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Route 9 Bridge Workers Near Home Stretch With Year to Go

Mon August 06, 2001 - Northeast Edition
James Van Horn

Under a new modified design/build approach, the State of New Jersey and its contractor are way ahead of schedule on a $58-million bridge construction project in the center of the state.

George A. Harms Construction Co., Howell, NJ, is erecting the four-lane Route 9 structure over the Raritan River between Woodbridge and Sayreville. With the project at the two-thirds point on its three-year schedule, it is more than three-quarters finished.

According to Tony Bene of the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) field office in Keasbey, “Basically, this project consists of building a concrete-paved combination steel and concrete beam bridge over the river, including reinforced concrete piers and abutments. It also includes the associated necessary excavation and paving work at both ends of the bridge, including diversionary roads to handle traffic while the existing Route 9 bridge is rebuilt.” The span stretches 4,400 ft. (1,340 m) from abutment to abutment; total length, including roadways, is about 1.4 mi. (2.2 km). “Right now the bridge is for most intents and purposes complete from the southern abutment to Pier 9.” This is a little less than one-third of the way across and marks where the span switches from concrete to steel-beam construction as it passes over the river.

The contract was awarded to Harms in mid-l999 and work began in the fall of that year as the contractor was completing the design as part of the design/build approach. Completion is called for July 2002, and barring any unforeseen problems, Harms should easily beat that date.

The new span is the first of a three-step traffic improvement program. The second and third steps are:

• Rebuilding the existing Route 9 Edison Bridge, starting this fall. The $43-million contract for this job was recently awarded to Schiavone Construction, Secaucus, NJ.

When the new bridge is complete, traffic will be rerouted onto it, two lanes in each direction, while the old bridge decking and pier caps are being replaced.

When the old bridge work is complete, traffic will be opened up with two three-lane plus shoulder bridges.

• Eliminating the Victory Circle at the Sayreville and installing new traffic lanes.

From the air, this stretch of the Raritan River looks like probably the most bridged in the United States, in terms of the most lanes over a waterway in the shortest distance. Going from east to west, there’s the original Route 35 Victory Bridge with a swinging center span that opens for boat traffic; the existing four-lane Route 9 Edison Bridge, built in 1939; the new four-lane Route 9 bridge under construction; and the twin-span, 10-lane Driscoll Bridge of the Garden State Parkway.

So why a new bridge? There are four answers:

1. The Garden State Parkway doesn’t accept trucks.

2. The existing Edison Bridge is obsolete, deteriorating and is a major bottleneck. It was built more than 60 years ago and handles more than 80,000 two-way trips a day.

3. The Victory Bridge is even older.

4. There are not enough lanes.

To top it off, the southern termini of the two Route 9 bridges — the Victory Circle — is also out of date.

To build the piers, Harms drove 24- and 30-in. (61 and 76 cm) diameter pipe pilings to varying depths of 50 to 80 ft. (15 to 24 m) below the cutoff elevations — which in turn varied according to the depth of the riverbed. Those on the south half were driven to rock, on the north side to load capacity. The pilings form the foundation for the poured concrete piers and caps.

The bridge underpinning over water consists of steel beams up to 130 ft. (40 m) long from High Steel Structures, Lancaster, PA. (High Steel has supplied steel for a number of NJDOT bridges.) The prestressed and post-tensioned reinforced concrete beams, up to 135 ft. (41 m) long on the south half of the job, come from Precast Systems, Allentown, PA. The bridge decking is a high-performance, 10-in.-thick (25 cm) single-course reinforced concrete paving.

Because the structure on the north side is different according to the placement of the pilings that support the piers, lengths of the concrete beams vary. Also, the concrete sections are in effect spliced to supporting pier cap sections between the piers, instead of resting directly on the pier cap tops, as on the south side.

Harms’ major equipment includes Manitowoc 888 and 777 and American crawler lattice-boom cranes to set steel and concrete sections, and Genie and other hydraulic cranes and lifts to help join the sections together. Cat wheel loaders with various buckets and specialized attachments are the ground-based workhorses.

Because the Raritan River is easily navigable but has very little ship or boat traffic, it became Harms’ preferred base for work on the steel and concrete over the water. Two tugboats moved barges around in position as needed.

Harms’ progress has been very smooth (Bene noted the weather has cooperated, with only about four days lost to rain this spring and summer). It could bode well for New Jersey’s relatively new modified design/build approach to highway contracting. According to the NJDOT, by law the agency has to select contractors on the basis of the lowest responsible bid; there are no provisions for qualitative analysis of contractors’ bid documents. However, NJDOT cites the following advantages to the design/build process:

• Shortens completion time, because activities can be carried out concurrently, not sequentially

• Increases constructability of projects;

• Transfers risk to contractor;

• Fosters innovation and creativity;

• Reduces administrative costs on the part of NJDOT; and

• Reduces changes, disputes and claims.

For that reason, under the NJDOT modified design/build arrangement, the department (or its consultant) prepares the preliminary plans and specifications so design is approximately 30 to 35 percent complete, leaving the winning bidder to complete the design, as well as carry out the construction. (In a pure design/build contract as it is usually let, the documents are typically only 5 to 20 percent complete.) This is how, according to Bene, the state awarded the Edison Bridge contract.

According to the NJDOT, the new Edison Bridge was a good candidate for a design/build approach because there are minimal right-of-way, environmental and utility issues to address — there are already four spans in the neighborhood.

The design/build process is based in part on the Hightstown, NJ, highway bypass project, which was completed two years ahead of schedule. If the new Edison bridge continues to run ahead of schedule, it could serve as a model for still more design/build jobs.

This story also appears on Crane Equipment Guide.

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