The Cambridge approach to the bridge, as work was being done in 2010.
After three years, the rebuilt Boston University (B.U.) Bridge — a critical car, foot and bike artery for tens of thousands of students along the elongated campus of B.U. along Commonwealth Avenue, Kenmore Square and Fenway Park — will officially be marked “complete” on June 30.
Originally named “Cottage Farm Bridge,” the bridge was built in 1928 and renamed the B.U. Bridge for the growing university it was serving in 1949.
The Canton, Mass.-based branch of Denmark’s noteworthy international contracting company E. Pihl & Son completed the estimated $19.5 million project on time (30 months) and on budget.
The new fresh, constantly-traveled bridge — half closed for two-and-a-half years while repairs were effected and a new lane configuration was established to provide better access for motorists, pedestrians and cyclists — was well-received when traffic cones were removed and access granted again in both directions in winter. In fact, groups like the LivableStreets Alliance came out to celebrate its unofficial completion by handing out baked goods and asking walkers to sign postcards.
That group thanked E. Pihl & Son and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) for considering the various needs of commuters of all kinds and people with disabilities through its new design flow which accommodates all travelers, no matter what vehicle they are using to cross it. The B.U. Bridge is one of only three bridges and off-ramps that pour traffic from congested Storrow Drive, along the Charles River in both Boston and Cambridge, onto packed Commonwealth Avenue
New Lanes, More Lanes
The pre-renovation bridge consisted of four car lanes — two in either direction — with no bike lanes. The current configuration, put in place just before Christmas 2011, has three motorist lanes — cars enter the bridge from each side via one lane then exit via two lanes.
Traffic volume is immense — an estimated 35,400 vehicles per day; 460 pedestrians per day (more in summer); and 389 bicycles per day.
“The Bridge had to be open for traffic in both directions during construction,” said Senior Project Manager Henrik Pedersen of the company’s American division. “The work was therefore divided into three states — east side, middle and west side.”
According to Pedersen, the Boston University Bridge Rehabilitation Project’s goal was to restore the bridge’s structural integrity and enhance accessibility. “We restored, we enhanced, but we didn’t widen or lengthen the bridge,” said Pedersen. “Pihl had to perform structural steel repairs to the main steel truss span. Contract work also included de-leading and painting of steel with three coats.”
He added that MassDOT’s (the state’s supervising highway agency) goal was to improve pedestrian and bicycle access.
Satisfying the Present and the Past
Pedersen said the project included a full deck replacement and the rehabilitation of the downstream sidewalk. Pihl installed a shielding underneath the bridge deck (100Kips shoring towers) which was utilized as a debris containment system during demolition work and as form work for the new concrete deck and sidewalk.
“We installed 50,000 square feet of shielding,” Pedersen added.
Construction and reconstruction began in October 2009 and was substantially completed (open for new public traffic at the end of 2011). The official project end comes June 30, after a “punch” list of a few remaining clean up and landscaping items is complete, according to Pedersen.
“Restoring the structural integrity of the bridge included replacing approximately 240,000 pounds of steel,” he said. “We used approximately 2,000 cubic yards of concrete for the deck and sidewalk replacements.”
A particular challenge lay not merely in satisfying the needs of the present hundreds of thousands of people who drive, ride or walk over, around or by the B.U. Bridge each week, or their future; the real art for E. Pihl & Son lay in the past.
“The special challenges included historic restoration of the granite and concrete structures, including replacing the concrete parapet wall on the sidewalks. The new concrete finish had to be comparable to the existing exposed concrete finish. As part of the requirements, Pihl had to create mock-ups of the new exposed concrete which were reviewed and approved by Cambridge Historical Society,” said Pederson. “Another challenge was that the bridge crosses diagonally over an older single-tracked railroad-only bridge carrying the Grand Junction Line. Due to the limited existing clearance between the railroad tracks and the main steel truss span, it was a challenge for Pihl to install a shielding system below the truss.”
Despite the challenges of a brutal Boston winter — especially the winter of 2010-2011 which included an estimated 15 separate snowfalls — Pihl had crews on hand for the entire duration of the contract.
“Pihl works all year on the project with a day crew and also had (a) night crew onsite for approximately 20 percent of the contract duration,” said Pedersen. “The night work was mostly related to pile driving operations for the Cambridge (west side) abutment, demolition work of the existing bridge deck, placement of concrete for the middle phase and paving operations.”
Pihl said that the people and agencies of Boston and Cambridge both exhibited patience and good will during the many months of work; no small feat in a city notorious for otherwise unending, protracted, bloated construction projects which seem to snarl traffic for decades.
“Throughout the project, Pihl had a good working relationship with subcontractors, MassDOT, Boston University and the city of Cambridge, including the Cambridge Historical Society,” said Pedersen.
The Cambridge Historical Commission awarded the B.U. Bridge a Preservation Award in 2011. The program celebrates both outstanding historic preservation projects and notable individuals for their contributions to the conservation and protection of the city’s architecture and history.
Established in 1887
E. Pihl & Son A.S. is one of Denmark’s oldest contracting companies and is among the world’s 225 largest contracting companies working in international markets.
The company was founded by master builder Lauritz Emil Pihl in Copenhagen in 1887. In the following 30 years, he built up one of the leading construction companies in that Danish capital. In 1916, his son Carl joined the firm, which later carried the name E. Pihl & Son.
Pihl has divisions in many different countries and continents and employs about 3,000 people. Its many projects have ranged from the Copenhagen Opera House, the Oresund Tunnel, motorways and harbors in the Caribbean and Africa, to wastewater plants in Asia and hydro-power plants in Iceland and Panama.
Its U.S. division is headquartered in Canton, about 15 miles south of Boston.
The business philosophy of Pihl is “the joy of creating.” Pihl started in the United States in 2001. Its first American project was awarded in 2005. Since then, according to Pedersen, the company has been awarded a total of 15 projects here, 14 in the Boston area.
“The majority of the projects (were) marine projects, bridges and ferry terminals,” said Pedersen. “The first of these was Battery Wharf in the North End of Boston, a joint project with RDS Construction and the contract was approximately $15 million.”
Currently, Pihl has four projects stateside — three in Massachusetts and one in Rhode Island — with a total contract value of about $85 million.
In 2011, Pihl had a 15 percent increase in turnover to a total of $1 billion U.S. dollars. The Danish and Nordic markets account for about 80 percent of Pihl’s turnover, said Pedersen.
But it is not the size or scope of each project that kindles Pihl’s pride. It is that joy of creation and the completion and delivery of the large scale work, as promised.
“We finished the B.U. Bridge project on time and on budget,” added Pedersen proudly. There are just a few touches left before its official end on June 30. “Landscaping was performed in May. Right now, we are addressing punch list items,” he said. “We currently have a small crew on site. They are touching up paint on the truss and [and you might suspect in a college atmosphere] cleaning up the graffiti.”
For more information, visit www.pihl-as.com.