When it comes to construction work along Florida’s coastline, contractors know environmental concerns rank as one of their top challenges.
That’s certainly the case for the $18.4 million bridge and resurfacing project in St. Lucie County in which Dickerson Florida Inc. is replacing a bridge on State Road A1A over Little Mud Creek and widening and resurfacing 7 mi. (11.3 km) of surrounding roadway.
Stuart, Fla.-based Dickerson was the low bidder for the project, which includes milling and resurfacing the existing paved roadway, widening a portion of the road with stabilized shoulders, new landscaping and sidewalks, equalization drainage and safety improvements.
Dickerson has hired several subcontractors, including Cone and Graham Inc. to handle the bridge work; Mosely and Sons for the concrete, and Johnson Davis for the underground work. During the course of the project between 50 and 70 workers will be at the site.
“One of the challenges is erosion control and the sensitivity of the adjacent mangroves and wetland. It’s really environmentally sensitive because it goes right through the mangroves,” said Dickerson Vice President Chuck Pallas, who is overseeing the project and “placing people and equipment where they need to be.”
Stephen Stokes, project administrator of Target Engineering Group, the company overseeing the construction for the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), also is aware of the environmental aspects of the job.
“We have to use methods that create as little impact as possible in the work zone and no impact beyond the work zone limits,” Stokes said. “We have to use control measures, whether it be floating turbidity curtains, stake silk fences — things to keep things from getting into existing drain structures. That’s the biggest challenge — to have zero impact outside the work zone.”
When faced with a tough challenge on coastal construction, there’s generally no substitute for experience, which Pallas brings to the site. He’s been with Dickerson for more than 40 years and helped build the original bridge they’re now replacing.
“He’s probably one of the most amazing constructors in the state of Florida, maybe even the entire United States,” said Dickerson Chief Estimator Bernie Barrile. “It’s so much fun working with someone like that. He’s an amazing resource. If there’s been a spade turned, he’s been around it.”
The project, which started Jan. 8 and is scheduled to be complete by November 2008, is in its initial stages, focusing on clearing and building detours, which Stokes said will be minimal.
“Basically, the impact to the public is we’re going to have reduced speeds to make the work zone safer,” Stokes said. “We’re going to have some single lane closures where we maintain two-way traffic in one lane during daytime operations. We’re really not going to have too much impact on anything. All we’re doing is detouring them 30 feet east or west immediately around the work zone, but not onto any other street other than A1A.”
Stokes said they’re also trying to negotiate an agreement to keep open a rural boat ramp near the site used by local fishermen. That portion of A1A is a commuter route for people who work at the nearby nuclear power plant in Port St. Lucie and for people heading to the surrounding parks and beaches. Because of its location, there won’t be any night work.
“The area out there is extremely dark at night because of the restrictions for turtle nesting so you don’t have any streetlights,” Stokes said. “Another one of our challenges is going to be the use of correct pavement markings with the correct illumination so someone traveling through there at night will be able to follow these detours.”
Pallas said maintaining traffic is a challenge, “but that’s always a challenge. There’s a fair amount of traffic; there’s a lot of people that live on the island.”
Though early in the construction schedule, Pallas said there have been no problems or unforeseen concerns so far. The project was part of the FDOT’s routine maintenance schedule, but it was accelerated after the bridge was damaged by Hurricane Francis a couple of years ago.
“The road is in bad need of repair,” Pallas said. “It’s an old road; it’s got a lot of settlement. It’s not going to have any more capacity. It’s a two-lane now and it’ll be a two-lane when we’re finished.
“It will, however, be 24 feet wide, as opposed to 22 feet.”
Stokes said the biggest benefit to motorists will be the improved condition of the pavement. He said the existing pavement has some depressions from settlement and there are some areas that were washed out during a hurricane that were only temporarily repaired.
According to Barrile, they’ll use approximately 160,000 tons (145,000 t) of Superpave asphalt and 9,200 tons (8,350 t) of friction coarse for the roadway. The superstructure of the bridge will use 202 cu. yds. (154 cu m) of concrete, the substructure 107 cu. yds. (82 cu m) and the bridge approaches 198 cu. yds. (151 cu m).
Dickerson, which owns almost all of the equipment that will be used for the project, will have a full complement of machinery at the site, including asphalt reclaimers, pavers, rollers, 12-H motorgraders, front end loaders, trenchers and wideners. Barrile said Dickerson uses mostly Caterpillar equipment.
Pallas said once the detour work is complete, the next phase will see the start of the storm drainage and bridge work, which will go on simultaneously. The milling and resurfacing work will be ongoing. Once the bridge is finished, Pallas said they’ll complete the paving, swale grading and sidewalks, which will be new to the area.
“The newest benefit is going to be the sidewalk that’s going through the entire length of the project,” Stokes said. “It’s going to allow people to use it as an exercise area away from the traffic. There’s going to be safety improvements on the road where we’re going to put a shoulder. We’re improving the edge of the roadway outside the limits of the asphalt, where we’re stabilizing a grassed shoulder.”
Stokes said new equalization culverts will provide a major boost to the surrounding wetlands, which currently aren’t able to create a back-and-forth filter action. The new culverts will allow the water to flow again naturally east and west of A1A.
Once the bridge work begins, the crews will face its toughest construction challenge. Although it would be easier for the contractor to have the bridge closed while the work is done, that’s not a viable option for a variety of reasons.
“It would be very easy to close these bridges and do the work, but we can’t because it’s a commuter road for the personnel that work at the St. Lucie power plant,” Stokes said. “It’s also a hurricane evacuation route for the residents on the island. We’re not allowed to close traffic ever. The most we can do is restrict traffic to one lane during daylight hours. What we have to do is build the road and bridge in phases.”
Stokes said it should be able to phase the work where it can stay on schedule and get the work done while maintaining traffic flow.
The new bridge will be approximately 4-ft. (1.2 m) higher than the old one, which will require a small amount of fill dirt, Pallas said. The new bridge also will feature handrails and a new wall that will protect cyclists and pedestrians from traffic. The old bridge will be taken away in pieces and become the property of the contractor.
“There’ll be a beautiful seven miles of roadway when we’re done,” Barrile said.
Stokes said despite the challenges that lie ahead, he’s confident the project will go smoothly.
“The department hired the right contractor for the job,” Stokes said. “Dickerson knows the area very well and Cone and Graham is more than capable to handle all the bridge element work that’s out there.”
Located just north of Fort Pierce, the area, like many along Florida’s East Coast, has seen a population and building boom in recent years.
FDOT Spokesperson Barbara Kelleher said the barrier islands just east of the construction site are seeing more and more condominiums being built, making dependable road access even more important.
“Most are still seasonal homes, but we’re seeing more people living here year-round,” Kelleher said. “Development is really booming on the north end of the island.” CEG