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Contractors Flock to Audubon Bridge

Mon September 25, 2006 - Southeast Edition
Maybelle G. Cagle



For at least five decades, the only way to cross the Mississippi River between New Roads and St. Francisville, LA, has been a state operated ferry system.

That will change in 2010 when Louisiana’s new $348-million John James Audubon Bridge is completed to link the two historic districts. The bridge is named after John James Audubon, a naturalist and artist who dedicated his life to painting all the birds in America. Audubon painted 32 of his famous works in his Birds of America series while residing at Oakley Plantation at St. Francisville as a tutor in 1821.

“It’s the first project that I’ve ever worked on where people stop you in stores and restaurants and they’re very excited,” said Chuck Duggar, design project manager for Louisiana TIMED Managers.

After it is constructed, the main cable-stayed span will stretch 1,583 ft. (482 m) across the Mississippi River to become the longest cable-stayed bridge in North America, surpassing the record set last year by the 1,546-ft.-long (471 m) Arthur Ravenel Bridge over the Cooper River in Charleston, SC. Groundbreaking was held in May.

The new bridge is part of Louisiana’s Transportation Infrastructure Model for Economic Development (TIMED) Program. It is funded by a dedicated 4 cents per gallon gasoline and motor fuels tax. The program is 36 percent complete.

Flatiron Constructors is leading the joint venture that comprises Audubon Bridge Contractors. It includes Granite Construction and Parsons Transportation Group. The group submitted the lowest price and received the highest technical score on its proposal to the state.

Duggar said a design-build project offers economic and time benefits. “A big advantage is that you have the designer and contractor working together as a team,” he added.

Another advantage, according to Duggar, is the potential “in this kind of competition to get lower prices.”

He said a design-build project allows a different technique to be used in the foundation. For example, the project will use 21 8-ft. (2.4 m) diameter shafts.

“If the bridge were done in a traditional fashion, it would have most likely gone with a caisson foundation,” added Duggar.

Duggar noted that cable stayed bridges have become very popular and are “faster to construct than a suspended bridge.”

“When completed, the Audubon Bridge will be the only Mississippi River bridge crossing between Natchez, MS, and Baton Rouge, LA — a distance of more than 90 miles. Without a ferry system in place, one would have to travel approximately 80 mi. from New Roads to St. Francisville,” said Bryan Jones, spokesman for Louisiana’s TIMED Program.

Jones said the ferry is nostalgic, but subject to mechanical failure and fluctuating river depths. At times, it has been closed for days.

He added, “The John James Audubon Bridge will provide local residents of New Roads and St. Francisville, as well as visitors and travelers, a reliable and efficient mode of transportation across the Mississippi River.”

It also will provide Louisiana residents an additional route for hurricane evacuation.

Plans call for the bridge project to include:

• a 2.44 mi. (3.9 km) four-lane elevated bridge structure with two 11-ft. (3.4 m) lanes in each direction with 8-ft. (2.4 m) outside shoulders and 2-ft. (0.6 m) inside shoulders.

• approximately 12 mi. (19.3 km) of two-lane roadway connecting LA 1 east of Hospital Road at New Roads to U.S. 61 south of LA 966 and St. Francisville.

• four new intersections at existing LA 1, LA 10, LA 981 (River Road) and U.S. 61 for entry to and exit from the new roadway and bridge.

“We are currently in the design stage, starting temporary access activities, for example, trestle construction,” said Terry Poole, project manager, Audubon Bridge Constructors.

He said Parsons is doing the design for the bridge while Granite and Flatiron are combining staff to perform construction. Foundation work is expected to begin in October.

The trestles are being constructed to allow crew members and equipment to access the bridge piles from land without the boats or barges.

Additionally, Resident Engineer Dante Lius said they are trying to minimize the movement of equipment from one side to another. It would take an hour to make the drive.

“Definitely, the existence of old bridges is an advantage during the construction of a bridge,” Lius said.

Such was the case during the construction of the Cooper River Bridge, for which Lius was the resident engineer.

According to Lius, the Audubon Bridge has some “additional difficulties” that the Cooper River Bridge did not.

“The most visible is there is no communication between the two sides of the river, while in Charleston, there were two bridges to cross the river estuary and allow transportation and communications,” he said.

Construction of the work trestle from the east bank of the river is underway and construction of its counterpart on the west bank will begin later this year.

Crews are working five days a week and the workforce is expected to peak at approximately 300 employees.

“The first wave of equipment to arrive on site is mostly for the drilled shaft support activities,” Poole said.

The project calls for relocating some overhead and underground utilities, mostly at the interchanges where the project ties into the existing streets.

Heavy equipment currently at the job site includes: Terex 275-ton crawler crane for drilled shaft support; a Manitowoc 888 230-ton crawler crane for drilled shaft support and Leffer Oscillator VRM2500 for drilled shafts.

Workers have begun clearing trees and other debris in both West Feliciana and Pointe Coupee parishes for the new bridge and road structures.

“All parties involved: client, designer and builder, construction engineering and inspection must adapt to a design-build contract. This requires a different mentality from the traditional design-bid-build scheme, more flexibility and quick decision making. A higher level of cooperation, understanding and loyalty must be built among the parties,” Lius said.

He said the project is big with 13 mi. (20.9 km) of roads and eight bridges of all sizes, although, “the focus is obviously on the cable-stayed bridge that will be a new record for the longest span of the Americas,” Lius noted.

“Due to physical constraints deriving from its shape, the bridge represents a schedule bottleneck and is, therefore, on the critical path. Anything that happens to the bridge, any design or construction delay, will represent a delay for the completion of the project,” added Lius. “Challenges common to these bridges are the difficulty to work at heights, particularly doing the construction of the towers; a tight construction schedule that requires a flexible dimensioning of equipment and resources; the ability and vision to foresee difficulties and problems well ahead of their realization, and the necessity for all parties involved, not only the contractor to always have at hand a Plan B. Particularly, in case of delays, the necessity to fulfill the schedule will require the study and realization of recovery plans.” CEG