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One Down, 30 to Go With MoDot River Bridge Projects

Mon July 26, 2010 - Midwest Edition
Kathie Sutin

The Missouri Dept. of Transportation cut the ribbon last month on the first milestone in the construction of a new $670 million Mississippi River Bridge at St. Louis. The Madison Avenue Bridge across I-70 came in ahead of schedule and under budget, officials said. Fred Weber Inc., of Maryland Heights, Mo., is the contractor.

But while celebrating the completion of the first of 31 projects that make up the overall river bridge project, MoDOT officials expressed concern over delays caused by the river’s high stages.

Work in the water has been stopped and won’t be resumed until the river is down, which isn’t expected until almost the middle of July, Greg Horn, MoDOT’s project director for the bridge, said. “Unfortunately the river is up and it’s supposed to be up for another two weeks. We are unable to be out in the river which is a critical path item so that’s kind of hurting us.

“The job (the overall new Mississippi River Bridge) is actually going very well—when we’re able to work. We’re very comfortable with our contractor. They really know what they’re doing—if they could only get out there. It’s very frustrating.”

The contractor Horn was referring to is the contractor for the main span of the Mississippi River Bridge—MTA, a joint venture between Massman Construction, Traylor Brothers and Alberici Constructors.

But Horn had cheerier words about the Madison Avenue project, which he said went very well.

“Right now we’re ahead of schedule,” he said of the project that includes removal and reconstruction of the Madison Avenue and St. Louis Avenue bridges and razing of the Cass Avenue Bridge.

“We’re a quarter of a million dollars under budget thanks to the innovative ideas from Fred Weber (the contractor) and our MoDOT team,” he said.

Those ideas included using value engineering concepts, Randy Hitt, MoDOT Deputy Project Director, said. For example, some existing abutments were used instead of removing and replacing them, and some barrier walls and redundant traffic control items were eliminated, he said.

Care was also taken to move some utilities in a way that crews wouldn’t have to move others and efforts were made to save on form work, Hitt said.

In addition, the team routed detours shorter distances to save money, scheduled work detours could be minimized and used “practical design” to identify things that could be eliminated and still reach the goal of getting traffic across the bridge safely. “It was like, ’It would be nice if we had tons of money, but. . .”

Instead, during weekly partnership meetings, the team looked for “different opportunities to save money,” he added.

“It was really a combination of many small things that add up,” he said.

The project is also exceeding the federal minority work force goals and the disadvantaged business goals on the project, Horn said.

The bridge, like others replaced by MoDOT in the last several years, has a wrought iron fence that runs along it, decorative lights and sidewalks.

“When I talk about the river bridge project, most people think about the cable stay bridge over the river but they don’t realize that there are 30 other projects that have to happen” for successful completion of the river bridge project, he said at the ribbon-cutting. “This is the first one.”

MoDOT awarded a $4.4 million contract to Fred Weber Inc. in 2009 for razing the three bridges and rebuilding two of them.

As officials cut the ribbon allowing traffic to use the Madison Avenue bridge, crews were preparing to take the down the St. Louis Avenue Bridge and begin reconstructing it. The Cass Avenue Bridge was razed when the Madison Avenue Bridge came down in February. MoDOT will seek bids to rebuild the bridge in the fall.

“People asked why we didn’t do both at the same weekend,” Horn said. “We said we would not close both of these bridges at the same time so (motorists) could have local access.” MoDOT required the contractor to complete one bridge before they could close down the other, he said.

Horn thanked the driving public and area businesses and churches “who have been very patient as we had this bridge closed and worked with us on the detours.” The area on the south side of the bridge is largely residential and largely commercial on the north side.

Bob Burns, field representative for U. S. Senator Clare McCaskill at the ribbon cutting, commended Fred Weber Inc. for the company’s work.

“I’ve known them for a long period of time,” and the company has “always been known as ’ahead of schedule and under budget,’” he said. “This bridge is proof of that.”

Burns made his comments as cars and trucks sped by loudly under the bridge. The roar of passing traffic made hearing difficult but he called the noise “indications that commerce is going on,” He added: “That’s a wonderful thing.”

The newly completed bridge will “open the road” so first responders, police and firemen can get around easier to serve “the greater good,” Burns said. “Whenever you see. . .MoDOT working, it’s going to make it better for everybody.”

Missouri State Senator Robin Wright Jones echoed Burns’ comments.

“This bridge is an asset to the neighborhood,” she said. “It adds to the ambience of the neighborhood. It’s good for transportation and progress. It’s also good to know we’ve exceeded our minority and business enterprise goals on this particular project, and I look forward to continuing that effort as we move on with the other things.”

Wright also commended Weber and MoDOT for their cost-saving efforts. “Considering the economic situation that the state is facing, it’s very good to have those who are working trying to preserve what dollars we have for future projects,” she said.

Helen Yane, administrative assistant to St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, said the bridge had been targeted for reconstruction for years but that it wasn’t until the Mississippi River Bridge project was scheduled.

Yane thanked MoDOT for finishing the bridge “without delay and too much disruption.” The project, which can accommodate foot and bike traffic, fits in well with Slay’s “Open Streets” program, she said. According to the city’s website, the program “provides more space for healthy recreation, encourages St. Louisans to use more sustainable forms of transportation, and complements the city’s greening initiatives.”

The bridge has a familiar look to it—it incorporates aesthetic elements motorists see on bridges MoDOT has replaced over St. Louis’ interstates in recent years.

“It’s kind of our new standard,” Horn said. “The look of the bridge is probably a lot nicer because over the years we’ve changed getting the concrete steel up there to make them look more aesthetically pleasing with the wrought iron fences and decorative lighting.”

The features giving the bridges a uniform look are low cost, Horn said. “Our first goal is to move traffic, to repair the bridge and keep the structure in shape.”

The reversible lanes on I-70 will remain closed for two months while work continues on the St. Louis Avenue Bridge.

“We did that with Madison, too,” Horn said in an interview after the ceremony. “We use the lanes to build the piers and set the girders and then we can open it back up. When we took the bridge down, we put all the material right in the reversibles.”

MoDOT replaced all the other bridges on I-70 about 10 years ago, Horn said. But the bridges closest to downtown weren’t replaced because “we knew the river bridge was coming and they (the bridges over the interstate) had to fit in with it,” he added.

According to Horn, there’s “nothing really unique” construction-wise about the Madison Avenue Bridge. The construction involved drilled shafts typical of other bridges MoDOT has built on I-70. The greatest challenge was getting the work done with a limited staging area and keeping the traffic going on the interstate with a minimal amount of closures. Lane closures were during non-rush hour periods.

“We did a lot of work from the reversible lanes,” he said. “That’s where they staged (the work) and we were able to build the piers in the center. Had we tried to keep those open, we would have had lane closures every day, and it would have made it much more challenging to get it done in that time frame.

“It’s a lot safer when you have that room and you can go a lot quicker too.”

Horn credits value engineering concepts utilized by Weber for the savings in construction costs.

In addition, the bid “came in $1 million cheaper than we had programmed because the competition was really tight for that project,” he said.

“Typically people think you’ve got to add on (to the price) because there are always change orders that run the project over budget. In this case right now, we’re a quarter of a million dollars less than we bid the project because of their (Weber’s) innovated engineering concepts.”

Crews will hold off on staining the concrete on the bridges until the river bridge project nears completion and the ramps have been installed.

“One of the problems is you have some older concrete out there and some newer concrete. It looks kind of spotty,” Horn said. “Instead of doing it in pieces over a four-year period. I want to do it in the last project so it’s all uniform.”

The Mississippi River Bridge project includes four or five separate projects in Missouri that tie into the bridge and 25 in Illinois, Horn said. “Illinois has many more projects because they have three mile from the water’s edge to where they tie into (Interstate) 70,” he said. “We (Missouri) have less than a mile.”

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