Detroit Bridge Ready for Some Football

Tue January 31, 2006 - Midwest Edition
Lori Lovely

If you’re headed to Super Bowl XL in Detroit, MI, this February, you might be pleasantly surprised — and impressed — by Detroit’s newly completed $14-million Gateway Bridge spanning Telegraph Road along I-94 in Taylor.

The graceful twin arches join the giant Uniroyal Tire in welcoming visitors on the drive into downtown from the new Detroit Metropolitan Airport.

The Detroit Regional Gateway Advisory Council (DRGAC) — a collaboration between state and local governments and private sector investors formed in 2002 — expect the bridge to enhance the image of metro Detroit, improve the regional transportation system and provide impetus for future regional partnerships.

The bridge is just one of a number of improvements along the 18-mi. (29 km) I-94 corridor, including: complete reconstruction of a 3-mi. stretch with repaving, signage and ramps; enhancements to eight bridges between the M-39 Southfield interchange in Allen Park and the Brooklyn Street overpass in Detroit; extensive landscaping at the Merriman interchange; completion of the Cobo Tunnel beautification and lighting project for M-10 (Lodge Freeway) underneath Cobo Hall; resurfacing of the freeway between Roseville and the western border of Wayne County; and a new welcome sign and landscaping on I-94 just outside the airport.

Approximately $520 million is expected to be spent on beautification projects.

DRGAC raised $1.5 million from private sector donations and grant money through Detroit Renaissance, and received a commitment of more than $7 million from the state of Michigan, plus $500,000 from the city of Taylor. Wayne County and the city of Detroit pledged a combined total of $250,000 per year to maintain the improvements.

The council also has encouraged business and property owners along the corridor to undertake complementary beautification projects.

“These I-94 improvements will go a long way to enhance the first impressions of visitors and more accurately reflect the quality of life enjoyed by those of us who live in the Detroit region,” reported Paul Hillegonds, president of Detroit Renaissance.

From Blueprint to Blue Arch

Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) engineers worked with Alfred Benesch & Company, a design and engineering firm based in Chicago with offices in Lansing, MI, to create the bridge design. Twin tied-arch steel spans feature two large blue ovals, augmented with additional ovals, evoking images of football.

The design of the 240-ft. (73 m) bridge cost $2 million more than conventional plate-girder bridges, stirring public controversy.

Skeptical Dearborn Heights residents expressed concerns not only about the exorbitant price tag, but also long-term maintenance.

“There was a lot of negative feedback initially,” confirmed Kim Avery of MDOT. “But the bridge really signifies cost savings. There were under-clearance issues because the beams and span are narrower than conventional bridges. Otherwise, we would have had to lower the road. That would have been more expensive with all the roadwork involved. This bridge has a thinner deck and beams.”

The arches reach 70 ft. (21 m) above I-94 and 87 ft. (27 m) above Telegraph Road.

Avery noted that private sector funds made up much of the $1.5 million price difference, and that the governor favored the plan. “He liked the savings features, and the fact that it met political requirements.”

Like many other states facing budget crunches, Michigan has “put the brakes on expansion projects,” she explained, “but this is considered preservation and rehabilitation.”

Gateway Bridge falls under Michigan’s “preserve first” plan.

Down to Work

Prime contractor Dan’s Excavating Inc., of Shelby Township, MI, performed the demolition work, but not until the paving was completed on the new structures. First, C.A. Hull Co., of Walled Lake, MI, constructed two new bridges between the existing bridges.

Crews began work in May 2004, while I-94 traffic was maintained on the existing bridges.

Avery said there were few detours, and most of those occurred underneath the structures.

She noted that the design introduced a “single point interchange,” a concept new to Michigan.

The non-conventional interchange moves the freeway into the center; previously the ramps were in the center. “It flip-flopped,” summarized Avery. “We had left-hand entrances and exits before. Now they’re all right-hand.”

Telegraph Road beneath the bridge is now a boulevard, its lanes separated by concrete medians. She added that MDOT owns 80 acres of excess property that is now available for sale, due to the space-saving new design.

A steel delivery delay slowed work temporarily. Avery said because MDOT was aware of the possibility of steel delays, no incentives to finish early were built into the contract.

She said the general contractor offered more money to speed delivery.

Approximately 1.4 million lbs. of steel went into each span before they were covered with three coats of blue paint and one clear coat to prevent fading.

The beams, fabricated by PDM Bridge in Eau Claire, WI, were trucked in on a route that bypassed Chicago. Once on site, they required even more special planning.

Mike Malloure, of C.A. Hull, said the erection technique was “new to us.”

MDOT allowed the contractor to submit an alternate erection procedure because of the unusual pieces. Malloure admitted it took a year to come up with that new plan.

“We changed the sequence to pour the concrete deck with the hanger cables carrying the load, instead of under-bridge shoring carrying the load,” he said. “They’re heavy, awkward pieces tilted in two directions. They’re basket handle arches that tilt in toward each other. We had to pick up the arches at different points so the orientation was correct. The geometry had to be right for the anchor bolts to connect with the arch ribs.”

He said the 142,000-lb. arches that were twisted into place at a 60-degree angle were designed to be aesthetically pleasing. Special lighting features will illuminate the bridge at night.

Malloure said crews had to incorporate special fabricating grading, which was complicated by “terrible ground conditions” of soft, muddy clay.

“We were fighting bad ground that didn’t support our equipment and made pile driving difficult. It would bounce instead of sink in.”

He noted that crews discovered “interesting features” in the substructure, also.

“We had to carefully align things and be very accurate with the anchor bolts for the arch ribs.”

The bases of the arches are connected by concentric steel circles to prevent later spreading, with cables descending from the arches to support the bridge deck. The ties run under Telegraph Road.

That design required crews to move things under the bridge for the heavily reinforced concrete ties. According to Malloure, the pedestals for the arches formed angles that were difficult to work around. “It made concrete forming tough.”

Angled beams weren’t the only technical innovation on the project. Malloure said the 75-ft. wide (23 m), 250-ft. long (76 m) bridge was topped with a 9-in. thick (23 cm) concrete deck (standard in Michigan).

The deck then received a 1.5-in. micro silica concrete overlay designed to protect its structural integrity.

“It’s unique,” he said. “It’s definitely more easily replaceable than the deck. You can grind off the overlay without damaging the deck.”

With C.A. Hull’s work on the two bridges complete, Malloure said it was a challenging and interesting project. “We get a lot of cookie cutter work. This definitely made us think.”

In business since 1954, C.A. Hull is one of the largest bridge-building firms in Michigan, specializing in structural and heavy-highway work.

The company’s history dates back to an era in Michigan road building when earth excavation was performed with horse drawn implements.

Clarence Hull was bought out by partner Don Malloure, whose three sons now operate the business.

The younger Malloure, grandson to Don, tallies up the numbers: 120 employees doing bridgework during peak months, with a total of 300 employees over the course of the project; and equipment totaling six sizes of cranes, with several loaders and excavators.

Most of the equipment, with the exception of a rented 300-ton crane used for steel arch erection, is owned by the company.

The bridge was opened to traffic in less than 22 months — not bad progress, but not as good as the bureaucrats wanted, Malloure said.

With the eyes of America focused on Detroit for the big game, DRGAC Chairman Larry Yost is pleased with the image the city will be projecting, an image greatly enhanced by the soaring arches of the new Gateway Bridge and the many beautification projects along the I-94 corridor. CEG

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