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New Lake Champlain bridge is on schedule, over budget

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Posted on April 11, 2011 |
By John Flowers



bridge2133.jpg
THE NEW CHAMPLAIN Bridge will undergo a dramatic transformation in the coming months as work speeds up on the span, which is still slated for an Oct. 9 opening.

 

ADDISON — New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) officials on Thursday said they remain confident that the new 2,200-foot Champlain Bridge will be completed on schedule by Oct. 9, and served notice that passersby will soon see major elements of the span put into place during the next few months.

Using computer simulations and dozens of photos during a presentation at the Addison Central School, NYSDOT officials charted the progress of bridge construction thus far and explained the next steps in completing the new modified tied-arch span that will once again link West Addison to Crown Point, N.Y.

“We are working with our contractor to accelerate critical operations and we are paying the contractor some additional costs to do that,” said John Grady, construction manager for NYSDOT. “We are doing everything we can to meet that (Oct. 9) date.”

The NYSDOT recently agreed to give the contractor, 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. Grady conceded the bridge will come in more than $1 million over the original $69.6 million bid as a result of the winter construction obstacles and delays.

Grady cited mud, wind, very cold temperatures and underwater obstructions as major impediments to the construction process this past winter.

“On piers three, four and five, we hit obstructions of different types,” Grady said. He noted Flatiron hit a particularly stubborn obstruction while drilling the foundation of the fourth of the new bridge’s seven piers. The mysterious obstruction crumpled two massive steel shafts before finally yielding.

At pier five, crews encountered a big chunk of the old Champlain Bridge, which had to be hauled out of the lake before work could continue. Grady said a contractor had been charged with collecting the 3 million pounds of steel from the old bridge that had been imploded into the lake 15 months ago, but a few large chunks still remained.

“We did everything we would to find every piece of that steel,” Grady said. The NYSDOT asked contractors to bid on the new bridge with the understanding that it was a clean site, but that the time and cost of the project would be adjusted if any obstructions were encountered.

“We had three piers to get through these obstructions, which took quite a bit of time, and that’s the reason for the 65-day adjustment to the contract — to overcome the time to do this extra work,” Grady said.

Along with obstructions, wind became a major enemy for workers this past winter, according to Grady. Some of the cranes at the site have booms that are 200 feet long. These cranes were unable to safely and accurately swing heavy construction material into place with the wind whipping across the lake.

“The wind is a killer; it’s a constant battle,” Grady said. “There were days when … no work involving cranes could go on.”

But work has still progressed at a good clip, Grady said, to a point where the underwater infrastructure for the span is virtually complete.

“The pier work is just about done,” Grady said. “In about a week, we will have the last pour on the last concrete pier.”

Crews will then focus on setting steel — and a lot of it. Lancaster. Pa.-based High Steel Structures Inc. is manufacturing many of the steel components and getting them ready for assembly.

“They are pre-assembling (the steel) at their yard and making sure the pieces line up and fit,” Grady said.

Work completed to date includes:

•  The bridge abutments on the New York and Vermont sides of the lake.

•  Preliminary work on the Vermont and New York approach roads.

•  Foundations for all seven piers.

•  Installation of concrete pier stems and caps for all of the piers except No. 4.

FLOATING THE STEEL ARCH

The steelwork of the arch span is being built off-site, two miles away at the Velez Marine Service in Port Henry, N.Y. Grady explained that once assembled in late summer, the arch span will be floated, by barge, to the bridge site. The structure will then be hoisted into place using steel cables suspended on the rigid frames of the approach structures.

Once in place, the arch span will be covered with a deck made of pre-cast concrete panels.

Grady acknowledged that the arch-span move will draw a lot of onlookers. He served notice, however, that there is no guarantee the big move will occur during the daytime and warned that the actual hoisting of the arch span into place could prove anticlimactic.

“Once you start the move, you can’t stop the move,” Grady said. “That is totally up to Flatiron to coordinate, with the U.S. Coast Card, and I can’t guarantee when that is going to occur.”

Grady said work crews would prefer to perform the task during the day, but it will be a process that will likely unfold over many hours.

“The floating of the arch will be much more exciting than watching it being lifted,” Grady said. “That arch will go up so slow, you will not be able to see it. We are guessing 12 to 18 hours. If you can imagine standing there watching something move 80 feet over 18 hours, you might want to paint your wall and watch it; that might be more fun.”

Work during the coming months will include:

•  The large, triangular “delta frame” superstructure will be placed on piers four and five.

•  The remaining steel for the approaches will be erected on the New York and Vermont sides.

•  The approach decks will be cast.

•  The arch will be hoisted into place.

•  Remaining deck and highway work will be completed.

•  The ferry infrastructure will be removed.

Meanwhile, Vermont and New York citizens and officials are planning tributes to the former and new bridges.

Jim Boni, project manager for NYSDOT, said plans call for the old 1929 bridge to be commemorated through a resource guide, oral histories, interpretive displays, a 30-minute documentary film, a history booklet and a special Web page. Some of that material is likely to be displayed at the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum in Ferrisburgh, he said.

“The majority (of this material) will be completed in 2012; we hope to have some of it in place when the new bridge opens,” Boni said.

WELCOMING THE BRIDGE

The new bridge will, of course, also get its share of accolades. A group called the Lake Champlain Bridge Community (LCBC) is organizing an inaugural extravaganza to coincide with the bridge opening. The bash is likely to include fireworks, parades, speeches by dignitaries and ceremonial “first crossings” of the new span.

Lorraine Franklin, co-owner of the West Addison General Store, is a leader of the LCBC. She is pleased to see the latest progress on the bridge.

“I think the rumors out there were put to rest today, and I am thrilled that people got to see what was happening on a really clear level,” she said of Thursday’s presentation.

Lisa Cloutier, owner of the No Bridge Restaurant located at the Vermont entrance of the new span, is literally counting the days until the grand opening. She — like other local business owners — is counting on the new bridge to restore some of the customer flow that was choked off when the old span was shut down in October of 2009. While a free ferry has restored traffic, some business owners have found that commuters are more focused on getting a space on one of the vessels than shopping or eating.

“One hundred eighty-four days and we’re supposed to have a new bridge,” Cloutier said. “We have been 584 days without one. I am happy to know the target is still Oct. 9, even with the 65-day adjustment. I can live with that.”

More information on the bridge project is available at www.nysdot.gov/lakechamplainbridge, Breen said.

John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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