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Floods Prompt New Bridge in Drayton, N.D.

Mon December 13, 2010 - Midwest Edition
Dorinda Anderson

Flooding was the major reason to replace a 1,058-ft. (322.4 m) bridge at Drayton, N.D., with a new bridge about four times its length, making it the second largest bridge in the state. The Drayton Bridge has been overtopped with flood waters 15 times since 1954, according to information from the North Dakota Department of Transportation.

The bridge in northern North Dakota allows traffic to move between North Dakota and Minnesota over the Red River of the North. The Red River flows north gathering water from spring thawing and heavy rains occurring in the south, making it necessary to close bridges as the flood waters increase, starting in the south at Wahpeton, N.D., and expanding to the north as far as Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. The bridge closures between North Dakota and Minnesota cause huge traffic detours of between 150 to more than 200 miles in either direction, ND/DOT information states.

“As the water rises, it floods approach roadways to the bridges creating a chain reaction all the way up the Red River Valley. By the time the Drayton Bridge on the northern end of the Red River Valley is closed, those to the south have already been closed so travelers have an extra two hour drive to cross the border,” said Richard Sampson, North Dakota Department of Transportation project engineer. “This new bridge should eliminate the lengthy detour.”

Larry Lunda, of Lunda Construction of Black River Falls, Wis., prime contractor of the project, added, “The Red River is a challenging river in part because the water comes from the south where the snow melts and then flows north where the river is still frozen creating a damming effect and a lot of water.”

Much of the new 4,090 ft. (1,246.6 m) bridge at Drayton, N.D., sits over land that is actually dry much of the year, but when water overflows the river banks the bridge will allow traffic to flow between the two states.

Construction of the new Drayton Bridge began in January 2008. The original steel truss bridge was built in 1954 and the steel trusses limited the vertical height of trucks traveling on the bridge. The new bridge has no trusses and is 40-ft. (12.1 m) wide to allow for larger vehicles, Sampson said. High Five Erectors of Shakopee, Minn., erected the prestressed girders and structural and reinforcing steel.

The new bridge was constructed on the south side of the existing bridge, so the project included realignment of a short section of Highway 11 in Minnesota and Highway 66 in North Dakota. The total project cost is about $27.6 million, with the bridge portion consuming about $24.1 million of the cost.

Subcontractor Davidson Construction & Ready Mix of New Folden, Minn., handled the grading while Mayo Construction of Cavalier, N.D., handled the black top. These portions of roadway were completed by mid-November, 2010. The roadways will be the same as the existing two-lane roads, with slightly wider shoulders, Sampson said.

New construction consisted basically of tried and true construction techniques, said Sampson. However, Mother Nature caused a few challenges on the project, due to flooding.

“The biggest challenge happened during the spring of 2010 with a major category of flooding, which either stopped or limited our work,” Sampson said. “Looking at this from the contractor’s standpoint, when these issues occur, subcontractors have to be rescheduled, adding a lot of extra effort on the contractor’s side.”

Joe Larson, project manager with Lunda Construction added that crews survived floods that ranked number 2 and number 7 historically.

“It was a very wet season with lots of mud, and very cold in the winter time. We endured some pretty harsh conditions,” he said. “It is also always windy up there. We were able to construct some work roads to handle the muddy situation and support our equipment. Even though the winter was tough, the access was better then because the ground was frozen, making it possible to make good progress because access was improved.”

The high water made it necessary early this year for crews to travel out on boats to get to the bridge deck to work on concrete placement, Lunda explained.

“We’ve never had to do that before. That was the spring of 2010. In the spring of 2009 we had to evacuate the whole area quite a ways away from the work site to where the equipment area was because the area was inundated with water.”

On the project, Lunda Construction used three large cranes, including two Terex HC110s and a Terex HC165 to drive piling and place concrete beams over the peers, Sampson said. Cranes were floated in on barges one at a time because the river is very narrow at this point, between 400 and 500 ft. (121.9 and 152.4 m) wide.

The deck, which consisted of a reinforced concrete slab, was poured with a Bidwell finishing machine. The bridge was designed as a continuous beam over girder supports. Concrete for the bridge deck totaled 5,400 cu. yds. (4,128.5 cu m), and another 5,700 cu. yds. (4,357.9 cu m) of concrete was needed for the piers and abutments.

Bridge spans on the west end of the bridge are 100-ft. (30.4 m) long but increased in length as they spanned the water, Sampson said. The west half of the bridge uses beams over the piers that are 54-in. (137.1 cm) pre-stressed concrete, while the sections closer to the river consist of steel beams.

Reinforcing steel for the deck and the super structure totaled 1.52 million lbs., all of which had to be placed or piled driven into the ground, Sampson said. “Crews started pile driving in January of 2008 and the last steel went into the ground in early August 2010. The bridge consists of 36 piers and two abutments where pile driven steel was placed.” The piling for the piers and abutments totaled 15 mi. (24.1 km) of steel. Structural steel for the new bridge came from PDM Steel of Eau Claire, Wis.

Three excavators were used at one time to move steel. Four D8 dozers were used for earth moving; most of the soil needed was found on the construction site. “Just about every piece of equipment you can think of was used because of the phases and types of construction,” he added. Trucks were used to haul soil for the embankment and several medium to larger size loaders were used.

Barges also were used to form the coffer dams and the piers in the river. There is still one barge in the water to use when removing the old bridge. Crews from Lunda Construction will start removing the deck of the old bridge in November, 2010 and work will continue throughout the winter, Sampson said. “We want to use the winter ice as a platform when the steel substructure is cut up and removed,” Sampson said.

Lunda added, “The winters can be a challenge in North Dakota and we would like to get the old bridge out before the high water hits in the spring.”

The steel from the old bridge will be recycled and the concrete will probably be crushed by a local plant and reused as aggregate on a future project.

Because of the excessive water, erosion control measures were needed, which are constantly being updated, Sampson said. On this project crews used a combination of fiber roll and floatation silt fence, as well as rock checks for ditches to control erosion into the river. “That is one of the challenges we had out here; every time work was progressing we would get another flood that wiped out what we had done. So in our weekly reviews we looked at different methods to control erosion,” Sampson said. “We ended up replacing control methods quite often this year due to all the heavy rains that occurred in the southern part of North Dakota and Minnesota.”

Early in the project, an artesian water flow was pierced during the borings on the North Dakota side of the project, adding another challenge. Sampson explained the leak was plugged and no other water flows were hit during the construction. “We were driving piling in about the same area but there were no further problems,” he added.

Even with the challenges, crews with Lunda Construction were able to catch up so the project was completed on time. “We opened the project two weeks ahead of schedule,” Larson said. “The crews spent a lot of Saturdays working, enduring a couple of tough years with the weather. My hats are off to the crew who built the project; they did a wonderful job.”

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