsmouth and Kittery downtowns and Portsmouth Naval Shipyard

• Improve local connections to regional transportation, like the Portsmouth International Airport at Pease.

• Minimize long-term costs for transportation

• Improve bicycle and pedestrian access across the Piscataqua River

• Reduce operational and maintenance costs that sit currently at about $1.1 million per year per bridge

• Conserve history and the aesthetic setting and environmental quality of the Piscataqua.

10 Years of Planning

According to Robert Landry of NHDOT, the old bridge had just two lanes of traffic, accommodating about 11,000 vehicles and perhaps more than 1,000 bikes and pedestrians crossing daily. NHDOT had to put a 22-mile detour in place while this work was being completed.

Landry said the new Memorial Bridge has been widened by two feet at each shoulder. The four towering supports for the bridge have been strengthened, he added. Each concrete pier shaft is approximately 80 ft. (24 m) high.

The overall master plan was visualized nearly 10 years ago, Landry added. Design started back in 2003, Request for Proposal was issued in June 2011 and construction began on Dec. 16, 2011.

“Through the RFP process, we had letters of interest from six teams and it was narrowed to four,” said Landry. “Archer Western’s timeframe is ahead of our estimate and the project is on budget.”

Landry said that permitting the project under a “compressed time frame, securing TIGER II grant funds and coordinating with MaineDOT, as well as high public involvement and interest, “have been the most challenging aspects of the massive bridge replacement.”

He is proud of the accomplishments.

“People will see wider sidewalks and bump-outs as requested by the community, and a metalized bridge for better protection in this salt environment,” said Landry. With so many officials involved regionally, Landry wanted to make a special citation for the “effort by HDR Engineering in helping us through the procurement method of design-build in an extremely fast time frame.”

Archer Western was just as effusive in its praise of local state agencies.

“The NHDOT has been great, led by Commissioner Chris Clement” said DelGrosso. “Bob Landry has also been fantastic; Keith Cota has been a huge help, as well as District Construction Manager Nicki Hunter. The Construction Administrator, Denis Switzer, leads a great team in the field.”

Currently, there are crews working on-site six days a week, according to DelGrosso. “The work force will increase dramatically once the structural steel arrives. In the fall, we will be working multiple shifts,” he said.

A year away from scheduled completion (Summer 2013), the Senior Project Manager for Archer Western is proud that the $90 million project is on time and on budget, a remarkable feat, given the accelerated design and construction schedule.

“It will be open to traffic in summer 2013. To demolish the old structure, design and build a vertical lift bridge in 18 months is an extremely difficult task,” said DelGrosso. “That was one of the big things that made our proposal stand out to NHDOT.”

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