Bridge to Nowhere?

Published 1:43 am Thursday, February 5, 2009

By Staff
Moratorium could delay bypass project
Spawning fish could halt driving of pilings in river
Contributing Editor
The U.S. Highway 17 bypass at Washington could be completed ahead of schedule, according to the contractor’s project manager.
However, a four-month moratorium on driving pilings in the Tar River could affect the project’s progress, if it is imposed. The moratorium, which would run from Feb. 15 to June 15, was developed by several agencies, including the N.C. Division of Water Quality, N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries, N.C. Division of Coastal Management and the Army Corps of Engineers to protect fish as they swim upriver to reproduce during their traditional spawning times.
Mark Mallett, project manager for contractor Flatiron/United, said if the moratorium is lifted the bypass stands a good chance of being completed by August 2009, more than a year ahead of schedule. The project’s schedule calls for it to be completed by November 2010.
He also provided some reasons for lifting the moratorium:
In addition, if the moratorium is not lifted, a “significant work-force reduction” would occur, putting people out of work during a recession, Mallett noted. Lifting the moratorium would speed up the project, reduce the amount of time crews would work over the river and lessen the river’s exposure to potential environmental damage caused by the construction process, he said.
But David Emmerling, executive director of the Pamlico-Tar River Foundation, said it’s important that anadromous fish (fish that ascend rivers to reproduce) face few obstacles as they migrate to spawning areas. He has concerns with lifting the moratorium.
The moratorium is a way to help keep anadromous fish populations from declining, he said.
Flatiron/United hopes it will be allowed to continue driving pilings to keep the project on track for early completion, Mallett said. Other than driving pilings, much of the work building the bridge results in little effect on the river and adjacent wetlands because of the “top-down” construction method used, he said.
Crews are driving pilings for several hours one day a week, not constantly, Mallett said.
Two miles of the 2.8-mile long bridge are completed, Mallett said. Currently, crews are working on an 1,800-foot section that will cross the Tar River, he said.
Those crews are at peak production when it comes to building that 1,800-foot section, Mallett said.
The moratorium would slow down the project, he said.
If construction crews can’t work “in the river,” they will “move to the other side” to continue their work on the project, Kincannon said. Doing that could accelerate the phase of the project that calls for the bridge spans to cross wetlands that stretch from the south side of the river toward Chocowinity. Whether or not the moratorium is in place, crews have plenty of work to do, he said.
Mallett said he received information a decision concerning the moratorium will be made next week.
But that was news to Diana Kees, Wednesday.
Kees said several agencies, including the N.C. Division of Water Quality, N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries, N.C. Division of Coastal Management and the Army Corps of Engineers are reviewing the request to lift the moratorium. Those agencies are seeking comments and input from one another regarding the request, she said. Until that information is shared among the agencies, a decision will not be forthcoming, Kees said.
That review is out of DOT’s purview, Kincannon said.
DOT Communications Director Ernie Seneca said those agencies have not indicated to DOT when a decision will be made.
Mallett, though, remains optimistic about the project overall.
Aside from concerns with the moratorium, “We are pleased with the way things are going,” he said. “Most of the roadwork is essentially done. … There are some miscellaneous items like putting up some road signs.”
Kincannon concurred, adding that applying the “final lift of asphalt” on the project’s roadway will come toward the end of the project.
Two gantries are being used to build the structures spanning the river. LG1 is the gantry on the south side of the river moving northward toward LG2, the gantry on the north side of the river headed southward toward LG1. In all, it will take 128 spans to complete the bridge, Mallett said.
Earlier this week, LG1 was working on span 60, meaning it had completed spans one through 59, Mallett said. LG2 was working on span 97, meaning as it worked toward LG1 it had completed spans 128 through 98.
In December, a night shift was added to LG2’s work force, Mallett said.
A winter storm that dumped about 3 1/2 inches of snow in the Washington area last month stopped work on the project for a couple of days, Mallett said, but with little effect on the project’s overall progress.
The project is running a 3.43-percent cost overrun, according to the latest DOT construction progress report. That report lists the project’s scheduled progress at 71.2 percent. That same report lists actual progress at 75.64 percent. DOT last paid the contractor Jan. 14.
Construction on the $192 million project began in March 2007. The bypass, a 6.8-mile project stretching from Price Road near Chocowinity to Springs Road at Washington, is the first highway project in Beaufort County to be constructed using the design-build method. According to DOT, that method reduces a project’s completion time by contracting a single firm to simultaneously design and construct the project.
A new way
to build a bridge
The four-lane bypass at Washington is expected to relieve traffic congestion on existing U.S. Highway 17, as well as provide motorists with improved access to eastern North Carolina. The project’s construction contract was awarded to Flatiron/United, a joint venture between Flatiron Constructors and United Contractors. The project is expected to open to traffic in November 2010.
The project includes building a 2.8-mile bridge across the Tar River and adjacent wetlands. The bridge will be about a mile upriver from the existing U.S. 17 bridge at Washington.
Two 750-ton gantries were built to move the concrete bridge components. A gantry was built in each of the two materials yards on either side of the Tar River.
The large, yellow structures that can be seen from U.S. 17 north of Chocowinity and from U.S. Highway 264 in western Washington are the yard gantries. Beneath each are two 585-foot trusses, parallel to the ground, that will lower each span of the bridge into place as construction progresses out over the river. Each crane had to be transported to the site in pieces and assembled in place.
The gantries lower each 120-foot span of the bridge into place. What makes them unique is their ability to drive piles to support the bridge as construction progresses. The spans are placed on 30-inch-square concrete pilings.
More than 80 percent of the bridge (2.3 miles) will be a continuous 70-foot-wide roadway that accommodates four lanes of traffic. The remaining part of the bridge, on the north side of the river, is complicated by the separation of the structure into independent northbound and southbound spans in a curve, according to project engineers.
To ensure the spans meet in the middle to complete the bridge, crews are using land surveying and global-positioning-satellite technology to plan construction.
Cutline for corresponding photo: The launching gantry for the U.S. Highway 17 bypass project juts out high above the Tar River. (WDN Photo/Paul Dunn)