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Crews Place First Steel Girders for Sakonnet River Bridge in Rhode Island

Tue February 15, 2011 - Northeast Edition
Jay Adams


Photo courtesy of Josh Edenbaum Photography & Digital Imaging
By May 2012, or perhaps sooner, the estimated $163.7 million project — being built by Cardi Corporation of Warwick, R. I., under the auspices of the Rhode Island Department of Transporta
Photo courtesy of Josh Edenbaum Photography & Digital Imaging By May 2012, or perhaps sooner, the estimated $163.7 million project — being built by Cardi Corporation of Warwick, R. I., under the auspices of the Rhode Island Department of Transporta
Photo courtesy of Josh Edenbaum Photography & Digital Imaging
By May 2012, or perhaps sooner, the estimated $163.7 million project — being built by Cardi Corporation of Warwick, R. I., under the auspices of the Rhode Island Department of Transporta Photo courtesy of Josh Edenbaum Photography & Digital Imaging 
Each girder is 80-ft.  (24.3 m)  long and weighs 76 tons (69 t). What is called a “three-crane lift” joined them together to a total length of 240 ft. (73 m), going from support t Photo courtesy of Josh Edenbaum Photography & Digital Imaging
The beams will go up through the summer, probably finishing up by August of this year. Photo courtesy of Josh Edenbaum Photography & Digital Imaging
The 112 beams being set in place will forge the decking to support an estimated 40,000 daily commuters and truck drivers. Photo courtesy of Josh Edenbaum Photography & Digital Imaging
Crews have met with some unusual challenges on the job so far, including weather issues, the enormous size of the beams and the geography of the area.

It is the shape of things to come, one giant girder at a time.

On Jan. 19, fighting a month of high winds, storms and snow, Cardi Corporation and its subcontractors got a clear day, and lifted the first three enormous steel girders by crane over the shores of Tiverton.

Those girders, and about 109 more, will eventually become the bridge decking for vehicles for the new Sakonnet River Bridge.

Each girder is 80-ft. (24.3 m) long and weighs 76 tons (69 t). What is called a “three-crane lift” joined them together to a total length of 240 ft. (73 m), going from support tower to support tower.

Bolted together, four across, they will fill the 1,850 ft. (563 m) that the deck will span between the two communities of Tiverton and Portsmouth. As they were put into place, on the first windless morning in days, workers, spectators and commuters — traveling nearby over the parallel rusting, corroded Sakonnet River Bridge that it will replace — got their first glimpse of the new span actually resembling a bridge structure.

By May 2012, or perhaps sooner, the estimated $163.7 million project — being built by Cardi Corporation of Warwick, R. I., under the auspices of the Rhode Island Department of Transportation — will be fully erect.

Ground first was broken for this greatly anticipated project in April 2009.

Northeast Steel

of Portsmouth

Underneath the massive beams stood Frank Busher of Portsmouth, who was more than just a fascinated spectator. As he watched the tub girders (U-shaped support steel beams) being lifted by two 300-ton (272 t) crawler cranes, and then secured by hundreds of heavy bolts, Busher was pleased.

He is the principal, along with partner Bill Nearney, of Northeast Steel, the subcontracted company erecting the steel for Cardi Corporation.

“We’ve been in business since 1972,” said Busher, a few days later from his nearby office. “We did the [$610 million] IWAY job [the new Providence, R.I. Highway system]. And, here, every third day, we do a big lift.”

The Sakonnet River Bridge presented unusual conditions for the crane operators and crews hired by Northeast Steel to lift the beams, beyond weather conditions.

“The thing that is different about this job is the heavy lifts. These are very big girders,” said Busher. “They are ten-and-a-half feet high, fourteen-feet wide. There is a slight curve to them, and that had to be taken into consideration. The center of gravity is off center and the girder wants to roll.”

The bridge also is based on the side of huge hills on both sides, so his workers, “Had to plateau the hill, so the hill sat level,” said Busher. He commended the cranes used from Maxim Crane, based out of Warwick, R.I.

Three in, 109 to Go

Busher was pleased with the first “three-lift,” which took about an hour.

“There are 112 pieces of girders to be bolted together,” he said. “They make up the four main girders. They will be 1,850-feet long from one end to the other. There will be nine spans.”

Those 112 beams will forge the decking to support an estimated 40,000 daily commuters and truck drivers who haul their vehicles from southeastern Mass. (the New Bedford/Cape Cod area) over the section of Rte. 24 that goes over the Sakonnet River through Tiverton and Portsmouth into the East Bay and Aquidneck Island section of Rhode Island, all the way to Newport.

It is a critical transportation link between the two states and the replacement bridge, adjacent to the old one to its immediate south, is necessary to meet current highway design standards for shoulder width and structural capacity.

Busher and company saw 26 of the 112 girders come up by truck and the rest by barge up the Sakonnet River. The steel originated from a company called Hirschfeld Steel Industries in North Carolina. Carolina Steel Group LLC of Greensboro, N.C, is fabricating the steel.

“This is a very unusual job for us,” said Busher. “We don’t do a bridge like this every day. But, we are a very localized business. People in New York do what we do, but they stay in New York. We stay in Rhode Island. We don’t go all over the country to do steel work.” And this job was literally above them in the same hometown.

Other Northeast Projects

Busher and Nearney’s company, Northeast Steel, has erected the steel for many well-known projects in the state, including the Route 99 Bridge over the Blackstone River in Lincoln, R.I., and most of the ramps at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center (Providence’s professional athletic arena) highway interchange on Route 95 (part of the new IWAY and the old highway).

His company usually runs with just five people in the office, including Nearney’s son Brian, who is the next generation of steel workers.

“We are typical steel erectors. We don’t have [a lot] of office personnel, or crane operators or iron workers. We hire out [for the work]. We sometimes have 60 workers, sometimes, 20,” said Busher. “We have a small number of people and do work for about 10 different contractors. But, as I said, we are a very localized business between Providence, Hartford, Connecticut and Boston.”

A Better Bridge

Busher commented that the work is gratifying on many levels as this very deep recession has hurt his firm, along with so many others in the construction/contracting industry.

“The building part of our business is way down,” said Busher. “We’ve got a few bridges and a few buildings [going up], but the economy has really affected us.”

He is glad for the work and absolutely certain that this new bridge will be a tremendous modern marvel and improvement over the old one, which was constructed in 1956 and still must carry cars for another two years, despite massive rusting and corrosion.

“The old bridge is in trouble,” said Busher. “It has serious problems due to rust,” exacerbated by extremely harsh New England weather conditions on the ocean.

“Everything is bolted today. They don’t do rivets anymore.”

The new bridge will have no seams, nothing to crack open by extremes.

Haley & Aldrich completed an extensive subsurface exploration program, provided recommendations for design of shallow and deep foundations, designed excavation support systems for construction of multiple bridge structures, and estimated costs for two bridge super structure alternatives. The company also implemented a deep foundation test program.

The entire design period was compressed into 21 months to meet a special Federal Garvey funding deadline.

According to Haley & Aldrich, their client and commuter benefits include:

• Improved public safety and seismic protection

• Increased transportation capacity for existing and future traffic volumes

• Added bicycle and pedestrian path, separated from vehicular traffic by safety rails

• Replacement bridge alternative minimizes the cumulative impacts to the environment

The beams will go up through summer.

“I would say we will be finished with this work by August of this year,” said Busher. “We are taking a break now for some concrete work to be done. So far, we are on schedule.”

Despite the weather, the bridge may even finish before its anticipated contract completion date of May 2012. Cardi is working quickly. Incentive bonuses for Cardi Corporation — which range in the tens of thousands of dollars daily for shorter work — kept all crews extremely motivated through even the furious snows of January. CEG