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New South Street Bridge in Philadelphia Under Way

Mon March 01, 2010 - Northeast Edition
Mary Reed

It was time to take action to replace an almost 90-year-old bridge spanning the Schuylkill Expressway (Interstate 76) in Philadelphia.

Not only was the South Street Bridge structurally deficient, but a six-ton weight limit was in operation, and in addition, the structure had been shedding chunks of concrete, including some that landed on the expressway.

These problems were exacerbated by extreme congestion, caused by carrying some 23,000 vehicles daily as well as numerous pedestrians. Approximately 1,000 bicyclists also used the bridge each day, according to the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia.

The bridge was closed on Dec. 8, 2008, and has now been demolished. The new span will be built on the same site, a crossing point since 1805 when the first bridge was built a half-mile from the current site. The original bridge at South Street was made largely of iron. Built to a drawbridge design, it opened in 1876. The demolished 1923 bridge also was originally constructed as a drawbridge, although it was ultimately converted to a single span structure.

As part of the necessary preparations for long-term traffic detours while the river crossing is unavailable for the two years needed to demolish the bridge and build its replacement, the city’s Streets Department upgraded 32 signalized intersections in the general area. These signals are interconnected with traffic cameras, so the timing of the signals can be changed as needed by remote means.

According to the Streets Department, replacing the bridge is the largest project it has undertaken.

Richard E. Pierson Construction Company Inc., headquartered in Pilesgrove, N.J., handled the demolition job. The company has a wide variety of experience in this field, including demolishing the Sands Casino in Atlantic City, N.J., and the Meridian Building in Philadelphia.

Pierson Construction began work on this project in December 2008, and with no problems encountered completed it in June 2009, ahead of schedule.

“The bridge was approximately 1,400 feet long with two spans over two SEPTA rail lines, a span under a CSX bridge, two spans over four Amtrak rail lines, two over I-76, three spans over the Schuylkill River, and one over four CSX rail lines. One of the spans over the river was a 100 foot decommissioned bascule span,” company project manager Fred Stuart recalled.

“We used a variety of Komatsu and Caterpillar excavators, including Komatsu PC400, PC300, PC200 and PW220 models and Caterpillar 315, 345 and a 245 and LaBounty hydraulic shears and NPK hydraulic impact hammers,” Stuart said. “The excavators and attachments are owned by the company. We also used a Manitowoc 12000 crane on Shugart sectional barges for our picks on the water, also owned by R. E. Pierson.

“We also rented several hydraulic cranes from Thackray Crane Rental in Philadelphia for our crane picks off the water. These cranes varied in size from an 80 ton Grove crane to a Liebherr LTM400.1,” he added.

Pierson personnel working on the job varied in number. At peak the company was fielding a 12-strong night shift and a day shift with six workers.

Pierson also engaged two subcontractors — Philadelphia’s Diamond Huntbach Construction Corporation, which handled removal of asbestos pipe from the bridge, and Atlantic Concrete Cutting Inc., headquartered in Mount Holly, N.J., which carried out saw-cutting for the job.

Funding for the project’s total cost of $67 million is split between federal (80 percent), state (15 percent), and city (5 percent) sources. The price tag for the demolition portion of the job was $4.5 million.

Construction of the new 11-pier span is under way. The new bridge will feature decorative lighting, pedestrian and bicycle paths, and overlooks from which the view of the city skyline can be admired.

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