Ringling Causeway Reconstruction Performs Center Stage in Sarasota

Wed August 06, 2003 - Southeast Edition
Cynthia W. Wright

In 1926, John Ringling, one of the famed founders of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, funded a major bridge on Florida’s Gulf Coast. After 12 years, the $1-million Ringling Causeway Bridge was complete.

During the ensuing years, deterioration and inefficiency demanded reconstruction of the bridge. A new relocated concrete bridge between Sarasota’s downtown and beaches served the community for a time. But with the bridge open for water traffic 18 times a day, delays and frustration were inevitable.

As weather began to take a toll on the aging bridge, a Florida Department of Transportation (FLDOT) study determined that, in the interest of emergency service and less congestion, a new fixed span bridge was needed.

So in August 2001, PCL Civil Constructors’ design-build team, which includes JMI Engineers, its own designer, and other engineers and consultants, began construction. The $56-million project is due for completion Sept. 1, with demolition of the old bridge set to be finished in December 2003. 

On this contract, the state of Florida received a five-year warranty from PCL, which eliminates many maintenance costs normally assumed by the state.

The high-profile project was given a Class III designation, meaning that all details will be of the highest quality and design found within Florida.

“The carefully-sculpted ’signature’ structure is a Quality Control 2000 project.  We’ve hired a consultant to run this program, versus the state hiring it underneath the CEI,” Patrick Malone, construction manager of PCL Civil Constructors, said,

“The new bridge has a life span design of 75 years. The overall width will exceed 106 feet and 3,097 feet in length.  It will have 65 feet of clearance at high tide, and be well able to withstand the strongest hurricanes,” Malone continued.

“This bridge building technique hails from Europe, developed to expedite the reconstruction of bridges damaged during World War II. The method requires a balanced cantilever precast segmental bridge — the same type of technology used to construct Tampa’s Sunshine Skyway. This provides a product of superior durability compared to usual construction practices. The segmental process gives a span of 300 feet — nearly twice the span from column to column than using traditional construction methods,” he said.

“Precast sections are manufactured at a local plant in Manatee County. Each segment — ranging from 16 feet at the pier to 8 feet at center of span and weighing 100 tons on average — is loaded by crane onto barges at the casting yard, then shipped through the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway to the bridge site.  There each segment will be raised, epoxied and stressed into position during erection,” said Malone.

“The project is founded on 9-foot drilled caissons, drilled 24 feet into the bedrock, which on average are 50 feet long, top to bottom,” he explained.

“Two bearings, weighing up to 18,000 pounds each, connect the bridge to the columns. At four locations a concrete pedestal is used,” Malone continued. “There are over 37,000 cubic yards of concrete involved, and nearly nine million pounds of reinforcing and post-tensioning cable involved.”

“There are only two joints located — at each end and designed to take up to 16 inches of movement — on the project,” he said. “Earthwork was only a minor portion of the job. The major piece of equipment used was our large crane.”

With more than 150 employees at peak period, PCL shaved seven months off the original completion date using this style of bridge construction. 

Malone recalled that the only real challenge was to overcome lingering community issues. “The community did not really embrace this project at first. They thought it would be some big monster structure. Now they see it as the elegant design it is becoming,” he said.

PCL has continued to work with the city to provide enhancements across the structure, as well as the landscaping, with a cost of approximately $1.5 million.  There will be large sidewalks, winding paths and a large gazebo. Nighttime lighting will offer an impressive nocturnal view of the white bridge. Also, a new paved parking area will be provided.

Funding comes from a number of sources including private donations and grants.

For more information visit www.pcl-ringling.com.