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Contractor for Moses Wheeler Bridge Expects Completion One Year Early

Thu February 16, 2012 - Northeast Edition
Jay Adams

The old bridge lasted 51 years. The new one will last twice that long.

General Contractors Walsh-PCL Joint Venture II has begun Phase Two of the Moses Wheeler Bridge Project, a 1.5-mi. (2.4 km) steel marvel to replace the one that connects the towns of Milford and Stratford, Conn. crossing over the Housatonic River.

Begun in August 2009 and originally planned with an Oct. 31, 2017 completion date, the new bridge timetable has been revised by WPCL II to Aug. 31, 2016. Along with its protracted schedule, the estimated $320 million project will come in some $40 million under Connecticut Department of Transportation (ConnDOT) projections, something almost unheard of in major bridge construction work in this century.

Moses Wheeler — who emigrated from England in 1638 and moved to Stratford in the 1640s — operated a simple ferry across the river through the 1670s. It would be impossible for him to imagine that a huge manmade bridge would be built to span that same waterway. He would be mystified to find out it was named after him. He would be incredulous at knowing the one built first in 1958 would eventually carry 130,000 vehicles per day.

According to James J. Pelletier, Jr., a project engineer at ConnDOT, The Moses-Wheeler Bridge consists of, in its main spans: girder/floorbeam/stringer approaches: With multi-girder 4-inch bituminous wearing surface over a 7.25-in. (18.4 cm), reinforced concrete deck.

“The bridge is set up with two primary carrying beams,” said Pelletier. There are two separate bridge structures. The current bridge has two lanes in each direction, north and south.

The two main girders have supplemented smaller girders running through the middle of the structure.

The project is actually two projects in one. According to Pelletier, The Foundations Project was completed in November 2011 by O&G Industries of Torrington, Conn. The current Superstructure Project (the steel work itself attached to the foundations) was started on Aug. 22, 2011 by a joint venture of Walsh and PCL.

The total approximate cost of both projects is about $320 million, Pelletier added, but, “Direct construction cost will amount to approximately $240 million,” he said.?

There are many subcontractors on the bridge, Pelletier added. The primary subcontractors on the Foundations Contract included Raito Inc., of Massachusetts (with a parent company in Japan), and K&W Excavating of Connecticut.

“The Superstructure Contract is a joint venture that includes Walsh Construction and PCL. Structal Steel (of Canada and New England) is providing the structural steel components,” said Pelletier.

“We are supplying the three plate girder and diagphragms from our Claremont, N.H., plant, starting March 1, 2102 for phase 1...Over the next two years for the balance of the project. The project was awarded as a lump sum contract,” said Tariq Rashdi of Structal Steel.

Some 12,000 tons of steel will be taken to Connecticut, with the girders delivered to the job site and erected by the contractor (Walsh-PCL JV team). All the steel was made in the United States.

Other subs on the project include; KTM Electrical, Lintec LLC, The Quaker Corp, O&G Industries and Omega.

The project is currently in the first year of Phase II of the Superstructure Contract, Stage 1 Construction, about mid-project overall, given its seven-year estimated time frame from 2009 to 2016.?

“We are currently both on time and on budget. The bid for the Superstructure Contract came in approximately $40 million under the State’s estimate,” said a proud Pelletier.?

The State of Connecticut is the owner of the bridge. The state is managing the construction efforts with direct oversight performed by the consulting firms of HNTB Corporation and AECOM Technologies, who provide consulting engineers and inspecting staff. ?

Approximately 24.2 million lbs. (11 million kg) of structural steel will be erected, with some 136,686 tons (124,000 t) of asphalt to go along with 37, 930 cu. yds. (29,000 cu m) of concrete when the bridge is finished. Beyond structural steel, some 6.6 million lbs. (3 million kg) of reinforcing steel also will be used.

The new bridge is essentially being built in the footprint of the existing bridge. The main structure, Bridge No. 135, the Moses Wheeler Bridge is approximately 2,950 ft. (900 m) long. The total length is 8,500 ft. (2,600 m) or approximately 1.5 mi. (2.4 km), and includes the replacement of Bridge No. 133 and 134, a new bridge over Naugatuck Ave., and improvements to Bridge No. 132. Pelletier mentioned several special concerns:

• Low head room conditions which make it difficult to complete work out-of-stage

• There is a recently installed 345kv utility line that runs adjacent to the project along the southern right-of-way

• Metro North Railroad abuts the project directly to the north

• Two shopping plazas owned by UB Properties that are directly adjacent to the State’s ROW limits to the north and southwest with a road that connects the two running under the main structure

• There is an active 14-boat marina that exists under the shadow of the bridge with a restaurant

• Raybestos had a plant that produced asbestos brakes within the footprint of proposed improvements and the site was used to off-load coal

• Work in the river is governed by permits: DEEP, OLISP, USCG, IWP. Each has restrictions that affect the work in the Housatonic River

• Noise due to the very close proximity to the marina and local neighborhoods

Many, many hands have laid down ink on plans, concrete on roads and girders in the air.

Some of the people ConnDOT cited that have been instrumental in the major project thus far include: The designer, STV Inc.’s James Sherwonit and Richard Ezyk of Stratford; from the CE&I staffs of HNTB and AECOM, Gowen Dishman and Leon Wolochuk; from O&G Industries, Mike Daley and Larry Doyon played significant roles in keeping the first project on time and budget; from the State of Connecticut, Steve DiGiovanna and Mark Rolfe; from the FHWA, Dave Nardone and Tim Snyder, who play an active role; and, although it is early, WPJV’s Don Gillas, Aaron Tubbs and Roger Martin who, Pelletier said, “Appear to understand what it takes to complete the task at hand.”?

But Moses Wheeler, like the ferryman whose name the bridge carries, has a very human element, also, beyond cold steel and cooling asphalt.

“I would like to recognize William “Bill” Kennedy of STV Inc. Bill was a brilliant engineer who was probably the biggest asset to project development during the project’s design. He died of cancer just prior to the start of the Foundations Contract, working until his death,” said Pelletier. “Bill was probably ’The Man,’ who brought it from design to the construction stage.

“He was a master of public relations with the community,” he added. “He had an uncanny ability to understand things and to paint a picture to the public to get them to understand it. He had a great way of diffusing and detailing to their satisfaction while standing in front of 100 unhappy people. He was a gentleman.”

The bridge construction has differed from other structures in important ways, said Pelletier, thanks to innovation in equipment at its core.

“Raito brought innovative technology to the state of Connecticut by introducing what they call the Supertop Rotator. This piece of equipment was capable of rotating a 10-foot diameter shaft into the ground and seating it into bedrock,” said Pelletier. “They also used another unique machine called a Reverse Circulating Drill (RCD). This RCD cored the three-meter deep rock socket. Through its drill string they pumped water at a rate of up to 7,000 gallons per minute. This allowed them to flush the rock cuttings into weir tanks creating a closed loop system in this environmentally sensitive area.”

The Superstructure Contract was bid with two alternates, a concrete segmental option and the steel option chosen by WPJV II. The three lowest bidders all bid the steel option. The two options were provided to create a more competitive bid environment, something learned by the state of Connecticut during another of its significant bridge projects.

“Walsh hopes to finish it significantly ahead of schedule, but the way it is designed and made, the new bridge should last for a hundred years,” said Pelletier.

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