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Short for Success

Bridge Construction Article January 01, 2006
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In real-estate parlance, the three most important criteria are location, location and location. Well, the same can be said for roadway rehabilitation, especially when it’s New Jersey’s extremely high-volume, historic Rte. 139.

It is only 1.2 miles long. But those 1.2 miles provide an essential conduit for more than 100,000 vehicles per day. Connecting Jersey City’s Tonnelle Circle and the Holland Tunnel, Rte. 139 is a vital link between New York City and New Jersey. Unfortunately, a portion of that relentlessly used roadway has two separate structures approximately 1,500 ft each—the 14th and 12th street viaducts—that are really showing their age (50 and 80 years old, respectively). Described as “structurally deficient” by the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT), the viaducts have been battered by time, increased traffic volume and excessive use that contributed to the “severe deterioration” of their structural integrity. By NJDOT’s measure, they were in serious need of rehabilitation and replacement.

“About five years ago, we had a project [Rte. 139 Contract No. 1] that did nothing but strip the concrete encasements off the beams underneath these two structures,” explained NJDOT Project Manager Larry Vogel. “We used hydrodemolition and got down to steel to see the condition of the steel. Quite frankly, at that point in its life the concrete was virtually a burden to the structure. At one time it protected the steel, but now it just added needless weight. Obviously, it was time to fix these beams.”

Part of the crowd

Driven by that need and the roadway’s functional significance, NJDOT embarked on the second phase of the $225 million Rte. 139 Rehabilitation Project, which includes $75 million for the 12th and 14th Street Viaduct Rehabilitation Project, a complex effort that includes the removal and replacement of the concrete deck, seismic retrofitting, substructure and superstructure repair and the construction of a new shoulder lane to increase capacity and reduce traffic congestion during construction. And part of this roadway has received a historic designation, adding another layer of complexity. Handling it all was prime contractor D’Annunzio and Sons.

“Not only is the project in a very well-populated area of New Jersey, but it also involves one of the primary crossings in and out of New York City,” added Vogel. “So we faced some considerable challenges. First, the project involves many jurisdictions. There’s the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the New Jersey Turnpike Authority, New Jersey Transit, the New York City Department of Transportation, the cities of Hoboken, Jersey City and Bayonne, and Hudson County. That meant a great deal of agency coordination. And the biggest issue for most of the stakeholders had to do with traffic mitigation.”

The department’s Office of Traffic Operations suggested to Vogel that a traffic mitigation task force be formed. This task force, coordinated by the NJDOT’s Meg Frampton, brought together all the stakeholder agencies and NJDOT bureaus to come up with ways to alleviate the traffic generated by the project. A key member of this task force is Rick Jaffe, who is deemed the department’s traffic mitigation advocate.

The task force came up with ideas large and small—as simple as re-striping or adding signs and as large as creating new infrastructure. For example, a new turning lane will be added to the New Jersey Turnpike ramp.

“Everyone knew that the volume of traffic on this corridor was intense. Still, it was amazing to see the impact that the project had on traffic once it was under way. And the closer we got to construction, the more the stakeholders began to understand in a practical way exactly what we were talking about in terms of traffic mitigation. While our initial plans were sound—we added an entire lane for capacity, called the 14th Street viaduct shoulder structure—we wanted to do more. We worked closely with New Jersey Transit, using models to upgrade their park-and-ride facilities and plan some additional mitigation measures. Things have worked out very well so far.”

One at a time

The rehabilitation of Rte. 139 has been broken down into three separate contracts. Rte. 139 Contract No. 1, as earlier discussed, removed the concrete encasement from the 12th and 13th street viaducts. Contract No. 2, currently under construction, includes deck replacement, superstructure rehabilitation and seismic retrofitting of the 12th and 14th street viaducts. This will be completed by 2010. Contract No. 3, currently under design, will complete the rehabilitation of the remaining 1 mile of roadway.

“The project is being constructed in stages because we can’t just shut down the corridor and completely divert traffic. And we did not want to divert traffic away from the site because of the congestion burden it would impose on Jersey City. So staged construction was the optimal solution,” explained DMJM Harris Project Manager Ernie Hutchins. His firm was tasked with comprehensive project design as well as overall project management, traffic studies, environmental studies, preparation of the environmental assessment and the section 4(f) document and community programs.

“The 14th Street shoulder structure extends from the gore area, where the New Jersey Turnpike ramp exits, up to the west abutment. We’ll shift a lane of traffic onto it and then begin the deck replacement on the 14th Street structure that extends to Hoboken Avenue at the top of the ramp. Once that’s finished, we’ll switch one lane of traffic onto the newly constructed deck and work toward the south side of the viaduct until that’s completed. While that’s happening, structural steel strengthening and repairs will be going on as well.

“Then the traffic staging switches to the 12th Street viaduct. Since the 12th Street structure is bounded on the north side by office and industrial buildings, we were unable to widen it on the north side. On the south side there’s a turnpike ramp, which precluded creating a similar shoulder structure. So when we start working on the 12th Street viaduct, one lane will be diverted into a contraflow lane—a lane of eastbound traffic on the 14th Street viaduct—while the other westbound lanes are maintained. That should provide the necessary work zone for the 12th Street viaduct. But we were very careful to make sure that these plans weren’t made in a vacuum.

“A large part of the staging strategy came about as a result of significant community involvement. NJDOT made it clear that this was a priority for them, and we’ve worked very closely with all of the stakeholders. We’ve eagerly sought their input and have kept them in the loop from the beginning. It’s been a great collaboration and that’s made a critical difference.”

According to Hutchins, the western convergence of the 12th and 14th street viaducts is traditionally an extremely congested area. The project team will use a movable barrier to ensure that two lanes of traffic will always be maintained in the peak-hour direction. While traffic congestion is mitigated, the superstructure will receive its redecking, structural steel strengthening, seismic retrofitting and other repairs.

Within these two very old structures there are actually 10 types of steel structures. There’s a steel superstructure with steel columns. And there are various arrangements of two-span continuous frames that have superstructures with either stringers or stringer/floor beams or truss-span arrangements as they span over the turnpike ramp or an old abandoned railroad line.

On the 14th Street structure, the project team will perform a structural seismic retrofitting on one of the drop spans. In the three-span arrangement, the two outside spans cantilever into a center span. A drop-in span is supported by brackets at the ends of those two cantilevers. That is not seismically acceptable, so the team will retrofit those supports. They also will retrofit the west end spans, using rock anchors driven through the west abutment into rock to restrain the superstructure of the 12th Street viaduct. Other repairs on the 14th Street structure include installing 7-in.-diam. micropiles between the existing battered timber piles to increase the capacity of the foundations. These will be drilled into rock. In addition, the project team will perform pedestal strengthening and column strengthening where necessary to increase capacity.

The new shoulder structure will be a nine-span structure, consisting of a four-span continuous segment, a three-span continuous segment and a two-span continuous segment. This arrangement will have a drilled shaft foundation that is rock socketed.

Caring for the old

In addition to the engineering and traffic management challenges, the team faced two challenges imposed by history. Again, Vogel explained. “There are two buildings in the project zone that are eligible for inclusion in the National Register for Historic Places. They are the Seaboard Terminal and Refrigeration Co. building and the Continental Can Co. building. Neither building can be harmed during construction, so we’re conducting vibration monitoring during construction to ensure that no damage occurs. In addition, the 12th Street viaduct was built in the 1920s and is a contributing element to the U.S. Rte. 1 & 9 Historic District. So ornamental lighting and light poles were designed and will be installed that duplicate those originally used. But this wasn’t only about preserving history.

“Many years ago, asbestos was used in the asphalt overlay of the 12th Street viaduct. Asbestos removal is complicated, so this is a significant environmental and historical concern. We’re taking several measures to ensure safety, including constant monitoring to verify that asbestos particles do not escape into the air. And the environmental concerns don’t end there: the roadbed under the viaducts was an old railroad line, so the soil was contaminated in areas. In addition to treating the groundwater, we developed an extensive plan to manage this hazardous/regulated waste.”

Mastering masters

Though they are clearly dealing with a very complex stretch of road, NJDOT and the project team are doing everything they can to ensure that the construction is both effective and efficient. To minimize motorist delays and expedite work, NJDOT implemented an aggressive contractor incentive/disincentive program. Under the program, the contractor is subject to penalties of $20,000 per day for work not finished on time. Conversely, the contractor earns $20,000 per day for completing the project ahead of schedule. Given the project’s record so far, it is clear that this program works.

“In any endeavor like this, NJDOT serves two primary masters: first we must make sure that the traveling public has efficient transportation. Next, we must be sensitive to the communities that host these projects and minimize the negative impact on their lives,” explained NJDOT Commissioner Kris Kolluri. “The initiation of Phase 2 of the Rte. 139 rehabilitation project—six months early, no less—reflects our commitment to swift and efficient progress, with minimal impact to motorists. NJDOT will diligently implement strategies to mitigate traffic and communicate with motorists as we continue to rebuild the approaches to the Holland Tunnel.”

It is only 1.2 miles long. But those 1.2 miles provide an essential conduit between two states and millions of travelers. In repairing and upgrading an extremely complicated stretch of road, the Rte. 139 project with the 12th and 14th street viaduct rehabilitation project proves that the old real-estate adage is just as true for roadway rehabilitation—the most important criteria are location, location and location.

About the author: 
Schurr is a New York-based freelance writer who reports on transportation infrastructure.
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