At Least 35 Dead in Bridge Collapse

Skanska Doesn’t Break for NJ’s Route 18

Mon August 25, 2003 - Northeast Edition
James Van Horn



For students at Rutgers University, in New Brunswick, NJ, the summer 2003 break is vacation time, a respite from the hectic activities during the academic year.

For Slattery Skanska Inc. it’s just the opposite — a 10-week window in which to jam the critical items of a $75.9-million, 26-month highway interchange job, specifically closing main roads to put bridge steel in place and do excavation.

Slattery Skanska, headquartered in Whitestone, Queens, New York City, is the prime contractor for the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) on the Route 18 Extension 2A, a 1.7-mi. (2.7 km) highway improvement and interchange project in Piscataway Township, NJ, just north of New Brunswick.

As part of the project, Slattery Skanska is building a four-lane limited access highway to replace an existing two-lane road that snakes up a steep ravine. On a summer Sunday it resembles a peaceful country byway — which at one time it was, hence the name, Metlars Lane. Come a weekday when Rutgers University is in session, however, it’s a traffic bottleneck, with 45,000 cars a day. That’s because Metlars Lane essentially splits the two largest campuses of Rutgers — Busch and Livingston — and is a main entrance and exit for commuting students, faculty and staff. Metlars Lane also provides access from the south for people working in the many employment centers in Piscataway, as well as Interstate 287.

Route 18 is a divided four- and six-lane state highway that slices diagonally across New Jersey from the Shore through New Brunswick. There it makes a graceful 90- degree swoop from under the Rutgers main campus up and over the Raritan River — the John A. Lynch Sr. Memorial Bridge — and then comes to abrupt end on the other side, dropping to meet a set of stoplights. For the motorist who experiences this for the first time the effect is a shock. But the Route 18 terminus has been that way for the past 20 years — even as Rutgers has undergone major expansions.

The new highway will eliminate the bottleneck of Metlars Lane and provide the missing link in Route 18, with grade-separated interchanges with River Road, the Rutgers Busch campus, Metlars Lane/Davidson Road and the Rutgers Livingston campus. The Route 18 extension will feed into Hoes Lane, a four-lane divided road.

Slattery Skanska started the project in July 2002, with completion scheduled for September 2004. As of mid-July of this year, according to Rob Marlow, project manager, the project is on schedule with approximately 30 percent completion. (There was extensive preparation and mobilizing involved before grading and bridgework could begin in earnest.)

After clearing 74 acres (30 ha) of land, crews are excavating 490,000 cu. yds. (375,000 cu m) of material, using 95,000 cu. yds. (150,000 cu m) of selected excavation as fill. The rest is trucked off-site. Most of the excavation, according to Marlow, is red shale, which is difficult to work with. When wet it combines the worst qualities of clay and rock — and due to record precipitation in the area this past winter and spring, there was plenty of water to contend with.

Slattery Skanska has avoided blasting because there are stringent environmental restrictions. Marlow’s crews have been able to handle the rock with a Cat D8 ripper and Cat hydraulic excavators. On one particularly hard section of rock excavation, he said, “They used a Vermeer milling machine equipped with rock teeth — it was a high maintenance method but it got the job done.”

Additionally, the scope of work includes constructing six continuous span steel bridges, 12 retaining walls, 11 sign structures and six precast arch culverts channeling Metlars Brook, which flows down the ravine, under the new roads. In all, Slattery Skanska is laying more than 24,600 ft. (7,500 m) of drainage pipe. Utilities are being removed from the corridor and relocated around the project site. Included in the contract are $6-million electrical and $4-million landscaping packages.

According to Marlow, the alignment was designed to bring about improvements in traffic operations and motorist and pedestrian safety, while minimizing impacts to environmental, socioeconomic and cultural resources, and reducing the disruption of the surrounding community.

Ecological: Because the main interchange of Route 18 and River Road is on the Raritan River flood plain, supporting structures use drilled shafts instead of fill as support. Foundation subcontractor Case Foundations Inc., Roselle, IL, used a Bauer BG 36 drill for the six large-diameter caissons and more than 200 smaller drilled shafts going down to underlying rock formations. (Case Foundation has years of experience in excavating drilled shafts and other types of holes for foundations in unstable soils.)

Heyward Baker Inc., Odenton, MD, a sister company to Case, installed retaining walls, utilizing anchors and tiebacks, along the new excavated slopes lining the Route 18/River Road and Metlars Lane/Campus Road interchanges.

In addition, the project abuts forest preserves, which need to be protected, and because Metlars Brook flows through the project, stream disturbance cannot take place for three months in spring due to fish spawns.

Archeological: The site is considered an archaeological site because a river landing site was located there in colonial days. This requires monitoring for artifacts during excavations. Work may be stopped for up to 30 days if there are any archeological findings.

Residences: At several places in the job site, crews will be working almost in the back yards of residents. In the project area, there also are several historical residences. Plus, sitting atop the bluff overlooking the main interchange construction at River Road, is the official residence of the president of Rutgers.

University activities: From the president on down, Rutgers University makes probably the greatest impact on the job. As mentioned, for the major work such as bridge steel erection, which could severely restrict or shut down Metlars Lane, Slattery Skanska has to work during the 10-week summer recess.

In addition, crews must try to keep as many lanes as possible open during peak traffic periods in the school year. To top it off, the job has to shut down during Rutgers home game football weekends. (To further accommodate Rutgers fans, several ramps feature extra widths and lengths to handle “stacked” traffic entering and exiting the stadium parking area before and after home football games.)

To handle the tight schedule and numerous working constrictions, Slattery Skanska is making maximum use of workers and equipment. Crews work 10-hour days and six-day weeks. During the critical summer weekends, when heavy steel sections are put in place, work goes on for 54 hours straight.

The summer break also is when Slattery Skanska can slow down traffic for excavation along Metlars Lane. For the grading and excavating, Slattery Skanska is using Caterpillar D8, D6, D5, D4 and D3 crawler dozers; Cat 430D combination, 365, 350, 330 and 320 hydraulic excavators, Cat 563 rollers and an 815 compactor.

Because of the short hauls, environmental considerations and confined areas Slattery Skanska does most of the grading with the excavators and John Deere 40-ton-capacity (36 t) off-highway articulated haulers for the select fill. The Deere haulers alternate with standard over-the-road dump trucks belonging to independent contractors, who haul material off-site.

Hydraulic cranes used by Slattery Skanska and steel erection subcontractor Structural Services Inc., Bethlehem, PA, include 35- and 45-ton (35 and 41 t) capacity Grove rough terrain and 75-ton (68 t) Liebherr and 85-ton (77 t) Krupp all-terrain rigs. There is 3,850 tons (3,500 t) of plate girder bridge steel involved. For the heaviest lifts, Structural Services is looking into using a 500-ton (450 t) capacity wheeled hydraulic crane.

Intercounty Paving Associates, Hackettstown, NJ, the paving subcontractor, is using a CMI milling machine, Kawasaki wheel loader, Caterpillar and Hitachi excavators, and a Cat 563 roller. Intercounty will be placing 110,000 tons (99,000 t) of Superpave hotmix asphalt paving on more than 8 lane-mi. of new highway.

After placing 30,000 cu. yds. (23,000 cu m) of concrete, mostly for abutments and supports, Slattery Skanska will install 16,750 sq. ft. (15,500 sq m) of 4-in. thick (10.2 cm) stone architectural surface treatment with a random cut stone theme. All stones are to be painted to mimic the natural stone colors of the neighboring existing Raritan River bridges, which are 100 years old.

At one point project plans called for jacking large pipe sections under existing highways for utilities. According to Marlow, this proved to be more difficult than anticipated. Slattery Skanska proposed using an existing sewer interceptor line for them. Crews relined the interceptor line and installed the utilities. This value engineering approach not only saved money but avoided delays in the schedule.

Despite the measures Slattery Skanska is taking to counter disruption, the 2003 to 2004 year will probably not be easy for commuting Rutgers students and faculty. However, the contractor is pushing hard to make sure that when the new school year opens in fall, 2004, traffic will flow more easily and smoothly on the new extension while at the same time making as little impact as possible on the surroundings.