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Weather, underwater debris delay Champlain Bridge work

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Posted on February 28, 2011 |
By John Flowers



ADDISON — The New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) has agreed to give Flatiron Construction a 65-day schedule adjustment in which to complete the new Champlain Bridge in view of harsh winter weather and underwater debris that have hampered work progress.

But officials said on Friday they are confident that Flatiron will still be able to get the new bridge completed by the previously targeted deadline of Oct. 9, and the NYSDOT is considering marshalling additional equipment at added expense to help expedite work.

“They are trying to get approval of an accelerated plan to avoid going into next winter,” said Rep. Diane Lanpher, D-Vergennes, who sat in on a NYSDOT project briefing last week.

Lanpher explained that underwater remnants of some of the piers from the previously imploded old Champlain Bridge have hampered Flatiron’s ability to drill shafts for the substructure of the new span.

“Three million pounds (of material) went into the lake, and they have found it during the shaft drilling,” Lanpher said. “The old bridge is still in play.”

Contractors had been charged with clearing the majority of the steel and concrete debris when the old bridge was imploded more than a year ago.

“The workers could not recover all that steel, due to the depth of the lake bottom soil, which hid some of the steel from detection,” Lanpher said. “These steel pieces became a significant problem when the drilling of pier number 5 began, and caused delays and damaged equipment.”

In addition, brutal winter weather conditions took their toll on Flatiron, according to Lanpher.

“Winter provided its own challenges,” Lanpher said. “Storms delayed progress by narrowing shifts at times to one a day. The winter winds are the core factor for crane use issues and those winds caused a safety hazard at times. Cranes 200 feet in the air exposed to our Addison winter winds can present a mighty challenge.”

NYSDOT spokeswoman Carol Breen acknowledged that the “underwater obstructions” were a major cause of the delays.

“As with any major construction project, unanticipated conditions and issues may be encountered that impact the work schedule,” she said when asked to explain. She said the Oct. 9 bridge completion was still a main goal.

Flatiron is under contract to build the new modified network tied-arch span within 500 days of groundbreaking. The contract includes a provision requiring Flatiron to absorb the costs of the adjacent, temporary ferry service (around $30,000 per day) for any period that exceeds the 500-day limit. At the same time, the contract provides a financial incentive (up to $1.5 million) for Flatiron to complete the work in less than 500 days.

Meeting the Oct. 9 completion date is shaping up as a challenge, but one that New York and Vermont officials believe can be accomplished. It’s a challenge that might call for bringing in additional equipment — such as another barge, more pier forms and another crane — that would allow Flatiron workers to maximize productivity during the spring and summer months. It would also add more costs — perhaps a few million dollars to the $70 million project, Lanpher noted. That added expense would be shared among the funding partnership of federal (80 percent), Vermont (10 percent) and New York (10 percent), according to Lanpher.

In the meantime, work continues on completing the substructures at piers 1 through 5 on the new bridge, according to NYSDOT officials. Workers recently began placing steel girders between Pier 7 and the abutment on the Vermont side of the lake. Once that is done, workers will begin placing girders between piers 6 and 7. The fabrication of structural steel members for the new span continues at a plant in Pennsylvania and additional steel members will be delivered to the project site as needed.

Residents on both sides of the bridge site are disappointed with the glitch in the construction timetable, but hopeful the project can be completed by Oct. 9. A lot will be riding on the bridge, literally and figuratively, as it provides a critical crossing for commuters who work and shop on both sides of the lake.

“I am disappointed this has happened, but I suppose it could be worse,” said Lorraine Franklin, co-owner of the West Addison General Store and a co-chairperson of the Lake Champlain Bridge Community (LCBC). The LCBC is planning a grand opening celebration for the new span, and any project delays will not help the committee in its endeavors.

“It is stressful on everybody,” Franklin said.

“But we are trying to keep our chins up,” she added. “We are getting a new bridge — perhaps not as fast as we wanted it — but we are getting it.”

Periodic Champlain Bridge construction updates can be found at www.nysdot.gov/lakechamplainbridge. Lanpher said the NYSDOT will soon schedule some informational meetings on the status of the project.

Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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