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First Stimulus Job Kicks Into Second Gear in Mo.

Wed July 01, 2009 - Midwest Edition
Kathie Sutin

The Tuscumbia bridge project in Missouri, probably the most written-about bridge project in recent years, is moving along on schedule.

The new $8.5 million bridge is less than a half-mile in length but it grabbed national headlines and garnered coverage by Fox News and CNN on Feb. 17 when President Barack Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). Crews were in place and ready to start work as Obama signed the bill, giving the project the distinction of being the first one to begin work under the stimulus funding package.

Now, a few months later, the project replacing what the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) describes as “one of the state’s oldest and most rickety bridges,” is well under way. The bridge crosses the Osage River near the small town of Tuscumbia in central Missouri.

Crews have made “significant progress” on removing material from the bluff on the east side of the river and moving it to the west side to build up fill for the bridge approaches, according Roger Schwartze, district engineer for MoDOT in central Missouri.

The new bridge is being constructed just upstream from the existing bridge. It will be somewhat shorter than the original bridge.

“We were able to shorten the bridge slightly because when the original bridge was built, only Bagnell Dam was in place but today we also have the Truman Dam in place upstream from the bridge,” Schwartze said. “And since they are both used to control flooding, we were able to take that into account and shorten the length of the bridge slightly because of the flood control that’s in place upstream.”

Important Location

“Some 3,300 cars cross the bridge every day. The bridge is important to the area because it’s 15 miles upstream from the next bridge and about the same distance downstream to the next one,” Schwartze said. “This is one of the only places to cross for a pretty good distance on the Osage River.”

Tuscumbia, a small town on the west side of the river about 35 mi. from Jefferson City, the state capital, is the county seat of Miller County.

“The general traffic [over the bridge], I would say, is local farm traffic but there are also commuters,” Schwartze said. “It’s a route that any of the military equipment going from Fort Leonard Wood to Wightman Air Force Base uses so there’s some of that kind of traffic. There are buses that cross it, and there are commuters that go to work in Jefferson City that come from the south side of the bridge as well.

“A replacement was very much needed because the original bridge, built in the early 1930s is in poor condition,” Schwartze said. “It’s very narrow and so replacing it was a high priority.”

Design work had already been started when the ARRA propelled the project to national attention. The stimulus package gave MoDOT the funding to begin work a couple of years ahead of schedule.

“It was a project we had already started design on and we anticipated having enough money to be able to do it a few years from now,” Schwartze said. “When the stimulus package came along last November, our Highway Commission told us to identify projects that could be accelerated to move forward. Because we were already working on the design for this one, it was one of the first on our list.”

Expected completion is September 2010.

Popular Support

“It’s a great project,” Schwartze said. “It’s very much supported by the local folks down there. They all recognize how important the bridge is for them and know how poor the condition of the old one is.”

One major problem with the existing bridge is its width.

“It’s very narrow,” Schwartze said. “When a bus meets a truck or something, they both pretty much almost come to a stop as they go past each other.”

While the old bridge is a truss span, the new one is going to be 28 ft (8.5 m) wide.

“All of the girders are underneath so there’s no truss over the roadway,” Schwartze said. “It’s a combination of pre-stressed concrete girders and steel girders across the main river channel and the approaches and steel girders on the river spans.

“The project’s challenges are the same as for any bridge construction,” Schwartze said. “Any time you have to work in a fairly large river, you have water issues, and we’re doing drilled shafts down into rock. The contractor is going to have a barge out there in the river with a crane on it. They will have to build an area to dewater, to be able to get these drilled shafts in and the concrete poured inside of those shafts so that’s difficult work for contractors to do.

“You’ve got to know what you’re doing to be able to work under water because the water’s going to be up along the sides. You’ve got to get the water out of the middle of your area so you can put reinforcing steel and concrete down there. We’re fortunate that the water’s not real deep here but there’s going to be 20 to 25 feet of water at times that they’ll be working with,” Schwartze continued.

Schwartze noted that he can’t say for sure that the original bridge was a WPA (Works Progress Administration) project “but it was certainly built during that time frame.”

Crews also are building “just a short piece of roadway on both sides to get it tied into the existing road,” Schwartze said. “On the eastern side there’s a bluff and a curve so we’re cutting into that bluff and will be reducing that curve on that side of the bridge but we tie in within a thousand feet on both sides of the bridge.

“They’ll be using equipment for drilled shafts and excavation equipment that’s pretty standard stuff, plus some track hoes, drills and dump trucks that are hauling material across the bridge because they have to haul legal loads on the bridge,” Schwartze said.

The equipment being used on the project is “nothing remarkable” David Guillaume, president of APAC Kansas City, the general contractor on the job, said. It includes “a number of cranes and a couple of push boats in the river,” cranes, track loaders, drills and dozers.

Working on the Water

“The main challenge on the project is working in water and taking into consideration the varying depths of water due to the hydroelectric dams,” Guillaume explained.

Crews will excavate 50,000 cu. yds. (38,227 cu m) of dirt and lay 1,750 cu. yds. (1,337 cu m) of concrete and 2,300 tons (2,0856 t) of asphalt.

“They’re making great progress. That’s the good thing about it,” Schartze said.

Since the project is one of those under the stimulus plan intended to create jobs in the economic downturn, a lot of attention is being paid to the number of employees being put to work.

“At any given time we’re probably not going to have 25 of our own. But there are other employment aspects to the project,” Guillaume said. “You have the steel fabricator, the dirt hauler, the people producing the materials for the project—the concrete, all of that is employing a greater number. MoDOT estimates it’s about 200 people plus or minus.”

Helton Sand and Gravel of Eldeon, Mo., is doing the excavation and DeLong’s Inc. of Jefferson City, Mo., is the steel fabricator.

The old bridge will stay open until the new one is completed. Then it will be torn down.

Guillaume said he knew the project would get attention because of MoDOT’s efforts to raise public awareness about the project and the press event to launch it. CEG

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