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New Eastbound Bridges for I-290 in Tonawanda

I-290 currently serves a combination of commuter and truck traffic, and the section in the vicinity of the project carries between 35,000 to 45,000 motorists on a daily basis.

Tue September 08, 2015 - Northeast Edition
Irwin Rapoport

Crews from the Union Concrete and Construction Corp. are halfway through a $14.5 million project that is replacing four bridges (three lanes per-bridge) in the western New York of town of Tonawanda on Interstate 290 eastbound and westbound over Military Road (NY Route 265) and Delaware Avenue (NY Route 384) at Exit 1A and Exit 1B.

The New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) project in Erie County, which has received some federal funding, also will see a portion of Interstate 290 between the CSX Railroad and Military Road be reconstructed.

The goals of the project are, according to the DOT Web site, are: “Eliminate the structural deficiencies of the Interstate 290 bridges over Delaware and Military, using a cost effective treatment and ensure an adequate structural condition for at least 30 years; develop a project based on design year traffic forecasts and current design standards, which provides adequate capacity of the 75-year design life of the structures; and restore the pavement segment of Interstate 290 to good condition using cost effective pavement treatments which provide a service life of 15 years.”

I-290 currently serves a combination of commuter and truck traffic, and the section in the vicinity of the project carries between 35,000 to 45,000 motorists on a daily basis. The interstate was built between 1962 and 1965 and was originally called the Powerline Expressway due to its location adjacent to high voltage power lines delivering electricity from the Niagara Power Project in Niagara Falls and the Huntley Station Power Plant located along the Niagara River.

The I-290 bridges over Military Road were most likely built in during the 1964 and 1965 constructions seasons, said Brett Remick, NYSDOT’s engineer in charge for the project.

“The bridges had a significant number of deficient elements,” he said, “including: beginning and ending abutment, bearings, fascias, guide railing, primary beams, pier joints, pier bearings, pier pedestals and pier cap beam. While determining the load rating for the bridges using the current standards, the bridges were found to be below the acceptable threshold. There were a number of non-standard features, which needed to be retrofitted to the current structures — most notable the left and right shoulder width and bridge guide railing. Since the cost of repairing all the deficiencies and eliminating the non-standard features was more than 80 percent of the replacement costs, it was determined that it was more economically feasible to replace the structures.”

The bridges over Delaware Avenue were built at the same time and had a significant number of deficient elements including beginning and ending abutment, abutment bearings, pedestals, backwall, stemwall, fascias, guide railing and pier bearings.

“The bridges over Delaware Ave were built using an obsolete design method called a Pin & Hanger assembly,” said Remick. “This method was used in the 1960s to move the bridge deck joint from being directly over the pier to a short distance away. This prevented the concrete pier from being constantly washed with salt water [through the deck joint] during the winter months, thus extending the lifespan of the pier.

“However, over time, a flaw was found in the design where the entire center span of the bridge could fail and fall onto the roadway below,” he added. “Once this was discovered, the bridge was retrofitted with special plates that would prevent this unlikely event. Correcting this deficiency would require removing the deck and replacing the beams.”

The bridges over Military (before construction) had an average of approximately 75,000 vehicles per day and the bridges over Delaware (before construction) had an average of approximately 95,000 vehicles per day.

A single-span bridge with integral abutments was selected for the I-290 over Military Road primarily because it was the most economical design for that location.

“A single span was considered for the I-290 over Delaware,” said Remick, “however, it was eliminated as an alternative because of the height requirements over Delaware Ave. A single-span bridge would need larger beams to span the larger gap — therefore either the entire I-290 in the area of the bridges, including the ramps, would need to be reconstructed and raised to meet the height requirement or Delaware Avenue would need to be reconstructed and lowered, which would include an expensive mechanical pump station for drainage. Therefore, the most feasible cost-effective alternative was a three-span bridge similar to the style of the existing bridges.

There were no environmental concerns aside from eliminating or preventing the spread of invasive species since the site was all pre-disturbed.

“A State Pollutant Discharge Elimination System [SPDES] permit was obtained,” said Remick, “and proper mitigation enhancements were included in the project in the form of a small pond near the J Ramp.”

He also stressed that pre-planning was imperative for this project.

“Initially the replacement of I-290 over Military and the replacement of Delaware Ave were two separate projects separated by just a few years in the Regional Capital Program,” he said. “Our engineers recognized the need to combine these projects to reduce the impacts to traffic, as well as recognize the cost savings for the shared Work Zone Traffic Control [WZTC].

“The largest challenge faced during the development of this project was the schedule,” he added. “The Delaware Ave. bridges were added to the Military Road bridge project after the Military Road bridges had been under development for 2 and a half years, but the same let date was desired, which meant that there was less than a year to obtain design approval and design the bridges over Delaware Ave.

Minimizing the impact on traffic was crucial to the DOT.

“First, we imposed conditions on ourselves to maintain a minimum of at least two lanes of traffic in each direction and it must be done safely,” said Remick. “Secondly, we imposed conditions on the contractor, such that if the contractor took longer than expected constructing the bridges there would be penalties. On the other hand, if the contractor exceeded our expectations and took less time there are incentives in the contract. We also have a dedicated tow truck during rush hours

“There were significant utilities that run along the east side of Military Road [gas, electric, phone and TV] that needed to be relocated for the new bridge,” he added, “as well as electric [west side of Delaware Ave] and water on the east side of Delaware Ave.”

The NYSDOT appreciates quality work.

“It is always important on these high-profile interstate projects of this magnitude to have a high-quality contractor such as Union Concrete,” said Remick.

Ron Rickettson, Union’s project manager, had his crews arrive on the site in fall 2014.

“We began by constructing temporary bridges over Military and Delaware so that we could shift traffic onto them,” he said. “We’re building the eastbound bridges this year and will start on the westbound ones next year. This plan was chosen so that we replace the bridges in one phase and avoid phase construction. It will be the same thing next year for the westbound bridges.

“We had to narrow traffic down to two lanes during this season’s construction,” he added, noting that temporary bridges have only one lane. “The original plan called for building the bridges in two phases and we proposed temporary bridges so that we could do everything in one phase and eliminate that construction joint. The DOT liked the idea of not having the construction going down the center of the bridge. This benefits the traveling public, ongoing maintenance of the bridges, and the construction — it’s a win-win for everybody.”

Putting up the temporary bridges was not easy — done by Union, which required serious engineering planning by firm’s staff.

“It was quite a feat to get traffic switched over,” said Rickettson, “but it all came together well and traffic is now moving well even though they are restricted to two lanes in each direction. This has resulted in less confusion for motorists because there would have been several traffic switches that they would have had to get used to instead of just one for each season.

“We used steel girders that were employed in past temporary bridges that we put up,” he said. “We modified them to fit this situation and then we brought in a wooden crane mat to put the deck on, which were then paved with blacktop asphalt. It’s holding together very well.”

Rickettson is working with Remick to help minimize traffic and ensure that work meets all the specifications.

“It’s been a close relationship trying to make everything work,” said Rickettson.

So far both eastbound bridges have been demolished, and the substructure for the new Delaware bridge has been poured. The new girders were being installed as of press time. For the Military bridge, crews are still poring the substructure that will allow the steel erection to proceed in mid-July. The new eastbound bridges will be opened to traffic by the end of the year.

“The construction is going very well at this point,” said Rickettson. “The traffic is better than I expected. The I-290 is a busy road and we expected a lot of congestion. Once in a while, during rush hours, it may get congested. Safety is very important for all concerned and we have about 1.5 miles of concrete barriers.”

The Delaware bridges are 200 ft. (60.1 m) long and the Military bridges are 100 ft. (30.5 m) long.

The demolished bridges yielded 500 cu. yds. (382.3 cu m) of concrete and 280 tons (254 t) of steel.

“We crush our concrete,” said Rickettson, “so it all went to our facility for processing, which is not far from here, and we re-used other materials wherever possible.”

The concrete and other materials were moved from the site in 10-wheel trucks and slab trailers.

Each bridge only took two weeks to demolish.

“We used [Komatsu] PC 38 excavators with hoe rams to demolish the decks, with a catch truck underneath to catch the debris,” said Rickettson. “It was the same thing for the substructure. We maintained one lane of traffic on each direction of the Delaware and Military bridges during the demolition. We also employed a variety of debris nettings between the traffic and the deck, as well as hanging a curtain between the demolition and traffic.

“The experience with the eastbound bridges has prepared us for the westbound bridge demolition,” he added. “The second stage is always a little easier because everyone knows what to expect and what is coming up.”

The new eastbound bridges consist of 1,600 cu. yds. (1,223.3 cu m) of concrete and 212,000 tons (192,323 t) of steel. The westbound bridges will require a similar amount of materials.

“The concrete we’re using is produced 30 minutes from the job site, as is our main shop,” said Rickettson, “so we’ve had no problems in terms of materials and bringing in equipment. We’ve been able to establish a fairly large yard area where we can stockpile materials — aggregate, and steel, and have a laydown area right on-site. This is helping with our organization of the work.”

The subcontractors for this project include: G & J Contracting Inc. for rebar, Contour Erectors for steel erection, Ferraro Pile and Shoring Inc. for piling, and the Pavilion Drainage Supply Co. for railing. On a daily basis there are between 15 and 18 Union people on site, along with four or five subcontractor personnel.

Much of the utility relocation was done prior to Union crews arriving on-site, including the local gas company.

“We had some conduits to put in to move some of the electric and telephone lines,” said Rickettson, “and we also did a waterline relocation in 2014.”

For the most part, the work is done via single day shifts, but some night shifts will be required for the steel erection on Military and when traffic will be switched onto the new bridge.

The major challenge for the project was bridging the gap between the original contract plan and the new plan, but with the experience being gained this season, it is not expected to pose a problem in the 2016 work phase.

When needed, technicians are sent to the site to effect immediate repairs and to do routine maintenance. Union runs two technician shifts at the main shop.

“So if we have a breakdown,” said Rickettson, “mechanics from the night shift can come out and repair equipment. During the day shift we can get a mechanic when needed. The operators check the equipment daily before starting their shifts and fill out a form.”

For this project and the Gateway project at the Peace River Bridge, Union purchased a 60-ton (54 t) crawler hydraulic crane and a 50-ton (45 t) all-terrain crane.

Union has a lot of experienced staff on this project.

“All of our supervision is over 50 years old and they have been involved in many road and bridge projects,” said Rickettson. “We brought in one carpenter and we’re looking for another trainee to be on the job. While there is room for training, we’re making good use of our existing workforce.”

Having had an opportunity to study the original construction of the bridges, Rickettson said that the work “was pretty good. It’s pretty much the same techniques we’re using today. I can see how they formed their concrete and decks. The concrete may be different — we’re more updated mixes. They used an epoxy rebar instead of plain rebar that may hold up longer and they used a high performance concrete for the decks that should have held up longer, but other then that, it’s essentially the same construction.”

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