The SCDOT Carolina Bays Parkway Extension Project is aiming for a late October/early November 2018 completion date after overcoming some delays.
Tropical Storm Joaquin (2015) and Hurricanes Matthew (2016) and Irene (2017) delayed the completion date of the South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT) and Horry County's $99 million S.C. Hwy. 31 (Carolina Bays Parkway) Extension to S.C./N.C. State Line Project by one year, but the project along the Intercoastal Waterway (ICW) will be delivered in late October/early November by Flatiron Construction.
The project, taking place in Myrtle Beach (Horry County), is seeing the construction of 4 mi. of new concrete roadway (9-in. uniform concrete over a graded aggregate base course, three lanes in each direction), two sets of twin bridges (60 ft. long), a three lane single-span bridge over S.C. 707 (150 ft. long), a two lane double-span bridge over S.C. 31 (220 ft. long), and a three lane in each direction main 3,600-ft. long bridge over the ICW.
This initiative, to improve traffic flow, is primarily funded by Horry County via the Horry County Ride II Program. The work started on March 18, 2014.
“It's basically a semi-circle around the south side of Myrtle Beach area,” said Claude Ipock, SCDOT's director of construction. “The road connects S.C. 544 to S.C. 707.”
“The completion of this critical infrastructure project will give our residents and visitors better access to the south end of the Grand Strand and take some of the traffic load off of the S.C. Highway 544 and U.S, 17 interchange,” said Kelly Moore, director of public information, Horry County.
The average daily traffic for the area is 20,000 vehicles according to 2010 statistics, with eight percent being trucks. The new infrastructure will be carrying 35,000 vehicles daily in 2030.
The impact of the storms is the primary cause of the delay.
“It was just high water and it stayed up for a while,” said Ipock. “And then they had the foundations and stuff with the bridge in close proximity to the ICW — low lying areas that were inaccessible. Progress has been good overall for the most part. It's a big job. Right now the focus is pouring the deck on the main spans of the bridge over the ICW and those pours are tremendous – 500 to 600 cubic yards.
“It's a significant structure and a lot of effort has gone into the design, planning and construction,” he added. “You've got muck and peat in this area and there are seismic concerns and so forth. So the geotechnical component can be substantial.”
The key to successful concrete pours is to avoid the rain and thunderstorms.
“They try to schedule their pours very early in the morning — around 3 a.m. and complete them prior to noon.”
Traffic has not posed a serious problem for the Flatiron crews as there are very few tie-ins (U.S. 17 and others) to the work zone, but there are some fairly tight restrictions between Memorial Day and Labor Day that can affect the work close to or adjacent to crossing routes.
The roads and bridges were designed by CECS, STV and Mead and Hunt.
“The original survey of the tie-ins on the project were around 6 inches off, so the contractor and designer had to work together to modify the project's tie-ins to fit the field conditions,” Kit Davis Scott, SCDOT's resident construction engineer, D5 Special Projects. “This project was built to all of the current standards and specifications.”
Communications between SCDOT and IDOT are solid, notes Ipock, which has helped resolve issues as they arise.
The work zone is in a highly sensitive area in terms of the environment — wetlands and threatened and endangered species such as the Shortnose and Atlantic sturgeons, along with precautions to minimize impacts.
“There is a sturgeon moratorium between January and April 1 and they have to maintain 50 percent of the channel during the month of January,” said Ipock. “There are environmental compliance folks that visit to make sure we're following all of the commitments that were made.”
SCDOT has several personnel attached to the project, including people from TranSystems, an extension of SCDOT that is responsible for project management, quality control sampling and inspection.
The construction is taking place at multiple sites, with crews putting in day and night shifts.
Over the month of August, Flatiron crews are doing deck pours on the Inter-coastal Waterway Bridge, along with concrete pavement sealing and installation of the parapet wall; bridge deck grinding and grooving on the S.C.-707 Bridge, as well as painting of the structural steel; anti-graffiti measure to be applied to the Inter-coastal Waterway Bridge; installation of median barrier walls on the roadway and Inter-coastal Waterway Bridge; overhead sign structure installation; the installing of guardrail and median cable barrier along roadway; and asphalt placement on S.C.-31 north of 544.
“We had our fair share of storms and hurricanes,” said Forrest Fischer, Flatiron's project manager. “When you work in the coastal areas of the Carolinas, you become a bit of a weather junkie and tend to track every storm and cloud out there. Even on a normal day, you can have a significant rainfall that can affect progress. The impacts of the hurricanes that affected us were not direct, but were more the lead up to or non-arrival of the storm. You see these things weeks in advance and as they get closer, government agencies issue warnings.
“A project like Carolina Bays is like the running of a train at full-speed, slowing, stopping or turning can be a real challenge,” he added. “For one storm, we took steps to curtail operations weeks in advance — waiting for it to develop and then, once it had passed, picked up the pieces and resumed. We draft plans in advance on how to respond to the weather. There were also impacts for our supply trains for materials such as cement and fly ash and for deliveries to be able to get around flooded areas.”
The storms also impacted the work of subcontractors, who were working on multiple jobs and had to reschedule and stretch resources to fulfill obligations for Fischer's project and others in the Carolinas.
SCDOT understands the weather issues affecting the work and schedule, stated Fischer.
“This project is just big — large quantities of materials and large elements,” he said. “From a technical standpoint, it's not perhaps the most challenging project, but it's the size and keeping it moving on a consistent and predictable basis is key. One of the largest technical challenges was the installation of the steel spans for the main bridge without impacting traffic. The ICW has very high volume traffic from paddle boards to multi-million dollar yachts.
“We were allowed eight-hour closures which were under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Coast Guard. We also employed Horry County police officers with their boats to hold back traffic as we erected beams. Our plan involved minimizing air-splices over water so that we wouldn't get stuck in a position where we had a fit-up or mechanical issue that could prevent us from allowing traffic to move. As it turned out, the over-water erection went very well and we were able to open traffic earlier than anticipated.”
Four 888 Series II Manitowoc cranes were employed to move the heavy girders from one side of the ICW to the other. Barges were used to bring steel assembly across the ICW to the crane on the opposite bank. A 100-kip temporary erection tower was utilized to hold the girders until permanent splices could be made.
“Then we had to choose our erection windows carefully,” said Fischer, “the plan called for making the permanent splices as quickly as possible in order to stabilize the structure — wind can be a big issue with the tall and slender girders before they are permanently braced.”
To build the bridge, crews had to erect a temporary trestle bridge (which did not span the river) to build the permanent bridge, which is located over regulated coastal wetlands. The trestle was needed to place the equipment to build the bridge.
“Because there was no direct access, side-to-side, anything that you wanted to bring to the other side would take 20 to 25 minutes,” said Fischer. “Maintenance of this trestle was therefore vital. For example, the wooden crane mats on the trestle although solid oak rotted away over time and had to be replaced due to the effects of the brackish water.”
The work site is vast and typical of many Flatiron projects in the Carolinas, and the goal is take advantage of opportunities to complete benchmarks in areas that are not always accessible. However, the large site for this project provides sufficient space for some elements and limited space for others, such as the main bridge.
“You end up doing a lot of space management exercises to efficiently utilize the work area available,” said Fischer, who noted that the delivery and storage of materials proved to be a challenge at times due to access issues.
Another challenge was securing skilled and qualified construction workers.
“Anywhere you go these days,” said Fischer, “just finding guys who have the skills to build a bridge is an issue. That being said, the effort of our crews has been phenomenal. Finding labor is tough about anywhere you go these days. In an area where you don't typically see a $100 million bridge job come very often, a lot of the labor force goes elsewhere. The guys we have are highly skilled and the quality of the job is very good. It's a shame we don't have more of these guys for this and other projects. We also have an outstanding group of supervisors at the foremen level.”
Fischer arrived on project two years into the work and praised the planning and scheduling team's efforts under difficult circumstances. One such situation is the planning for the concrete pours for the bridge deck.
“We have to complete five separate 600-yard deck pours, each roughly the size of three tennis courts to finish the steel spans,” he said, “which is difficult, but is something we've done successfully in the past and we have been able to reduce the number of pours that will be needed and speed up the work.”
The management team includes: Craig Chute, construction manager; Ken McGrath, project engineer; Jeremiah Beiter, structures engineer; Ryan Martel, field engineer; Robbie Higgins, field engineer; Billy Gardner, bridge superintendent; Leo Oliveros, bridge superintendent; Anthony Washington, bridge superintendent; John Hogrefe, superintendent; and Ollie Taylor, safety manager.
The work on the smaller bridges has been largely completed, and those efforts were fairly straight-forward. One bridge required Enterprise Road to be closed in order to construct a new bridge in a tight window.
After the deck is poured for the main bridge, the next step is to paint it.
“We're at the mercy of weather right now,” said Fischer.
The majority of the road work, which took place on green fields, was completed last spring. There were no major challenges, save for the weather and serious rains in 2015.
Peak days had 125 construction workers on site and with the working winding up, there are around 85 people (about 60 from Flatiron). The main subcontractors are R.E. Goodson Construction for grading and drainage, Tampa Tank for structural steel fabrication, National Erectors for rebar installation, Hi-Way Paving for concrete paving, A.H. Beck Foundation Co. Inc. for drilled shafts and Cape Romain Construction for the building of four of the smaller bridge structures.
Many of the subcontractors have worked with Flatiron for many years and are involved in many of the company's projects.
“We've got a relationship with virtually all of them,” said Fischer, “and it is often an internal scheduling function between projects to manage the subcontractor resources. We have a pretty tight three-week schedule that we distribute to the subcontractors that keeps them abreast of what's going on a week-to-week basis and the coming weeks.”
To prepare the site, crews removed 1.3 million cu. yd. of earth work; 16,000 tons of asphalt pavement; and 240,000 sq. yd. of Portland cement concrete pavement. New materials include: 25,000 cu. yd. of structural concrete; 95,000 tons of aggregate base; 108 EA columns; 27 EA Bent Caps; 2,900 linear ft. of access trestle; 10 million lb. of rebar; 288 EA 72 in. bulb tee girders; and 6 million lb. of structural steel.
R.E. Goodson, the subcontractor who did the earth work, used a lot of Cat equipment, which was purchased from Blanchard Equipment.
“We have a mixture of in-house mechanics and third party ones, on a part-time basis,” said Fischer. “We don't have all that much going on right now — just odds and ends, but just like finding skilled tradesmen these days, finding good quality mechanics is tough and fortunately the mechanics we have working here are great.”
He also praised the efforts of the mechanics to ensure that the cranes were maintained and fully operational during the steel beam erection during the 2017 Christmas holiday period, which was affected by cold weather and an ice storm.
In the Southeast Region, Flatiron purchases and rents equipment from dealerships such as ALL Carolina Crane Rental LLC, which supplied two of the Manitowoc cranes, and Flint Equipment in Conway, S.C.
“ALL Carolina Crane Rental has been a good partner and we work with them all over the Carolinas,” said Fischer. “Flint Equipment has supplied us with a mechanic on a part-time basis. We also like to deal with local non-national brand name outfits that take care of us — these are some of the best relationships we have when working in local areas.”
With the end in sight, Fischer is looking forward to delivering the new infrastructure.
“A lot of our employees have been with us for many projects, and we're fortunate to have them and a corps of foremen and supervisors,” he said. “The Southeast Division has grown, and we have projects all over the place. Our guys on this job have shown a dedication to stick with it despite all the issues we've encountered. It's not a real challenge to keep morale up when you're working with such high-quality people.”
In terms of lessons learned, Fischer stressed the need to “plan aggressively, build off success when it occurs, stay focused on positive outcomes and not let the team dwell on 'what ifs' any more then you necessarily have to.”
(This story also can be found on Construction Equipment Guide's website at www.constructionequipmentguide.com.) CEG