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Skanska Crews Begin Replacement of Judith Dresser Memorial Bridge

Mon April 09, 2007 - Southeast Edition
Angela B. Hurni

Years of wear and tear and several safety-related incidents in 2004 have prompted the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) and the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) to add funding for the replacement of the Route 5 bridge, known as the Judith Stewart Dresser Memorial Bridge, to the working draft of the Six-Year Improvement Plan, which the CTB is expected to adopt in June.

Skanska USA Civil-Southeast Inc. of Virginia Beach has been awarded the $33.6-million contract to construct the new bridge. Preliminary construction activities began in January 2007 with major work beginning in mid-May.

“Things will get moving after May 15 when the time of year restriction, which covers the spawning season for fish, is lifted,” explained Harold Dyson, construction project manager of VDOT’s Richmond District.

The Judith Stewart Dresser Memorial Bridge carries Route 5 over the Chickahominy River and connects James City County and Charles City County in Eastern Virginia. On the Charles City County side of the bridge, construction will occur .39 mi. (.63 km) west of the bank of the Chickahominy River and will continue to .2 mi. (.32 km) east of the bank on the James City County side.

Built in 1939, the old bridge is a swing span bridge, which has to pivot on an axis to permit boaters to pass through the river, as opposed to opening upward like a drawbridge. The old bridge was built with timber pilings, rarely used today, and has a concrete and steel deck. It is only 24 ft. (7.3 m) wide and 2,025 ft. (620 m) long providing two lanes of traffic.

One specific incident that revealed how much the old timber pile bridge was deteriorating occurred when the swing span started to sink. This caused the span to separate from the main structure. The bridge was closed, and an emergency contract allowed for the pier to be repaired so motorists could continue to use the bridge instead of a 63-mi. (100 km) detour in order to cross the river.

The replacement bridge will be a substantial improvement with two 12-ft. (3.6 m) travel lanes and two 10-ft. (3 m) shoulders. It will be more than 56 ft. (17 m) wide from outside edge to edge and 2,550 ft. (780 m) long. A 10-ft. (3 m) mixed-use path, separated from the main roadway using a divider, also has been incorporated into the design of the bridge as part of the Virginia Capital Trail Project.

The new bridge, designed in-house by VDOT, will rise 52-ft. (16 m) above the river allowing it to be a fixed-span.

According to Dyson, “The 160-ft. span over the main channel will have structural steel plate girders.”

The design of the bridge consists of 105 66-in. (168 cm) concrete cylinder piles that measure from 92 to 160 ft. (28 to 48 m) in length with the heaviest weighing 100 tons (91 t). The substructure will require 4,100 cu. yds. (3,100 cu m) of concrete, while the superstructure will call for 4,660 cu. yds. (3,500 cu m) of concrete. The bridge also will contain 77 in. (195 cm) precast concrete bulb tee girders.

Pat Moore, Skanska’s project superintendent, stated that Skanska is “self-performing most of the concrete work.” Branscome Inc., headquartered in Williamsburg, Va., is supplying the concrete and asphalt for this project. Howard Brothers Contractor Inc. in Providence Forge, Va., will be responsible for grading work. Electrical work, consisting of navigation lights, is being completed by Norfolk, Va.-based Dorey Electric Company.

Preliminary construction activities that have occurred so far include surveying, clearing and grubbing, and relocating an access road for the James City County Park entrance. In the same area of the park entrance, there will be widening of the existing pavement. Skanska has finished building the work trestle, a temporary bridge structure, on the James City County side of the bridge.

Skanska used a 220-ton (200 t) Liebherr HS895 HD crane to build the trestle, and it will remain on-site for use during construction of the new bridge. Moore said the company will bring in floating cranes in the beginning of May, including its “Rig 20” floating crane, for major construction activities. Moore also confirmed that the company’s infamous crane, Samson, a 350 ton (320 t) stiff leg derrick, “will be used for demo of the old bridge.”

Soon to follow on the project, the contractor will work on the foundation for the James City County side of the bridge.

“In mid-May, we will start the test pile program on the bridge itself,” Moore said.

Dyson added, “We’re getting ready to adjust the traffic pattern on the James City County side after the widening of the existing pavement to make a minor traffic switch.”

Working on and around waterways can be tedious due to environmental regulations, such as the restrictions imposed on certain activities on this project that may disturb the river bottom during fish spawning seasons. However, the regulations have become so customary in this day and age that they don’t present many challenges for contractors. Moore confirmed this by referring to the environmental regulations as “normal precautions.”

The project, however, can still present some difficulties. Dyson said, “The biggest challenge is the proximity of the new bridge to the existing bridge and having the structure that close and remaining operational.”

Dyson described the new bridge, as it is being built, as a “parallel structure roughly 15 ft. from the existing structure.”

Motorists will continue to use the old bridge during construction of the new bridge. It also is important that the old bridge remain functional because workers will need to open the swing span in order to transport materials to the project site using barges. A temporary delay in traffic flow may occur during these events.

To assure the reliability of the old bridge during construction, reinforcements have been added to protect the integrity of the structure. The contractor and VDOT’s structural engineers will continuously monitor the condition of the old bridge during construction by checking for elevation changes, conducting visual inspections and using seismic monitoring to ensure the safety of motorists.

The project has a substantial completion date of September 2009, when two-way traffic will be moved from the old bridge to the new bridge. Once traffic has been shifted, the old bridge will be demolished and the entire project should be completed in July 2010.

In the end, the total cost of the new Judith Stewart Dresser Memorial Bridge project could reach $44 million, which includes demolition of the existing bridge. CEG

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