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NYSDOT Project Enters Third, Final Phase

Thu April 20, 2023 - Northeast Edition #9
Irwin Rapoport – CEG Correspondent

Crews perform concrete placement for the Stage 4 bridge deck on westbound Bruckner Expressway.
(NYSDOT photo)
Crews perform concrete placement for the Stage 4 bridge deck on westbound Bruckner Expressway. (NYSDOT photo)
Crews perform concrete placement for the Stage 4 bridge deck on westbound Bruckner Expressway.
(NYSDOT photo) Workers perform rebar installation for the Stage 4 Bridge Deck on westbound Bruckner Expressway.
(NYSDOT photo)

El Sol/DeFoe Joint Venture began major operations in late February for the third and final phase of the New York State Department of Transportation's (NYSDOT) $1.7 billion Hunts Point Access Improvement Project, via a $446.6 million contract for the transformative project in South Bronx.

"This new phase includes the reconstruction of the Bruckner Expressway interchange with Sheridan Boulevard, the completion of the New Bryant Avenue Pedestrian Bridge and other improvements that will reduce congestion, enhance bicycle and pedestrian safety and provide easier access to the Hunts Point Terminal Market," according to NYSDOT. "The Phase Three contract, which keeps the overall project on schedule to be completed in the fall of 2025, is part of an unprecedented state investment to enhance infrastructure and connectivity in the South Bronx while also improving the quality of life for residents."

The Hunts Point project is providing direct access to the Hunts Point Terminal Market from both the Bruckner Expressway and the new Sheridan Boulevard once fully completed. The market is one of the largest wholesale food distribution centers in the world. More than 78,000 vehicles travel to the Hunts Point Peninsula daily, including 13,000 trucks using local roads, which has contributed to poor air quality in the community.

"Phase Three will remove a notorious bottleneck by reconstructing the Bruckner Expressway/Sheridan Boulevard interchange and relocating the entrance ramp to northbound Sheridan Boulevard from the left side of the highway to the right side," NYSDOT added. "The addition of a third lane in each direction of the Bruckner Expressway and the replacement of the Bryant Ave Pedestrian Bridge, both of which were started in earlier phases of the project, will also be completed. Additionally, the intersection of Hunts Point Avenue and Bruckner Boulevard will be reconstructed to improve pedestrian and bicyclist safety. New signing and pavement markings will also be installed to better direct auto, truck and pedestrian traffic within the Hunts Point Peninsula."

In addition, a new 117-spot parking lot with 24 EV charging stations, including four rapid charge spots to better accommodate electric vehicles, will be constructed under the Bruckner Expressway and should enhance air quality in the South Bronx.

Initial construction began on Dec. 20, 2022, with delivery expected in fall 2025.

Phase One, which achieved substantial completion this past October, provided new and improved access to Edgewater Road in the form of three new ramps: a two-way ramp to Edgewater Road from Sheridan Boulevard and a ramp from eastbound Bruckner Expressway to Edgewater Road. Edgewater Road also was resurfaced, and new traffic signals were installed at Seneca Avenue and Garrison Avenue.

The $459.7 million contract for Phase one was awarded to SEJV, with construction beginning on Nov. 11, 2019.

Through the work, Garrison Park was transformed with a new shared-use path, landscaping, viewing platforms overlooking the river and a formal entrance area with a signalized rail crossing and traffic signal, giving residents safer and more seamless access to the Bronx River. Also, a new shared-use path was constructed under the Bruckner Expressway to link the new Garrison Park with the existing Concrete Plant Park, with five security cameras installed along the new path to enhance safety for pedestrians and bicyclists while connecting to the Bronx River Greenway.

The Bronx River Avenue viaduct also was rehabilitated, and more than 15,000 sq. ft. of community "Bronx River Open Space" was created under the viaduct. The eastern span of the Bryant Avenue pedestrian bridge over Amtrak/CSX rail lines also was replaced, as well as four bridges that carry the Bruckner Expressway and Bruckner Boulevard over Amtrak/CSX rail lines.

Phase Two, which should be completed by end of this year, is being done by El Sol/DeFoe JV via a $518 million contract that had work begin on Feb. 22, 2021. This work, which should be completed by the end of 2023, is rehabilitating 1.25 mi. of the Bruckner Expressway between 141st Street and Barretto Street, widening the roadway and providing new entrance and exit ramps that connect westbound Bruckner Expressway to Leggett Avenue. The ramps provide a direct route between the highway network and the Hunts Point Peninsula, including the Hunts Point Food Distribution Center, reducing truck traffic on local streets.

A 1.75-mi. section of Bruckner Boulevard between Cypress Avenue and Barretto Street is being reconstructed, and 15 local intersections upgraded. Improvements include new or upgraded curbs, medians, sidewalks, crosswalks, and traffic signal improvements. A new, 1.5-mi. shared-use path will provide a connection to the 138th Street bike path heading to Randall's Island, Manhattan, and Bronx River Greenway. Three New York City Park islands are being improved — new trees are being planted, and a new decorative steel fence is being installed along Bruckner Boulevard.

"The Hunts Point Access Improvement Project is a significant game changer in the South Bronx by removing thousands of trucks off local streets that contribute to air pollution, the creation of new traffic signals for enhanced safety, new green spaces for our residents and families to enjoy, and by making pedestrian and cyclist safety a priority," said Bronx Borough President Vanessa L. Gibson.

The Hunts Point Terminal Market and other produce companies near the facility generate more than $2 billion in annual economic activity, with the Center, which employs more than 6,000 people, supplying up to 60 percent of the produce, meat and fish used by New York City residents and visitors.

"It attracts tens of thousands of vehicles per day," according to NYSDOT, "and prior to the completion of Phase One of the project, used local streets — particularly Westchester Avenue and Bruckner Boulevard — to go to and from the interstate highway. The highway redesign will enhance safety, take traffic off local roadways and significantly reduce both noise and truck idling, thereby mitigating air pollution in a borough with some of the highest asthma rates in the country."

The entire project is expected to create 22,000 direct and indirect jobs.

Phase One was designed by JMT; Phase Two by Greenman-Pedersen Inc.; and Phase Three by the Parsons Transportation Group.

"Contract 1 required removing existing and constructing new bridges over the very active railroad corridors of Amtrak and CSX," said Diane L. Park, public information officer, NYSDOT Region 11 (NYC). "The Design-Build Procurement method encouraged collaboration between design and construction experts to develop a solution, which simplified and expedited this complex construction while reducing project schedule and cost and maintaining a high degree of public safety. All new bridges are designed for a minimum of 75-year lifespan. The new structural pavements on the Bruckner Expressway and Sheridan are designed for a 50-year design life.

"The contractor used ultra-high-performance concrete to join precast bridge deck panels, extensive amounts of recycled concrete for backfill of embankments to reduce environmental impacts, polyester polymer concrete overlay to extend life of existing structures, lightweight cellular concrete for backfill to mitigate settlement and weathering steel for certain bridges and ramps," she added. "That forms a protective coating that negates the need for paint, helps safeguard the environment and reduces maintenance costs."

Traffic in NYC is busy most times of the day. To minimize the traffic impacts of Phases Two and Three, NYSDOT is using lane closures and detours.

"Stages were combined to reduce overall traffic impact during weekdays and teams worked double shifts to finish stage construction ahead of schedule to restore traffic on new roadway with temporary alignment, while finishing up all work," said Park. "The traffic and staging plan is working, and NYPD is providing traffic enforcement."

To ensure that equipment and materials can be brought in efficiently and when needed, "NYSDOT provides necessary lane closure and the NYPD highway patrol and NYPD provide escort service to bring large steel girders to the site. NYSDOT also provides dedicated access and laydown areas for the contractor which is important in tight urban areas."

El Sol/DeFoe Joint Venture is working on Phases Two and Three, which are adjacent to each other. The bulk of the work for Phase Two is essentially complete and Phase 3 operations began in earnest in late February.

In terms of the construction, Phase 2 was a more linear, straight-forward job, with the JV rehabilitating mainline viaduct — replacing the deck, bearings and pedestals and adding two 2,000-ft. long ramps on one side of it.

The viaduct, three lanes in each direction, is approximately 2.5 mi. long, with the JV dealing with 1.25 mi.

The complications were that the new ramps required brand new steel, and this coincided with the time of the COVID pandemic where steel fabricators were slowing down production and they didn't have enough workers. Phase 3 is much more complicated because the JV is shifting most of the freeway to different sections and locations. The highway itself splits into the Bruckner Expressway, which heads east-west, and then it goes into the Sheridan Expressway/Sheridan Blvd., that is north-south. Bruckner drops to two lanes in each direction at that point. The DOT is trying to make it three lanes to eliminate this tremendous bottleneck.

The JV has to take an old viaduct and remove it and shift the traffic somewhere, which will be a traffic logistical challenge. The plan is to keep all the highway lanes open while losing some lanes on the boulevard north and east.

Thus far, the JV has not encountered any hazardous material. In terms of utilities, there are watermain, sewer, Con Edison power lines and communications, including FDNY conduits and city lighting. Approximately 22 new foundations are being installed and it is essential that the utilities are relocated, with most of the relocations being taken on by the JV. Serious operations are taking place ahead of the relocations because the utilities are not in the work zone and crews have a few months to demolish a ramp and move the utilities.

The JV is operating in a tight work zone and concrete barriers are in place to protect the crews. The field offices are located in one of the yards.

Relations with NYSDOT are very good, especially as El Sol has done a lot of work for the state. For this project, NYC is involved via lane closure permits and city-owned utilities.

The concrete for the Bruckner viaduct was poured earlier in 2023 and the ramps opened last year.

Currently the JV is working on the boulevard doing sidewalks and curb and will then focus on the repaving.

Concrete was poured in the winter months. While not an ideal time, it was a warm winter. NYSDOT has a provision for winter concrete that requires contractors to keep the concrete above 45 F in order to cure. When cold streaks occur, Federal heaters are on hand to pump hot air up into the spaces underneath the curing concrete.

The viaduct work was done in four stages. The JV removed the concrete, jacked the superstructure steel beams up from the bearings and concrete pedestals, put in new pedestals, which are more modern, put the steel back on the bearings, formed up to the new concrete deck, put in the rebar and then placed the concrete. Through repetition, crews honed their methodology.

For the viaduct work, the JV used Cat 322 excavators with articulating slab grabbers, Block track-mounted hoe rams with pneumatic impact hammers and 40-ton cranes. Concrete paving machines also were used.

A fair amount of falsework was installed such as stay-in-place form to span from flange-to-flange of the stringers, and wood forms with overhang brackets on the edge of the viaduct and as side forms.

The JV had to build two new exit ramps (100 ft. wide) before it could demolish the old ones. This construction required lane closures.

For the 1.75 mi. Bruckner Boulevard, work is progressing. This work began with excavations for the new foundations for the new ramps and once they came out, the ramps were installed, followed by all the non-grade boulevard improvements.

The road carries a lot of traffic, with some sections having eight lanes and others 10.

Crews are removing and replacing 3 or 4 in. of asphalt. They did not dig up the whole road. The operations on the south side were easier. The north side was tougher due to active businesses and residences. The JV worked in concert with the businesses. By dividing this side into smaller sections, the work could be carried out quickly. The JV understood that taking away a mile of the street would cause serious parking problems.

Work on the viaduct and boulevard was done simultaneously. When crews were installing the foundations for the new ramps, they had to take a wide portion of the bottom to bring their equipment in.

The JV's engineering team and the public outreach team interacted with the public to keep everyone informed for the boulevard work. The plan of attack was based on upgrading each intersection ahead of the paving work, putting in new traffic signals and lighting, and then placing the new curb and sidewalk. This work is being done over two seasons, covering March to late November.

Equipment-wise, crews used a lot of articulating boom manlifts for the foundation work, which was done by Skanska Underpinning. For the mini-piles and H-piles as foundation elements, track-mounted pile drivers were utilized.

The JV's management team is working well, with a focus on successfully completing the job. The crews are putting in a solid effort.

Night work has been minimal. On the viaduct, this occurred for traffic switches and stage changes. For the boulevard, digging and the excavation of trenches was done at night.

Peak days for Phase Two have approximately 100 construction personnel on site and many subcontractors assisting in the work.

Phase 3 should have between 75 and 100 personnel, with the subcontractors being local and regional. The management team will have many new individuals for this phase.

The amounts of materials from demolition and excavation operations and new materials being brought in for Phase 2 have not been tabulated yet.

Materials from excavation and demolition operations are taken off site to recycling centers for processing.

El Sol has been working on construction in the NYC area for 40 years and DeFoe for 75 years and both companies maintain good relations with their dealerships, who appreciate the business.

For Phase 3, work is ramping up. The JV started Stage 1 work zone traffic control, basically putting up concrete barrier and cutting where crews are going to be demolishing the deck. Major demolition will begin soon. The plan is to sawcut the deck into manageable slab sizes and in this case, use track-mounted excavators with slab grabbers. Cat 320 and 330 excavators will be employed.

Work on the new Bryant Avenue pedestrian bridge will be done in the summers of 2023 and 2024. The bridge will consist of steel beams and a cast-in-place concrete deck.

Adding a third lane in each direction for the Bruckner Expressway won't be easy as the JV will be relocating the Sheridan Expressway ramps to the outbound sides of the corridor and locating the six lanes in the middle of them. In its present configuration, there is no room to add lanes.

The reconstruction of the intersection of Hunts Point Avenue and Bruckner Boulevard will start at a later date.

Phase 3 work also will be more complicated due to consideration for neighboring projects. The JV is cognizant of other ongoing and planned projects, particularly at Hunts Point Avenue where there is a subway, which will experience renovations around the entrances. The interchange work will happen in the middle of that project. CEG

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