A key New York artery exceeds expectations and leads to more precast projects in the region.
By Bridget McCrea
It’s been five years since Precast Solutions featured the Brooklyn Bridge, which at the time was freshly redecked with prefabricated precast concrete panels. The first precast project of its kind for the New York Department of Transportation (NYDOT), it was unknown then just how well the revamped structure would hold up to the abuse from the thousands of trucks, cars and buses that rely on the thoroughfare on a daily basis.
Good news: Now in its seventh year, the bridge is not only holding up just fine, but the project’s success has translated into other precast bridge resurfacings in the city as well as some related work for the precaster and contractor involved in the original project. “Everything is holding up very well,” says Walter Kulczycki, deputy director for NYDOT, the bridge’s owner. “We’ve had no problems with it at all.”
Strict penalties not an issue
The Brooklyn Bridge redecking project comprised precast panels that allowed for speedy construction on a surface that had to remain open to traffic and be finished within an allotted time period. Cast-in-place concrete wasn’t an option, according to Kulczycki, who remembers crews tearing out the old deck every morning and – working quickly – replacing it with the new, precast concrete grids before the structure had to open for business the following day.
The penalty for not reopening the structure on time was $500 per minute starting at 6 a.m. sharp. No penalties were levied during installation, and on the first day the bridge actually opened 10 minutes early and beat the deadline several more times during construction. In total, the project required 2,400 yards of concrete manufactured into 1 million square feet of precast decking panels. Each bridge section was fabricated from four 3-inch-thick panels that, when assembled together, made up a 30-by-30-foot grid resembling ice cube trays.
John Rutkowski, president of A.C. Miller in Spring City, Pa., the precast manufacturer for the job, says the project went smoothly and was finished ahead of schedule with the contractor receiving financial compensation for being ahead of the game. “We didn’t have a single rejected panel,” says Rutkowski.
The biggest testimonial to how well those panels have held up can be traced back to Sept. 11, 2001, when the artery was used to transport emergency personnel and vehicles to and from Ground Zero. “During the weeks that followed, the bridge was subjected to one of the worst loads it could possibly have had,” says Rutkowski. “The fact that fire trucks used it repeatedly instead of the usual cars during that time shows just how durable the panels are.”
John Kolaya, executive vice president with Yonkers Contracting Co. in Yonkers, N.Y., says he drives over the Brooklyn Bridge every couple of months and gets an up-close look at how the structure is holding up. “The bridge rehabilitation was designed for a 50-year life,” says Kolaya, whose firm regularly uses precast concrete in its projects, “and I predict the owner will get every year out of it and then some.”
Since completing its role in the Brooklyn Bridge redecking project, A.C. Miller has manufactured panels that were installed on several sections of the Manhattan Bridge. “They were mostly used on the approach ramps,” says Rutkowski, who adds that another precaster, Fort Miller Co. Inc., was involved a few years later with the replacement of the heavily traveled Tappan Zee Bridge, which spans the Hudson River’s main navigation channel.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration, Yonkers Contracting Corp. used approximately 1,064 10-inch-thick precast panels supplied by The Fort Miller Co. to handle the Tappan Zee job, which was completed in July 2002.
For that project, 3,000 square feet of pavement was removed and replaced with the precast panels. Like the Brooklyn Bridge project, the road had to be reopened to traffic by 6 a.m. every morning to avoid a penalty of $1,300 per minute for every minute after that to a maximum penalty of $250,000 per day.
Kolaya says the Tappan Zee project went well and that his firm has since done several other precast-inclusive bridges for the State of New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the NYDOT, among others. The lack of alternative routes requires the bridges to be open for business every day.
“It’s rare that you can shut down an entire bridge structure, unless you are doing a major rehabilitation like the Williamsburg Bridge or the Manhattan Bridge, where they can shut down some roadways,” says Kolaya. As a result, the city and other agencies are seeking contracts that drive toward ‘invisible’ construction, the element of speed and immediate usability when they open up to traffic in the morning, he says. “To get there requires some sort of prefabricated element such as precast.”
Seven years and counting
Rutkowski credits NPCA-certified quality control procedures with helping his company do its part in redecking a major New York City artery that held up very well – not only in the aftermath of 9/11, but also every day since. “Nothing needed to be replaced,” he says, “and we didn’t have a single defect.”
In addition to installing precast panels on two approaches to the Manhattan Bridge, A.C. Miller continues to get solicitations for similar projects at a pace that it has never seen before, Rutkowski says. “Of course we don’t take on every project, as not all of them fit into our schedule, but it has definitely led to other work,” he says, adding that one individual involved with the Brooklyn Bridge project wound up commissioning A.C. Miller to use precast for rebuilding Coney Island Railroad Station.
Rutkowski sees more opportunities ahead, including another four-mile-long bridge in the city that may be a good candidate for a redecking with precast panels.
Kolaya also sees the opportunity to do more precast-centric projects in the future based on the widespread use of precast throughout much of the city, albeit not on those bridges that are made of unrelated materials. “Most of the large bridges like the East River Bridge and the George Washington Bridge aren’t really precast bridges,” he says, adding that these include suspension bridges with orthotropic steel decks. “The Brooklyn Bridge was somewhat different because of its age and because they wanted to replicate specifically what was already there.”
Kulczycki confirms that the city is indeed looking to incorporate more precast into its bridges and other structures based on the success of projects like the Brooklyn Bridge. “We’re going to consider using it on the series of masonry arches that are positioned on the approaches,” says Kulczycki. “We see this as a good potential use of precast.”