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Old Brightman Street Bridge Yields to Largest Bascule Span on East Coast

Mon June 22, 2009 - Northeast Edition
Jay Adams

In just four years, the city of Fall River and the town of Somerset will be joined by the largest bascule span on the East Coast.

Cianbro/Middlesex, a joint venture, is constructing the enormous approach span and bascule span superstructure, concrete piers, control house, abutment and retaining walls, and electrical and mechanical equipment for the operation and control of the bascule spans for the Brightman Street Bridge replacement.

The largest MassHighway project in the state, the estimated $312 million work is in the city of Fall River and the town of Somerset, in Bristol County, Mass. It will be completed by the end of 2012.

The Brightman Street Bridge replacement project will see a 922-ft. (281 m) vehicle and pedestrian crossing built over the Taunton River between Somerset and Fall River (U.S. Route 36/state Route 138). The bridge replaces an ancient steel bridge built in 1908, which would be cost prohibitive to repair.

According to Cianbro engineers, the new bridge is a two-leaf bascule design on two main piers with a drawbridge that creates a 200-ft. (61 m) shipping channel with a 60-ft. (18.3 m) clearance. The bridge will be owned and operated by MassHighway. While the bridge does not have an official name, the local Portuguese community has suggested ’Miguel Corte-Real Bridge’ after the Portuguese explorer who discovered the area in the 16th Century.

Cianbro’s Project Manager Kaven Philbrook has spent many months set up on site, getting to know neighbors to the project and addressing their concerns at public meetings. Cianbro has even joined the local Chamber of Commerce to show, as Philbrook said, “That we want to be good neighbors.”

Cianbro/Middlesex JV has come together on what is, essentially, the third phase of a two-decade project. Cianbro/Middlesex is responsible for what will be $186 million (approximately 60 percent) of the total $312 million cost.

Benefits of Joint Venture

Philbrook said there are many benefits to working jointly with Middlesex, taking over this last phase of what has been an enormous undertaking.

“It’s a huge advantage to be in this joint venture. The main advantage is that we can combine each company’s resources, equipment and knowledge of the area and specialties,” said Philbrook. “The different strengths of the two organizations are a very good marriage for this project.”

Cianbro and Middlesex are a 50/50 joint venture and its work covers the steel erection, concrete, pile driving and bascule span piers mechanical structures, excavation, dirt work and the land-based roadway and structures with blended overhead.

“The project is run by the joint venture project manager who communicates with his team through weekly scheduling and coordination meetings. These meetings include superintendents and engineers representing major activities of the project,” said Philbrook. “We have subs [subcontractors] for reinforcing steel [rebar tying], electrical installation of roadway lighting and miscellaneous formwork and concrete placement. We have had subs installing drilled foundations as well as a directional drilling, sub-installing excavation support.”

The west side of the columns will be erected first and then workers and river craft will move across to the east.

“During the winter season, there are approximately 50 craft and in the summer, approximately 130 craft,” added Philbrook. “Generally, the winter season crews work five, eight-hour days and the summer crews range from 40 to 48 hours per week.”

Project Manager Philbrook’s last project was the Penobscot Narrows Bridge in Maine, an estimated $86 million job. “This project ranks high on the list of large projects for Cianbro,” he added. “Both companies have done several similar moveable bridge projects.”

When finished in 2012, the bridge will include 5,025 yds. (4,595 m) of retaining walls, 470 tons (426 t) of steel H-piles, 15 million lbs. (6.8 million kg) of steel, 1,785 sq. yds. (1,492 sq m) of abutment wing walls, 24,000 cu. yds. (18,349 cu m) of concrete, 125,000 cu. yds. (95,569 cu m) of excavation and 2 mi. (3.2 km) of road, with heavily traveled Route 6 re-routed over the bridge, and new ramps from Route 79 and Route 138 on the Fall River and Somerset sides.

Two Decades

Brightman Street Bridge has been a challenge from the beginning.

Going back to 1989, the U.S. Coast Guard first objected to the girth of the proposed bridge opening, which served to delay the plans for a decade, with construction finally beginning in 1999.

Further delays were imposed because funding originally earmarked for Brightman was re-channeled to the grossly over-budget “Big Dig” project in downtown Boston.

The project restarted but was soon delayed again due to reports of poor quality concrete in the piling, which required testing. Construction began again by the Southeastern Regional Planning & Economic Development District and MassHighway in May 2007. Completion is now expected in Autumn 2012.

Kenney Development has carried out the development of the bridge in three phases. Phase two construction contractor was Jay Cashman Inc. Phase two work consisted of the construction of reinforced concrete piers — which locals have seen sitting in the river like giant sculptures for years — abutments and pier protection structures.

The work has included construction work, installing turbidity screens, steel sheeting and pier protection structures, structural and cofferdam excavation.

Specific projects included reinforcing concrete abutments and piers on land and water, steel sheeting for 11 cellular cofferdams, steel H-piles, 14 temporary deepwater cofferdams, cofferdam and structural excavation, installing 36-in. (91.4 cm) diameter pipe piles and mechanically stabilizing surrounding earth walls.

Safety First

The Phase III/Completion phase by Cianbro/Middlesex began in July 2008. Philbrook said that safety is his top priority, above all other considerations.

“The number one goal is to be recognized as the safest project in the United States,” said Philbrook. “With this being a marine project, it makes it a logistical and environmental challenge from the start. Cianbro has extensive experience with marine construction, which combats the challenge to an achievable goal. This structure, when complete, will be the largest bascule span on the east coast.

“The most difficult aspect of any project is managing safety while remaining productive. On a job this size, we are often doing repetitive tasks, which can lead to complacency,” he said. “In order to maintain awareness, the crews are involved in daily activity planning, risk behavior assessment and are required to be OSHA trained and receive daily briefings from superintendents on the day’s activities and safety topics.”

Being Good Neighbors

“We have reached out to the community to inform them of what will happen and how it can affect them,” said Philbrook. “We are members of the local Chamber of Commerce and have had meetings with the communities to understand what issues they have and try to address them in a timely fashion. We want to be known as good neighbors.”

Philbrook has met with the surrounding public in several hearings and meetings, assuring them that the company would monitor vibrations and noise that will inevitably reach abutters near Route 79, especially in an area around Fulton Street, which includes high-rise senior housing, apartments, condominiums and many homes and mill buildings.

When the Brightman Street Bridge is finished, there will be a much smoother traffic flow for the surrounding area and less bridge openings for watercraft on the river, resulting in fewer traffic stoppages. CEG

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