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Route 52 Causeway Rises Above the Tide in Jersey

Mon February 01, 2010 - Northeast Edition
Mary Reed

Whether travelers in New Jersey cross the Route 52 Causeway from Somers Point to Ocean City to enjoy a family-friendly vacation or to drive the other way to the mainland to flee a hurricane, three years from now their journeys will be swifter, safer — and at a higher elevation.

The ongoing two-phase $400 million causeway contract is one of the largest awarded by the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) and is billed as the biggest highway job in the history of the southern part of the state. The project, officially titled the Route 52 Causeway Replacement and Circle Elimination Project and split into two contracts, is considered critical because Route 52 serves as an emergency evacuation route for Ocean City.

Of particular concern were the causeway’s bridges, built in 1933 and now subject to stresses caused by increases in vehicular, marine and recreational traffic not foreseen at that time. Inspections found severe deterioration, cracking, and chipping decks, and in addition waves made the bridges impassable by washing over them during stormy periods.

George Harms Construction Company Inc. (GHCCI), based in Farmingdale, N.J., was awarded the $141 million Contract A1 in June 2006 and began construction in August that year, substantially completing its work in July 2009, about six months ahead of schedule.

Approximately $70 million toward the cost of the project will come from the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). NJDOT is using $469 million from this source to cover the cost of more than 40 road and bridge projects, including this causeway. The original plan had been to finance the job via bonds, but the ARRA contribution means not only will the state save millions of dollars in interest that would have been due on such bonds, but also funds that would have otherwise been used to pay for this project can now pay for others in the four-county region

“The entire project — Contract A1 and Contract B — involves reconstruction of Route 52 between Somers Point and Ocean City, N.J., for approximately 2.8 miles. It reconstructs Route 52 and eliminates a traffic circle in Somers Point and reconstructs the causeway through Ocean City,” said GHCCI’s spokesman. “The existing causeway consisted of multiple structures. At both ends of the causeway there are two bascule bridges over navigable channels, including the Intercoastal Waterway. In between the two drawbridges there were two low level bridges spanning between barrier islands and over the bay.”

“The scope of Contract A1 included constructing project access throughout the barrier islands for both contracts, replacing the two low level bridges in two stages — northbound and southbound, with the new 800 ft. long Elbow Bridge and 3,000 ft. long Rainbow Bridge — reconstruction of Rainbow Island, which included construction of the west bulkhead area, and public access driveways on the Island,” the spokesman continued.

Work on Rainbow Island also included construction of a permanent precast concrete retaining wall system, which elevated the permanent road grade above the tidal water levels that frequently flooded the area for years.

In addition, the company constructed temporary approach ramps onto the new causeway bridges, which will remain active as Contract B continues.

Once the northbound spans were completed, they demolished the existing low level structures in their entirety to complete the southbound spans. The temporary access work included installation of temporary MSE walls and embankment fill material to raise the existing grade above the wetlands and high tide levels.

“These access areas were staged throughout the project and designed to support construction activities through the project’s duration,” the spokesman said. “GHCCI also constructed a loading and unloading bulkhead adjacent to the Intercoastal Waterway for barge access of equipment and precast concrete materials. Dredging was performed in the channel at the bulkhead area for the large ocean-going supply barges and heavy equipment barges.”

The new span construction carried out by George Harms Construction included installation of 24-in. and 30-in. (61 and 76.2 cm) prestressed concrete piles, cast-in-place piers with HPC concrete, and installation of prestressed concrete beams spanning 140 ft. (42.7 m) in length. The concrete bridge decks, parapets, and barriers were all HPC concrete and constructed by the company, which also did extensive work in stabilizing the existing soils on Rainbow Island for the new causeway, installing vibro concrete columns (VCCs) to support the new roadway on top of the existing unsuitable subsurface materials.

Based on the size and complexity of the project, GHCCI used many pieces of equipment, all company owned. Its water fleet included Flexi-float modular barges, multiple push boats, and workboats.

Also at work on the project were two Manitowoc 4100 cranes (a ringer and a crawler), as well as a pair of Manitowoc 777, a 14000, and two 2250 crawler cranes, along with two Link-Belt 218 crawler cranes. In addition, one apiece Link-Belt 8025, Grove 870 and Grove 865 rubber-tire cranes also were in use.

Concrete work was handled by Putzmeister concrete pumps, Bidwell deck finishing machines, and a Bauer BG 40 drill rig with VCC attachment. Pile driving and sheeting installation was carried out by Pileco diesel hammers and ICE vibratory hammers.

Earthwork involved Caterpillar and Komatsu excavators, dozers, and off-highway dumps, along with Caterpillar loaders, John Deere dozers, and Mack triaxle trucks. Demolition was carried out with La Bounty processor attachments, Atlas Copco hammer attachments, and a Metso concrete crusher. Caterpillar and Blaw-Knox pavers, and Caterpillar rollers handled paving, while miscellaneous equipment working on the job included Kenworth, Peterbilt, and Mack tractors, Talbert lowboy trailers and Elk River steerable beam trailers, Ingersoll Rand and Caterpillar generators, and Ingersoll Rand compressors.

At the height of the project, there were approximately 100 employees working on site, with full project support from the main office.

GHCCI self performs the major operations in its contracts in an effort to keep an edge in this highly competitive industry, but does work closely with many subcontractors throughout the state on all of its projects. During Contract A1, GHCCI subcontracted with LC Equipment for construction highway signage, J. Fletcher Creamer & Sons for guiderail installation, Petric & Associates for specialty coatings and painting, Aspen Landscaping for landscaping, Delta Line Construction for all electrical work, Berto Construction for concrete sidewalk and curbing construction, Traffic Lines Inc. for pavement striping and markings, GZA Inc. for geotechnical instrumentation and monitoring, GRL Engineers Inc. for pile driving instrumentation, Atlantic Concrete Cutting for saw cut deck grooving, and Dagnall Diving for on-call diving services.

While there were no real or unforeseen problems, a host of external considerations had to be reviewed and properly managed. These included environmental restrictions, local traffic, tourism concerns, weather and working conditions.

Because the area is environmentally sensitive, there were construction and timing restrictions in the construction contract.

“Examples include pile driving restrictions in one area between April 1 and August 15 every season for an existing heron rookery located on the south end of the project. In addition, every season various water operations, including sheeting and piles, were restricted between April 1 and June 30 for fish migration and dredging was restricted December 1 through May 31,” the company spokesman noted. “These requirements were in strict conformance with project permits issued by the NJ Department of Environmental Protection, and these permit restrictions are typical for projects involving New Jersey waterways as a means of minimizing disturbances, protecting wildlife, fisheries, and shellfish beds. Missing any of these windows could be a serious setback to the completion schedule of the contract.”

Somers Point and Ocean City are major summer resort areas for southern and southwest New Jersey, Philadelphia and eastern Pennsylvania and local economies rely on the tourism season very heavily as a major source of income. NJDOT classifies Route 52 as a major highway, with an average of 40,000 drivers using the causeway daily during the summer months when the local population increases tenfold. The Department worked closely with the community and state officials to ensure the new construction enhances the historic and scenic aspects of both towns as well as preserving tidal wetlands and the marine environment. Thus among alternative plans, rejected in part because of their major impact on the environment, were building higher bridges, rehabilitating the current causeway, or constructing a cut and cover tunnel. Appreciating the towns’ concerns, GHCCI continued to work closely with local officials and police departments to minimize traffic and construction impacts in an effort to accommodate them as much as possible.

“The project is located just southwest of Great Egg Harbor Inlet and extends over the open bay, making the winter months very challenging, specifically due to the constant exposure of high winds. Even during normal weather patterns inland, the prevailing winter winds at the shore combined with frigid temperatures could impact crane and water operations just about every day,” the GHCCI spokesman said. “In addition, the barging of all major precast concrete products, such as the beams, piles, and deck planks shipped from the precaster, Bayshore Concrete in Cape Charles Va., could easily be impacted by weather. Barge loads had to be designed and loaded properly to withstand the varying and sometimes unpredictable sea conditions year round. Even then, there were loads that were held up from shipping until the high seas subsided.”

“All of these considerations were a challenge, and all had a major role in the most challenging aspect of the project, which was the schedule. It was a very aggressive completion schedule. GHCCI had to stay absolutely focused on their various milestones and restrictions to ensure our successful completion, which was ultimately accomplished ahead of schedule,” he concluded.

George Harms Construction Company Inc. complex construction projects include deep foundation work, intense traffic staging, and erecting heavy structural components. The company currently is working on the NJDOT Routes 1 and 9T project in Jersey City, N.J., a $200 million job involving similar complex work, but also including the added challenges of working over NJ Transit’s Main Line rail tracks, Conrail’s freight tracks, and in a heavily congested urban area. Simultaneously, the company is working on the NJ Transit MOS-3 contract, an extension of the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail System. This $58 million design-build project in Bayonne, N.J., involves constructing a new viaduct extension and commuter rail station on the Light Rail system. Other notable projects in recent years include the NJDOT Route 35 Victory Bridge, New Jersey’s first precast concrete segmental bridge over the Raritan River, a project valued at $115 million.

Route 52 Contract B is now under way and will complete the remaining bridges and tie all the new structures together. The completion date for the entire project is December 2012.

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