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Ruhlin Starts Prep Work on Multi-Year I-77 Bridge Deck Job

Limited access and a tight schedule make for a challenge on the job site.

Sat October 12, 2013 - Midwest Edition
Irwin Rapoport

Pre-construction prep work began in late July on the 2013-2016 (August completion date) project to replace the concrete deck on the 3,100-ft. (945 m) long bridge on Interstate 77 (also linked to the I-480) in south Cleveland that links the counties of Cayahoga (Cleveland) and Independence.

The $27.4 million Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) project also includes structure repairs, concrete patching work, and other infrastructure for the bridge built in 1976. The bridge spans the Cayahoga River Valley, with the river only covering five percent of the terrain covered by the span.

The Ruhlin Company, based in Sharon Center, Ohio (40 mi. south of Cleveland), was awarded the contract in April 2013.

The north-south bridge consists of two decks with three lanes each and each deck being separated by a gap of about 4 in. (10 cm). The south side widens out due to the location of several on/off ramps.

There are several major challenges for Ruhlin, including traffic — 150,000 vehicles cross the bridge daily, the tight period for construction — mid-March to the end of October, and access to the work site for equipment and materials.

“Traffic switches are relatively complex,” said Jim Ruhlin Jr., superintendent of the Ruhlin Company and superintendent of the project. “You don’t get to do the bridge’s full width. The traffic patterns only allow you to divert traffic over to the northbound structure, but there will still be traffic on the southbound side.

“Access is definitely limited and there will be phases when you are working on the outside portion of the bridge where you can get material up and down by crane easily enough,” he added, “but the phases on the interior portions will pretty much have us landlocked with traffic on either side of us. This is where getting people, equipment and material will become a challenge.”

The valley floor provides sufficient space for the cranes that will be brought in — 80-ton (72.6 t) Link-Belt cranes and 60-ton (54 t) Grove 760E all-terrain cranes.

The principal work is the removal of the 11-in. (28 cm) concrete decking, which will be done in phases via the removal of slabs that will be saw-cut and removed by 330 and 336 Caterpillar excavators (around five or six) and loaded out using four Volvo 120 loaders. The excavators will also be used to separate the rebar from the concrete. The new concrete will be pored in, with carpenters setting up the wooden form work rapidly after the old decking is removed.

The concrete, based on ODOT specifications, should have a 50-year lifespan, which includes overlays in the future. The last overlay on the deck was done in the 1990s. Approximately 13,000 cu. yds. (9,939 cu m) of concrete will be removed. A similar amount of concrete and rebar will be installed.

“We’re planning on recycling all of it,” said Ruhlin Jr. “There are some local companies in the Independence area such as the Kurtz Brothers, a big materials handler that will take all the rubblized concrete and crush it for use in local building projects. The rebar will be separated through a rubblizing process using NPK E216 hoe rams and material processors. The rebar will be sold to local scap companies. This is a very sustainable project.”

On weekdays Ruhlin has eight or nine people on site to prepare the crossovers for traffic diversion for the main work that begins in 2014, as well as preparation for some shoulder rebuilding and widening work. On weekends when lanes can be closed for a longer period of time, as was the case on one August weekend (18 to 19), between 20 and 25 people are on site.

“Next year, when we start removing the deck, there will be anywhere between 60 and 90 on the bridge at any given time,” said Ruhlin Jr. “It’s a fast-paced job and we’re replacing the deck on the southbound side first. With a narrow construction window, you have to work multiple shifts with pretty sizable crews and sizable amounts of equipment and materials.”

Safety will be a crucial concern via traffic and the tight working area which will be crowded.

In addition to Ruhlin personnel, there also will be employees and equipment from the following subcontractors: Ivy Development Company for rebar installation, Tech Ready Mix for concrete, 360 Construction for painting and sealing, Thompson Electric for electrical, A & A Safety for maintenance of traffic, M.P. Dory for permanent signs, Turn Key Tunneling for the jack and bores, and On-site for the stud welding.

Currently, Ruhlin work crews are employing a Komatsu 228 excavator, a Volvo 90 loader, a John Deere 650 bulldozer, a Bobcat skidsteer and a Caterpillar mini-hoe. When the main work begins, possibly two 80-ton (72.6 t) Link-Belt 138 cranes will be brought in, as well as one RT760E, all-terrain forklift and support vehicles such as the Komatsu 228S and a Caterpillar D5 bulldozer.

Ruhlin will be using much of its own equipment, which was purchased from dealers in Cleveland and Sharon Center such as Cat 330 excavators and Volvo 120 loaders from Ohio CAT and Rudd Equipment. If equipment is to be rented, the company often goes to Ohio CAT and other local vendors.

“We might buy some material processors — some cruncher-type attachments for our excavators to help us process the concrete faster,” said Ruhlin Jr., “but other than that, it’s a fairly straight-forward project equipment-wise.”

There are no plans to have onsite equipment manager as the project is only a 30 to 45 minute drive from the company’s main shop in Sharon Center.

“Much of the maintenance will be handled locally by us,” said Ruhlin Jr., with Matt Bush, Ruhlin’s equipment manager looking after the routine maintenance and repairs. “We do not necessarily need to have a full-time onsite mechanic and people will be dispatched to the site on ’as needed’ basis.”

Due to the precise scheduling for the project, Bush and his staff are preparing vehicle and equipment lists and the dispatching of them to the site. With the company engaged in many projects throughout the state, the shifting of vehicles and equipment from site to site must be carefully coordinated and each piece needs to be properly examined before the transfers.

This pre-planning also applies to the scheduling of the construction work, which Ruhlin Jr. said will be the “key to success.” While the deck replacement is limited to a specific period, the structural work provides Ruhlin with more flexibility.

As of press time Ruhlin has just completed a smaller bridge project — the building of a new $1.5 million railway bridge (CD214.30) for the Norfolk Southern Corporation in Amherst, Ohio (45 minutes west of Cleveland). The work was done in three phases — the prep and construction of the two bridge sections which began in May, 2013 and the replacement of the two halves of the bridge on August 11 and 25

“We are essentially building a new bridge on moveable falsework beside the existing bridge and during each outage (temporary closure of the railway line),” said Matt English, Ruhlin’s project manager for the Structures Division, “we are tearing out half of the old bridge and rolling in half of the new bridge in a 24-hour period. For each installation, we cut the existing bridges in half and lift each half out with the excavators. For being such a small bridge replacement, this is one of the hardest one’s I’ve ever done.

“After removing the existing bridges, new concrete supports were erected on the existing abutments,” he added, “and the new bridge sections were rolled in and jacked down to do the final connections. Then the railway department had four hours to go in and put ballast down, new tracks, tie the rails and align them.”

The three-track bridge, roughly 40 ft. (12 m) in length, has electrical wires above it that could not be relocated and below is a two-lane road crucial to local traffic flow. Safety for the construction crews and passing motorists were key and this also impacted how equipment and materials were delivered to the site.

Another issue was placing new steel onto existing bridge foundations and abutments.

“The existing abutments were built in 1891 and over the last 100 years the railroad has repaired this bridge countless times with few records remaining of what the repairs entailed,” said English, “so when we got into the demolition, some of the repairs really affected the removal portion. There was some extra concrete and reinforcement that did not show up on any of the plans. Lessons were learned during the first outage that modified our approach to the demolition for the second outage.”

During the bridge construction phase, there were about 8 to 10 workers on site and during the two installation days, there were 40 to 50 people on site.

Much of the old bridge is being recycled in terms of concrete (150 tons [136 t]), steel (200 tons [181 t]) and wood (20 tons [18 t]). The new bridge, with improved concrete and steel, consists of 100 tons (90.7 t) of concrete and 150 tons of steel.

The project was intensive in terms of equipment. Ruhlin brought in two Caterpillar 349EL excavators, two Komatsu PC228 USLC excavators, two Caterpillar loaders — a 120G and an L70E, and a Kubota mini-excavator — a KX0080-3 both from its fleet and rented from Ohio CAT. Three cranes were rented from Cleveland-based ALL Crane and Erection — a GMK 6250L — a 250 ton (227 t) hydraulic crane and two Shuttlelift 5540 industrial cranes. A Telebelt conveyor 110 from Howard Concrete Pumping was used to place backfill material to minimize interruptions to rail traffic.

“We were able to do most of the work without cranes and for the two installation days,” said English, “the excavators and loaders were the essential pieces of equipment on site to help us meet the deadline.”

Mechanics were sent from Ruhlin’s shop when needed to do regular maintenance and repairs — inspection by operators helped ensure maximum efficiency, but for the bridge installation, several mechanics were on site to ensure any work stoppages were minimized.

“Getting equipment up on the rails is very difficult and time sensitive,” said English. “Luckily most of the equipment we used is fairly new or brand new so relocating the equipment to the various locations required has gone well.”

Ben Neal, the project superintendent, served as the de facto onsite equipment manager and he appreciated the efforts of his crew to ensure equipment disruptions were minimized.

“Time limitations, accessibility, and limited work space made this a difficult project,” he said. “All trades did a great job working together to limit down time for critical activities and shop and yard support were key to the successful completion of the project.”

Ruhlin has worked on three railway bridges in the past year and will be working on additional projects for the Norfolk Southern Corporation.

“They are all similar in terms of limited outages to remove and replace a bridge,” said English. “Each one is unique in its own way. The one Amherst project is more of a lift out/roll-in job, while others are straight roll out/roll-ins and we’ve had some that are lift-out/lift-in. Despite the uniqueness and challenges of each project the experience gained always benefits future operations.”

On average, these small railway bridge projects are valued between $1.3 and $2 million each and when combined as a whole, represent a major component of the structural division’s annual work.

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