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PennDOT Spruces Up Judge Graff Bridge

Tue January 17, 2012 - Northeast Edition
Jennifer Rupp


The entire truss section of the superstructure was enclosed in tarps to prevent any waste material from falling into the Allegheny River.
The entire truss section of the superstructure was enclosed in tarps to prevent any waste material from falling into the Allegheny River.
The entire truss section of the superstructure was enclosed in tarps to prevent any waste material from falling into the Allegheny River. Velotta Company used a lift to perform concrete repairs on the piers. The newly painted superstructure completed by North Star Painting in October 2011. North Star’s Super Units recycled the abrasive material used to remove the existing paint and rough up the surface for repainting.

The Judge Graff Bridge in Armstrong County, Pa., carries 10,635 vehicles over the Allegheny River each day. Built in 1974, this 16-span, 2,700-ft. (823 m) bridge is a vital throughway for travelers around the Kittanning area and those connecting with SR 28 to Pittsburgh.

As part of its routine maintenance, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) designed a rehabilitation project that included expansion dam repair, substructure repairs, painting and other miscellaneous construction.

The $12.1 million job received a notice to proceed on Aug. 6, 2010, and is on track for completion Oct. 31, 2012.

North Star Painting Company Inc. of Youngstown, Ohio, received $10.5 million for its portion of project, which included removing the existing paint and applying new paint. This was no easy task, though.

Removing the lead-based paint that covered the bridge required an intricate system of rigging and tarps to prevent any of the waste from landing on ships below the bridge or in the water they travel on. The entire project was sealed up with tarps. The waste material was then sucked into a vacuum system at a holding site under the bridge. From there, the sealed material was hauled away after it was properly documented according to EPA standards. The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) performed frequent inspections of the job site. And North Star coordinated with the U.S. Coast Guard as well.

Although lead-based paint was banned for residential use in 1978, it is still legal to use commercially. PennDOT and North Star, however, chose an organic zinc-rich coating system (lead free) for the Graff Bridge. This three-coat system includes a primer, mid-coat and finish.

North Star has a fleet of 10 Super Units, purchased from Advanced Recycling Systems in Youngstown, Ohio. Each of these mobile abrasive recycling machines costs approximately $1 million and requires a great deal of maintenance.

“We spend most of the winter getting the machines ready for projects in the spring,” said Mike Mihas, project manager of North Star. “The machines go through a lot of wear and tear, especially on a project of this size.”

North Star set up camp in the Kittanning area for two years, renting local houses for its employees.

“The people of Kittanning were wonderful to us,” continued Mihas. “It was a fun project to work on.”

North Star finished painting a whole construction season ahead of schedule in October 2011.

Velotta Company of Youngstown, Ohio, will continue concrete work in 2012. Velotta was awarded a $1.2 million contract for Class A cement repairs on the substructure, concrete barrier work and deck patching.

Structural steel repairs were made by Century Steel, headquartered in Dravosburg, Pa. Century replaced deteriorated bolts throughout the superstructure and all the bolts in a gusset plate connection in the truss spans. Rae-Lyn Enterprises Inc. of Spring Church, Pa., is handling traffic control.

“One of biggest challenges on this project was the weather,” said Nate Adams, PennDOT Inspector-in- charge. “The humidity and wind had to be just right during the painting process. We also had to ensure that no water penetrated the superstructure underneath.”

“The other difficulty was in setting up a containment system for a structure of this size. Once the paint removal was complete, it took crews four weeks to de-rig the containment system.”

The Kittanning area is often sought out by filmmakers because of its beautiful scenery, steel structure arch bridges, and “small town” feel. Popular films shot in the area include The Mothman Prophecies, My Bloody Valentine 3D, Justified (TV series), and the upcoming film One for the Money.