The Sight of Victory

Nov. 8, 2004

On June 5, 2004, New Jersey Department of Transportation Commissioner Jack Lettiere led a group of dignitaries who cut the ribbon on the completion of the southbound side of the Victory Bridge, providing much-anticipated relief to traffic congestion in northern New Jersey. The first of twin spans that create New Jersey’s first concrete segmental bridge was constructed in just 15 months from notice to proceed being issued to George Harms Construction Co. of Farmingdale, N.J. The newly completed bridge will carry two-way traffic while the second bridge is completed.

On June 5, 2004, New Jersey Department of Transportation Commissioner Jack Lettiere led a group of dignitaries who cut the ribbon on the completion of the southbound side of the Victory Bridge, providing much-anticipated relief to traffic congestion in northern New Jersey. The first of twin spans that create New Jersey’s first concrete segmental bridge was constructed in just 15 months from notice to proceed being issued to George Harms Construction Co. of Farmingdale, N.J. The newly completed bridge will carry two-way traffic while the second bridge is completed. With the removal this summer of the original Victory Bridge, a 1927 steel swing-span structure, construction is under way on the second of the twin bridges. Upon its completion, northbound traffic will be shifted to the second bridge. Completion of the entire project is anticipated in early 2006. The new bridge rises 100 ft above the shipping lanes of the Raritan River, carrying Rte. 35 between the city of Perth Amboy and the borough of Sayreville.

Bridge per request

According to Harry Capers Jr., P.E., New Jersey state bridge engineer, New Jersey is the most congested state in the country, with approximately 1,000 people per square mile. The building boom along the Jersey shoreline in recent years coupled with the growing number of commuters headed into New York City resulted in the need to provide a new high level and expanded crossing of the Raritan River as a priority of the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT). An earlier attempt to complete the project as a design-build effort was abandoned. At that time, several options were investigated for the superstructure type and it was determined that precast segmental would be the most economical solution. In the summer of 2001, NJDOT selected Figg Bridge Engineers, Tallahassee, Fla., for the design of the replacement structure, with roadway design handled by Vollmer Associates.

“Invisible construction is a goal of the NJDOT,” stated Capers, “with minimal impacts to commuters. We sought out ways to accelerate construction. With the innovations designed into the new bridge with Figg, we were able to make this as easy as possible for commuters. The Harms team got the first bridge open to traffic in a minimal amount of time.”

Capers admitted that undertaking the first concrete segmental bridge in the state was truly a paradigm shift for many and a long time coming, but the department’s structural engineers were ready to embrace the technology as a solution for the replacement of the Victory Bridge. The combination of the difficult salt environment (within sight of the Hudson Bay), the need to build the structure quickly in order to alleviate the difficult traffic congestion at the site, the desire for a very durable structure and a desire to provide a welcoming entrance to the river traffic led NJDOT to this precast concrete segmental bridge design.

The new bridge consists of twin parallel structures, each 3,971 ft in length. Over the main shipping channel, twin 440-ft fully match cast, precast main spans set an American record for this type of construction. The main spans and side spans of 330 ft were built in balanced cantilever from barge-mounted cranes, concurrent with the approach spans (varying in length from 132 to 150 ft) being assembled span by span with supporting trusses. This concurrent activity helped account for the quick construction time.

An equally important contributing factor was the use of precast piers. Casting the bridge pier and superstructure segments off site at Bayshore Concrete Products in Cape Charles, Va., allowed for concurrent foundation construction activities. As much as 100 ft of precast pier segments were assembled in a day, creating significant time savings in the project schedule. Typical piers are 8 ft x 16 ft with wall thickness of 12 in. except for the mainspan piers, which are 18 in. Piers within the river have foundations of footings connected to drilled shafts, while land-based piers have rectangular footings with steel pipe piles filled with concrete. The abutments are conventional cast-in-place concrete on pile foundations. By shifting the alignment only 30 ft from the original bridge, nearly all of the 6- and 8-ft drilled shafts were completed in one construction season.

An innovative construction drawing process also saved valuable time in the schedule. Bid documents included construction drawings with the required elements for the concrete structure. Such information as rebar bends, segment geometry and tendon stressing information were included. For the more complex pier, expansion joint and deviation segments, electronic files of 3-D integrated color drawings were provided to the contractor to facilitate the fabrication process. Shop drawings were required only for the expansion joints, bearings and post-tensioning hardware. By eliminating the need for the development and review of shop drawings, Harms and NJDOT saved time and money right from the beginning of construction. Nat Kasbekar, P.E., project manager for NJDOT on the Victory Bridge replacement project, summed it up when he said, “Anything that you can think of, this bridge has it. All of the innovations in concrete bridges, all in one place. It has all the features to be proud of.”

Rte. 35 has been widened to provide two 12-ft lanes, 10-ft outside shoulders and 3-ft inside shoulders in each direction, a significant improvement over the previous 9-ft 6-in. lanes and 4-ft 6-in. sidewalks, with no shoulders or median barrier. Intersection improvements at Smith and Fayette streets will help traffic move along freely. With a vertical clearance of only 28 ft, the original Victory Bridge opened an average of 1,100 times a year, bringing heavy commuter traffic to a standstill with each opening. By increasing the vertical clearance to 110 ft above mean water level, traffic should now flow freely. Equally, the horizontal clearance increased from 28 ft with the swing span open to a generous 355-ft width. Additionally, improvements have been made throughout the project including a new center median barrier, guard rail replacement and new highway lighting. The southbound bridge carries a 6-ft sidewalk for pedestrian traffic, with bicycle traffic being accommodated in the wide outside shoulders.

The bridge superstructure segments were cast with an additional 1?2 in. of concrete on the top slab, so that upon completion of each of the twin bridges, the surface is milled to meet rideability criteria and provide a superior riding surface. An additional 11?4 in. of sacrificial concrete was cast into the segments to provide an integral riding surface. No second course overlay wearing surface is required for the project. Superstructure segments were cast using a high-performance 6,000 and 8,000 psi (Class P-2 & P-4) concrete for durability. This dense mix has good resistance to freeze-thaw conditions and permeability.

Serving our veterans

Opening shortly after the conclusion of World War I, the original Victory Bridge was dedicated to honor New Jersey residents who served their nation during the “war to end all wars.” With the original bridge eligible for national historic landmark status, it was recognized that maintaining this dedication was important in paying tribute to an important chapter in our country’s history. A stated project goal was to retain the theme, develop the bridge aesthetics to pay tribute to this honor and at the time of opening rededicate the bridge to honor New Jersey veterans.

“The first vehicular crossing of the Raritan River, as you approach from the Hudson Bay, deserved a special treatment to create a welcoming entrance to the river,” stated Capers. “The piers sweep towards the sky and the superstructure creates a slender and beautiful arch effect over the Raritan River.”

Early thoughts were modest in scale and included a small park at one end of the bridge that would include the pilasters from the original bridge. However, with a consideration toward creating a bridge that would make a significant tribute, a wider perspective developed.

Four memorial obelisks are located at the bridge abutments, two on each bridge. Two of the obelisks carry refurbished bronze plaques from the original Victory Bridge, while the other two obelisks carry newly created bronze plaques that were designed to complement the original plaques and rededicate the bridge.

Open vistas are provided to drivers and pedestrians through an open traffic rail. Concrete pilasters, spaced at approximately 150-ft intervals across the superstructure, carry poles for highway lighting and new bronze plaques complementary to the larger abutment plaques. The walkway plaques provide history lessons on various branches of service and the roles that they filled during World War I. Profiled groups include the Navy, Army, Marines, Air Corps and Red Cross. Additionally, the outside of the pilasters has a star design cast into the concrete to reflect the theme. Aesthetic lighting provides a “string of pearls” appearance when the bridge is viewed from the river, while down lighting on the main piers further enhances the appearance of the structure at night.

Plenty fast

Upon contracting the design team, NJDOT set out the challenge to complete the design and bid the project within one year. The Figg team committed to a design schedule of seven months. NJDOT’s Kasbekar was amazed, “It became easy. We’re accustomed to pushing along consultants and negotiating the schedule, but here we were ready to say ‘slow down.’ It all really turned around so fast from where we had been.”

When the project was bid in late 2002, the partnership grew to include the George Harms Construction Co. With a low bid of $109 million, the company undertook construction of their first concrete segmental bridge.

Construction on the second twin bridge is moving quickly above the Raritan River. By spring 2005, it is anticipated that traffic will flow more freely through Perth Amboy and Sayreville than it has in years. And the honor of World War I veterans will be preserved for future generations to learn about and honor those who came before them.

About The Author: Rodriguez is a project director at Figg Bridge Engineers, Tallahassee, Fla.