From S.O.S. Back to SAS

April 2, 2007

By the end of 2004, the California state legislature did everything but call in the crew from Extreme Home Makeover.

The state’s seismic retrofit program was being torpedoed by cost overruns, and at the center of it all was the San Francisco-Oakland Bay East Span Replacement Bridge. In an effort to save money, talk circled from using concrete instead of steel to ultimately eliminating the self-anchored suspension (SAS) design in favor of a cable-stay or basic skyway bridge. Bridge hearings were held, with experts from around the world contributing testimony.

By the end of 2004, the California state legislature did everything but call in the crew from Extreme Home Makeover.

The state’s seismic retrofit program was being torpedoed by cost overruns, and at the center of it all was the San Francisco-Oakland Bay East Span Replacement Bridge. In an effort to save money, talk circled from using concrete instead of steel to ultimately eliminating the self-anchored suspension (SAS) design in favor of a cable-stay or basic skyway bridge. Bridge hearings were held, with experts from around the world contributing testimony.

“They basically said that maybe if (the state legislature) would have chosen a different design route eight years ago it could have saved money,” Randy Rentschler, spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, told Roads & Bridges. “They were saying by the time you got the two-story house fully designed and under construction and moving along, making a one-story house isn’t going to save any money. That finally sunk in to everybody and we really needed to discuss the subject at hand, which was a money problem not a design problem.”

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced an agreement on a plan to complete construction and financing of the Bay Bridge in late June, and the legislature approved it a few days later. Under the agreement the state will stick with the SAS design and contribute an additional $630 million to the total retrofit program to pay for the demolition of the old Bay Bridge, cost increases on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge and increased Caltrans costs of the total seismic retrofit program. The authority over all state toll-bridge revenue in the region was transferred to the Bay Area Toll Authority (BATA), allowing for cost-effective bonding against future revenue. BATA also assumed financial responsibility for maintenance of the seven bridges once the bridge retrofit and replacement work is completed.

Currently California’s seismic retrofit program—which includes work on the Bay Bridge and the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge—has swelled to an $8 billion price tag. It will cost nearly $6 billion to create the self-anchored suspension bridge alone. Increases in tolls are expected to handle much of the financial burden. Starting in 2007, the fee to cross seven state-owned bridges will spike from $3 to $4, and BATA can raise the price again if it is necessary to complete the work.

“People do not like paying tolls for cost overruns because they don’t think they’re getting anything for it,” said Rentschler. “I think people have been frustrated by the lack of oversight. But there is a lot of civic pride here—a lot. When they talked about this freeway on stilts they weren’t going to accept that. They would pay an extra toll to get something they’re proud of.”

Caltrans was expected to advertise for bids on the Bay Bridge in August. The project is expected to be completed by 2013.

Peters leaves FHWA

Federal Highway Administrator Mary Peters announced her resignation and stepped down from her position in late July. Her reason for leaving was not immediately known, but those close to the administrator believe it was for personal reasons. Peters plans to return to the private sector and will operate out of her hometown of Phoenix.

Peters did not want to leave before the reauthorization of TEA-21 was well on its way to being approved by President Bush, and Congress was hoping to send the bill to the Oval Office before the August recess.

Peters began her tenure in the FHWA executive seat on Oct. 2, 2001, and immediately tailored the agency to her style of play. She placed special emphasis on finding new ways to invest in road and bridge construction, including innovative public-private partnerships that helped build roads faster and at a more affordable cost. Peters also led a crusade for work-zone safety and was a strong advocate for using new technology to reduce construction time, save the taxpayer money and build safer, longer-lasting highways.

“She’ll be missed,” Matt Jeanneret, director of public affairs for the American Road & Transportation Builders Association, told Roads & Bridges. “She has been a very capable administrator. She has been a very articulate, credible advocate on the need to invest in transportation infrastructure.” FHWA Deputy Administrator Rick Capka will be the acting administrator until Peters’ replacement is appointed, which could come in the fall.

Cooper River Bridge dedicated

The new Cooper River Bridge was dedicated and opened to traffic on July 16. The dedication to Arthur Ravenel Jr. was preceded by a week of events, including two days when the public was invited to walk around on the bridge and a black-tie celebration. The $200-per-person black-tie event included a view of the sunset, food, cocktails and music played by the Charleston Symphony Orchestra. A fireworks display was held the night of July 14 just before the inaugural lighting of the bridge’s 128 cables.

Charles Dwyer, project manager for South Carolina DOT, told Roads & Bridges the weather was good for the opening ceremony and ribbon cutting in the middle of the bridge. “It was a typical July morning in Charleston: very warm and very muggy.”

The ceremony involved about 18 speakers, including many South Carolina politicians, and flyovers by C-17s and F-16s stationed in the area.

Right after the ceremony and after removing the stage, chairs, etc., SCDOT rerouted traffic onto the bridge, the sort of rerouting switch that usually takes place in the middle of the night.

Arthur Ravenel was given the privilege of being the first to drive across the bridge. He was followed by many other drivers. Traffic was backed up until midnight, Dwyer said, with all the people who wanted to be able to say they drove across the bridge the day it opened. SCDOT expects about 45,000 vehicles to cross the bridge on an average day.

“Everybody was very much in awe of the bridge,” said Dwyer, “and was very excited about getting to drive on it.”

The Ravenel Bridge, named for the South Carolina state senator who helped secure the funding for the bridge, is the longest cable-stayed span in North America, with a main span of 1,546 ft. The $531 million design-build contract is the largest transportation infrastructure project completed by the SCDOT. Palmetto Bridge Constructors, a joint venture of Tidewater Skanska and HBG Flatiron, was the design-build contractor and broke ground in July 2001. The final design was completed by Parsons Brinckerhoff.

The whole bridge structure including ramps is a total of 3.5 miles long carrying eight lanes of U.S. 17 traffic over the Cooper River. It replaces two existing bridges linking Charleston and Mount Pleasant, S.C. The two old bridges will be demolished.

The bridge was designed to withstand the worst its location can dish out. It is built to stand up to a 7.3-magnitude earthquake, such as the Great Quake of 1886. The designers used extensive wind-tunnel simulations of hurricane-force winds to design the bridge to resist winds up to 190 mph. To protect the bridge from ship impacts, such as when a ship collided with an earlier Cooper River bridge in 1947, the builders installed artificial rock islands around the main towers.

The diamond-shaped towers mark off a shipping channel 1,000 ft wide and about 186 ft high, 400 ft wider and 36 ft taller than the previous channel.

Fun factoids: The bridge contains 300,000 cu yd of concrete (43,168 cu yd in the towers), 50,000 tons of reinforcing steel and 40,000 tons of structural steel. The bridge has 2,008 girders, the largest of which is 168 ft long and weighs 437,000 lb. The builders used 172,000 bolts to fasten the steel on the main span and 56,000 metal stay-in-place deck panels.

To keep traffic moving, the bridge has a $17 million intelligent transportation system that includes 14 cameras and 24 radar scanners to monitor the bridge. Data from the system is transmitted to SCDOT’s monitoring stations in Charleston and Columbia and to the local traffic stations and police departments in Charleston and Mount Pleasant. If there is a traffic backup, for instance, SCDOT can respond by sending a message to electronic message boards advising travelers to take another route.

Hoppers may block B.C. highway

The discovery of a rare frog living in the planned path of a highway in British Columbia may halt the highway’s construction, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. (CBC) reported.

The province planned to extend the Sea to Sky Highway over West Vancouver’s Eagleridge Bluffs, but the rare and protected Red-legged Frog has been found in wetlands near Horseshoe Bay.

Residents of the area favor cutting a tunnel through the bluffs, but the province said a tunnel would be too expensive.

Steven Jenkins, environmental coordinator for the West Vancouver District, told the CBC he was concerned that the government may have been too hasty in its environmental assessment of the highway plan. He said the only way to save the frogs was to build a tunnel.

British Columbia Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon said measures were already in place to protect the wetlands and his primary concern was human safety on the highway.

The frog in question is the Red-legged Frog (Rana aurora), which has a limited range in southwestern British Columbia and south as far as California. Red-legged Frogs have declined in some areas of their range because of degradation or loss of their cool, damp, coastal forest habitat. The frog is designated a species of concern in Canada and protected by the British Columbia Wildlife Act.

Construction holding steady, better than last year

Nonresidential construction appears to be in a holding pattern, according to Ken Simonson, chief economist for the Associated General Contractors of America. Simonson based his estimate on Census Bureau figures released July 1 on construction put in place in May. The data show a gradual decline over the three months since February, particularly for private residential building.

“Private nonresidential construction has been little changed all year,” Simonson said. “Nevertheless, the totals for January through May are a respectable 6% higher than during the same months of 2004. Public construction is also 6% ahead of 2004’s pace on a year-to-date basis, with gradual expansion showing up each month.”

InDOT sued for wrongful death in work-zone accident

The parents of a victim of a fatal car crash can move forward with their suit against Indiana and the state department of transportation, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled on June 30, the Louisville, Ky., Courier-Journal reported.

The 6-year-old boy was killed and his parents injured four years ago when a tractor-trailer smashed into the rear of the family’s SUV, which was standing in a traffic jam at a road construction zone on I-80/94 near Chicago.

The negligence and wrongful death suit filed by Rakesh and Phulmatie Chandradat alleges that the state was partly responsible for their son’s death by having poorly placed signs and markings to route traffic through the construction zone. The truck driver told the court he was “very confused” by the lane designations and markings.

The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the state on the basis that the cause of the crash was solely the negligence of the truck driver and that the state had no duty to the Chandradats for the acts of the truck driver.

The Appeals Court pointed out that summary judgment is appropriate in cases that can be decided on the basis of the law, but whether the state’s actions contributed to the accident is a question of fact appropriately decided by a jury.

“The State has a general duty to the traveling public to exercise reasonable care in the design, construction, and maintenance of its highways for the safety of the public users,” the Appeals Court stated.

The Chandradats allege that the state failed to take reasonable care in setting up the construction zone. In fact, the work zone did not comply with the standards of the Indiana Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices for Streets and Highways, according to the testimony of a licensed professional traffic operations engineer.

The case will now go back to the lower court to be tried in front of a jury.

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