Gerdan Slipforms Wall 60 Ft. Above Mississippi River

Wed March 30, 2005 - Midwest Edition
Construction Equipment Guide

On one of the walls in Gerdan Slipforming’s office hangs a painting the company won during a silent auction for a community fund-raiser.

The painting is a picturesque view of the Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge, a new suspension bridge connecting Cape Girardeau, MO, to East Cape Girardeau, IL. The painting was delivered to Gerdan Slipforming the same day they learned the company had won a bid to slipform the bridge’s parapet and safety railing.

The new $100 million cable-stayed suspension bridge over the Mississippi River replaces an older bridge that could no longer handle the traffic demands of the area. The Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) estimates that 14,000 vehicles cross the structure daily. That estimate is expected to increase to 26,000 vehicles per day by the year 2015. The new bridge was built with that demand in mind.

The Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge is 100 ft. (30.5 m) wide and stretches 4,000 ft. (1,219 m) across the river. Thirteen million pounds (5.9 kg) of reinforcing steel, 171 mi. (275 km) of cable and 243.7 lbs. (110,535,245 kg) of concrete was used to build the four-lane bridge.

The deck of the bridge is 60 ft. (18.3 m) above the surface of the water. The bridge towers that hold up the support cables are another 300 ft. (91.4 m) tall.

Gerdan’s responsibilities on the bridge included slipforming the approximately 8,500 ft. (2,591 m) of safety barrier and 6,000 ft. (1,829 m) of two different styles of median barrier. The company has always been Gomaco owners and for this project it decided to purchase a new Commander III.

“I was a little leery of the new generation technology and one of my questions was, ’Am I going to have an argument with my operator about this new piece of equipment and him trying to learn it?’” said Dan Driskell, project manager of Gerdan Slipforming. “Tom Held, my Gomaco salesman from Fabick Tractor, said the only argument that I would have between my operators was who was going to operate the new one. Tom was right.”

Slipforming on the bridge began in early October 2003 on the three different types of wall. Different requirements for the approaches in the two different states created an added challenge.

“The job was bid as a MoDOT project and was all done under MoDOT specifications,” Driskell explained. “For some reason, though, there was a different profile for the median barrier on the Illinois approach. It was actually two safety barriers with a seven-inch top and 16-inch base with a four-inch gap in between the two.”

The Missouri-approach median barrier is 18 in. (45.7 cm) wide at the top, 36 in. (91.4 cm) at the base and 34 in. (86.4 cm) tall. A third profile, the safety barrier, measured 10.75 in. (27.3 cm) wide on top and 20 in. (50.8 cm) across the bottom.

The concrete for the walls was a MoDOT B1, 6.73 bag mix with air entrainment. Slump averages between .75 and one inch (1.9 and 2.5 cm).

“The machine started out picture perfect and just kept on going,” Driskell said. “Our finisher foreman, Chris Markham, told me he felt like he was stealing money from me. He said the finish on the wall is coming out so smooth and the machine is doing such an excellent job, the finishers have very, very little to do.”

All the finishers had to do was apply a light broom finish to the wall and cut the joints in. Once again, the two states had different requirements for the approaches. On the Missouri side, joints were saw cut in one in. (2.5 cm) deep, every 35 ft. (10.7 m). On the Illinois approach, joints were every 10 ft. (3 m).

“This project went very smooth for us and the machine has been picture perfect,” Driskell said. “We poured approximately 1,100 feet of the 18-inch wide median barrier per day on the bridge.”

The Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge was opened and operational by December 2003. Gerdan has moved on to its next projects but regardless of where it’s working or what it may be slipforming on, the company has certain guidelines it follows to ensure success.

“There are so many variables when pouring barrier wall that it’s like a snowball effect, one has to work before the other one will,” Driskell explained. “First and foremost, if your machine is not set up correctly, you’re not going to get a good product out of the machine. Setting the machine up is foremost important and you have to have the knowledge to set the machine up or someone with experience to show you how. The mix design and the slump of the concrete can make or break the project and give you a good job or not. The other important factor is your operator. If you have an experienced operator who knows about pouring wall, then things go pretty smoothly.”

Gerdan is used to working on bridges. In the company’s 13-year history, it has specialized in not only curb and gutter, but bridge parapet and median barrier. Slipforming on a suspension bridge, though, was a new experience for the company, one that it is more than willing to tackle again.

“Suspension bridges don’t require us to change how we approach the work that we do on them. It’s just interesting and amazing to listen to the facts associated with them and the engineering involved,” Driskell said. “One fact that I found interesting ... by the time the three inch concrete surface is poured over the precast panels and we slipform the two outside barriers and the median barrier on the bridge, the center of the cable span bridge will be two feet lower than before those concrete items were put on it.”

(This story appears courtesy of Gomaco World magazine.)