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Veterans’ Glass City Skyway in Toledo Finally Opens

Thu July 05, 2007 - Midwest Edition
Linda J. Hutchinson

Nearly 20 years of planning, five years of construction, and $234 million later, the I-280 Veterans’ Glass City Skyway (VGCS) in Toledo, Ohio, opened to Phase One traffic (two lanes in each direction) June 24. A dedication ceremony and celebration of the men and women who have toiled to realize this monumental task preceded the opening, June 23.

The VGCS is the largest, most expensive and most complicated single project ever undertaken in the history of the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT). Formerly known as the Maumee River Crossing, funding has been in place since 1999, and the environmental impact studies were completed in 1996.

“The contract was sold for $220 million. Change orders of 5 to 10 percent are expected,” said Andrea Voogd, public information officer, ODOT District 2. “We’ve had 7 percent change orders.” Total cost with change orders is close to $235 million.

Considered to be a major architectural, engineering, and transportation asset for Northwest Ohio, the new pre-cast segmented cable-stayed bridge structure extends from south of the Greenbelt Parkway to near Seaman Street on the south end. The bridge was designed by Figg Bridge Engineers.

“Over the last 19 years, our community partners and ODOT have worked toward the goal of removing a major interstate route, I-280, from one of the last lift bridges in the United States. We are nearing the day when the new skyway will relieve congestion in the region and boost the economic prosperity of the entire state. Additionally, this will create a Signature Landmark with its aesthetic presence and its one-of-a-kind lighted main pylon,” said David Dysard, District 2 deputy director.

As part of the dedication celebration, several events were planned to honor all veterans, including those from northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan.

In addition to the traditional honor guard during the dedication ceremony, the Parade Sub-Committee hosted the National Flag Truck to be part of the ceremony. This specially designed and identified rig transports a collection of 90-ft., 300-lb. United States Flags.

During the dedication ceremony, veterans displayed two American flags that were 45 by 90 ft., and the largest Ohio flag in the state (20 by 30 ft.), on the northbound lanes of the deck of the VGCS.

A motorized parade following the ceremony crossed over the northbound lanes of the river span and was comprised of units representing all Veterans organizations including the Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion Posts.

After the welcome by ODOT Director James Beasley, opening remarks were made by Gov. Ted Strickland, followed by a host of state and national dignitaries on hand for the long-awaited celebration.

The existing Robert Craig Memorial lift bridge will remain in place and will be utilized for local arterial traffic even now that the VGCS has been opened as the new I-280.

“This is a signature project for northwest Ohio. With a project of this scale and impact, it is imperative that community members voice their ideas and concerns,” said Gordon Proctor, former ODOT director, of the commitment to involve citizens, community groups, and the public at large, in the planning stages of this project.

Key decisions regarding the type of bridge to be constructed, the design elements, and the land reuse options were made after 34 public meetings, 99 community presentations, and the solicitation of thousands of comments through the project Web site, newsletter, and newspaper ads. This communication effort was facilitated through “Look Up, Toledo,” the official Web site hosted and maintained by HNTB, the prime program management consultant.

According to Ken Ishmael, project manager of HNTB Corp., “HNTB was selected after the department [ODOT] reviewed the qualifications of many consultants, then selected four of those teams to interview. The HNTB-led team offered an Ohio-based team with accessibility to national resources.”

The bridge boasts 181 piers, 190 spans, and is 8,800 ft. (2,682 m) long. Twenty stays radiate out from the center pylon.

The new crossing will carry six lanes of traffic on I-280, extending from Manhattan Boulevard on the north end of I-280 to Navarre Avenue on the south end. The surface of the roadway will reach approximately 135 ft. (41 m) high near the center of the river.

The pylon, which is the centerpiece of the VGCS rises 400 ft. (121 m) out of the middle of the river. Touted as an engineering marvel, this is the first in the United States to use a stainless steel stay-cable cradle system. The stay-cables, which traditionally have been anchored to the pylon, will instead pass through the pylon in individual stainless steel carrier pipes.

The stays used are the largest ever constructed. Each is made up of bundles of smaller steel strands and range from 82 to 156 strands enclosed in stainless steel sheaths.

The unique cradle system allows the individual steel strands of each cable to be separated to prevent corrosion and prolong the bridge’s life. The center pylon also is more slender than those built in the past because of the cradle system.

Known as “The Glass City,” Toledo has become the world’s first to use glass in the pylon’s design. Glass panels have been installed on all four sides of the pylon and are illuminated by an advanced LED lighting system. Ninety-six LED fixtures have been installed in each quadrant, allowing the use of each primary color and an unlimited array of blended colors.

What began as a list of potential projects in Ohio’s transportation plan around 1989, this project was then made the number one regional priority by the Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments, and was developed by ODOT in cooperation with the Maumee River Crossing Task Force.

ODOT selected the Program Management Consultant (PMC) approach due to the design and engineering complexities, to coordinate and manage the many professional firms, and for fiscal management and control of costs, according to The Mannik & Smith Group Web site. Mannik & Smith are members of the PMC.

HNTB is the prime PMC and is the “Single Point” manager for everyone involved with the project. Other PMC Team members are Parsons Brinckerhoff, The Mannik & Smith Group, Proudfoot & Associates and Roman Peshoff.

For the construction phase of the project the contracts were managed using an integrated approach with ODOT, the PMC and the bridge designers forming a single team. This team worked closely with the general contractor, Fru-Con Construction Co., of Ballwin, Mo.

The project had an original completion date of November 2006. A fatal gantry crane incident that occurred in February 2004 killed four workers and injured four others and shut down mainline work for 16 months. Prior to the incident the project was on schedule to be completed in the fall of 2005.

Sadly, another fatality occurred on April 19, 2007. The accident was reviewed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and ODOT sent trained professionals to provide stress and emotional counseling for the workers.

The Maumee River Crossing Task Force formed a committee to create a tribute to the lost and injured workers and their families and to the many others who worked on this one-of-a-kind structure.

While there is little funding for the opening day dedication ceremony, according to ODOT’s Voogd, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The community is so excited about the opening. The public is doing most of it themselves with volunteer labor and contributions.

“Kellogg’s is donating 10,000 bottles of protein water,” Voogd said. The Toledo Police Department is rescheduling shifts so there will be no overtime expenses, and the local transit authority is donating buses to shuttle people back and forth from parking lots.

“It takes more time doing it this way,” said Jeff Baker, the state’s construction manager and a veteran of many hours of public meetings.“But it’s worth it.”

An article written by Rob Carson of The News Tribune in Tacoma, Wash., where another famous bridge resides, was titled: “Bridge confetti will fall in the People’s Republic of Toledo.” In it he described the situation as “members of Toledo’s Light Show Subcommittee were deadlocked on details of the show they want their new bridge to perform on New Year’s Eve.”

Inside the bridge’s 400-ft.-tall (122 m) center pylon there are 13,824 computer-controlled LED lights which can be programmed to perform special tricks, dance, sparkle, fade from one color to another, and even resemble champagne or confetti.

According to Carson: “The subcommittee, made up of representatives of neighborhood groups and public agencies, was charged with programming light shows for 25 holidays and special events next year, and members were stuck on the first one.”

ODOT’s Voogd good-naturedly chided Carson, admitting that he got most of it right, while saying that regardless of the issues to be worked out, the various committees have worked long and hard and it is good for Toledo to have the recognition it deserves.

“There is no entry fee for participating in the parade but donations to defray parade costs will be gladly accepted by the Parade Sub-Committee. Any donations in excess of the costs of this once in a lifetime event will be contributed to the tribute fund for the permanent sculpture honoring all of the men and women who have contributed to the construction of the Veterans’ Glass City Skyway to be placed in nearby Tribute Park,” said Voogd.

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