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New Bridge to Keep Trains, Cars on the Move — Separately

Fri March 18, 2011 - Southeast Edition
Peter Hildebrandt

Trains can be fun and rather interesting to watch, regardless of the plot of the recent movie Unstoppable. But though they usually coexist peacefully, trains and vehicles can often make for patience-stretching delays and the ever-lurking possibility of tragic accidents. The makeover one Chatham County, Ga., road is getting will eventually bypass the issue of trains and cars having to deal with each other by separating the two means of transport with a new bridge.

Work started on SR 307, which crosses an area railroad grade, on Aug. 10, 2010. The project is slated to be completed by March 31, 2012.

The prime contractor on the job is Sunbelt Structures Inc. This is the first project in Savannah for Sunbelt. Sunbelt started out in 1985 as a bridge and concrete culvert subcontractor, and has grown into a multi-dimensional contracting company that has completed hundreds of projects over the years. It does engineering and design, construction management and overall project development. It focuses on state, county and local government bridge and roadway construction. With its headquarters in Tucker, Ga., most of its work is conducted in North Georgia. Craig Weatherly is the senior project manager on this job.

The project involves only .855 mi. (1.4 km) of construction and includes the erection of a bridge and approaches on SR 307, also known as Bourne Avenue, over the Norfolk Southern Railroad Line. The boundary of the project begins west of the Norfolk Southern RR and extends to U.S. Highway 17 and SR 25. Work on this job also includes construction of a detour Road on SR 307 and an intersection improvement project to provide two through lanes, left and right turn lanes on SR 307 at the intersection with SR 25 entering and exiting the Georgia Ports Authority.

Work is currently on schedule, according to Craig Solomon, communications officer of the Georgia Department of Transportation?(GDOT). As of the last week in February 2011, the project was in the beginning of stage one, utility relocation work and detour road construction. Also involved on the project from the GDOT are Construction Project Manager Oscar Carlers, GDOT Area Engineer, Troy Pittman (Savannah area office) and GDOT Area Engineer George Slade Cole (Savannah area office).

This project is for the construction of a bridge and approaches to carry SR 307 traffic over both the existing Norfolk Southern Railroad Line and the proposed Intermodal Facility railroad tracks which will eventually be present in the area.

SR 307 currently has an at-grade crossing with the Norfolk Southern Foundation Lead track. The Georgia Ports Authority (GPA) has plans to install up to 12 working tracks and eight storage tracks at the James D. Mason Intermodal Container Transfer Facility (ICTF). Additionally, a connection from the working tracks and storage tracks on the south end of the ICTF is necessary for train movements into and out of the facility.

These connection tracks will eventually lead to 14 total tracks that will lie across the present location of SR 307. The grade separation will provide a much safer and more efficient movement of vehicles. The grade separation of SR 307 from the rail traffic was identified in the Chatham County Intermodal Freight Study.

There is nothing that will be affected or disrupted, from an archeological or historical standpoint from this work, according to Solomon.

“But perhaps this project’s greatest challenge involves the relocating of Georgia Power transmission lines outside of the peak power season and reconstructing the intersection of State Road 307 and State Road 25,” explained Solomon.

“This will also be taking place while maintaining truck traffic into and out of the GPA’s main gate. That, in addition to the fact that Atlanta Gas Light will be relocating a gas line in the area, means everyone will have to be on their toes and be aware of the latest information and updates. What makes it unique too is the use of an on-site detour to maintain the existing four lanes of traffic.”

GDOT currently has three personnel on the site, but more will be assigned when work on the project increases, according to Solomon. Sunbelt also has crews and subcontractors on this job that vary in size.

The length of the covered distance is approximately 4,514 ft. (1,375 m). The part of the project involved with the bridge work amounts to 1,000 ft. (304 m). On the materials side, 20,000 sq. yds. (16,722 sq m) of Plain PC Concrete will be placed at a depth of 12 in. (30.5 cm) in thickness. The reason for the substantial thickness is that once completed, heavy trucks and cargo will once again travel this route.

The following equipment is being used on the job: an Altec 38TN boom truck; Cat D4G dozer; Cat D6KLGP Bulldozer; Cat 325D excavator; John Deere 310SG rubber tire back hoe ; 2002 Southway crane lift; and a Komatsu 200LC loader.

One of the other major contractors involved with this project is Burman Communication Tech LLC, Stockbridge, Ga. It will design and assemble the traffic signals to be installed at SR 25. Burman is a signal installing contractor that does much of the traffic signal work for the entire state of Georgia. In the years they’ve been in business, since 1998, they’ve installed quite a few signals all around the state, according to owner Emory Burman III. Just because they are in effect putting the finishing — albeit very important — touches on this project, does not mean they are not involved in planning throughout the job.

“It goes back and forth; we have to be involved all the way because if there is something that changes, of course then it impacts the intersection as a whole and of course we have to make sure we understand what’s going on,” explained Burman. “This includes what the engineer has designed with the poles at the intersection itself.”

Burman is certified by the state of Georgia to install traffic safety signal equipment. “We’re small but we hold our own,” said Burman. “We’ve had quite a few contracts here in Georgia.”

As with other similar projects, there will be a traffic light set up before the bridge is accessed. “Usually there will be a signal before and after the bridge as it goes over the railroad tracks, not one directly on the bridge. Usually there is a street that comes into that bridge at the base of the bridge on one side or the other. A lot of times they will set that up so that if it isn’t in this plan, maybe it will be in future plans to save the taxpayers money so they will go ahead and get it done now so that it doesn’t seem like an afterthought later on,” said Burman.

Once the traffic light is installed, it’s good for several years, according to Burman. “So once it’s in they don’t have to worry about the price changing, as things usually go up. It helps the taxpayer out; believe it or not, government engineers do try to think about the future and costs going up.

“I can personally testify to the value of such railroad bridges as the one in this project. We have a bridge here in Stockbridge, Georgia, which was constructed because of the fact that an ambulance containing a patient who was having a heart attack, was stopped by a train and the patient died before the hospital could be reached.

“We get questioned during the course of work as to why the construction is there and what the purpose is, due to frustration with traffic. I try to explain that though they have a little difficulty now, this bridge will save people’s lives. As towns grow and populations grow, you just never know when an ambulance or other emergency vehicle is going to have trouble getting through.”

P.T. Construction Inc. of Savannah has taken on the work of hauling the earth that will be moved and added during the course of construction. Triad Supplies & Services Inc., Pembroke, Ga., will be involved with supplying the needed materials involved in erosion control on this site.

When the project is finished, motorists on SR 307 will be happy to view the passing trains below them as they’re driving, instead of waiting for them to go by — or they may take all this recent work in their midst completely for granted. In any case Georgia DOT will be making it easier for motorists and trains to reach their final destination as they travel SR 307. CEG

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