By Deborah Huso
Ohio River Bridges project at a glance
Owner: Louisville-Southern Indiana Bridges Authority
Architect: COWI (Formerly Buckland & Taylor Ltd.), North Vancouver, Canada
General Contractor: Walsh Construction Co., Chicago, Ill.
Precasters: A & T Concrete Supply Inc., County Materials Corp., Foster Supply, Gate Precast, Independent Concrete Pipe Co., Oldcastle Precast, Prestress Services Industries,
S & S Precast Inc., Sherman-Dixie Concrete Industries Inc.
Structural Engineer: Jacobs Engineering Group Inc., Louisville, Ky.
Improving crossings over the Ohio River around Louisville has been on the wish lists of Kentucky and Indiana for more than two decades. Clogged bridges and interchanges have been the bane of commuters for years, but last December provided some relief with the completion of part one of the Ohio River Bridges project, which launched in 2013.
The $2.3 billion project stands at the center of Kentucky’s largest urban area, connecting Louisville, Ky., with Jeffersonville, Ind. The project’s goals are to decrease traffic, improve safety and encourage economic development.
“Traffic congestion combined with tight curves and weaving issues resulted in a high volume of crashes, making public safety a primary reason for the project,” said Andy Barber, project manager with the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet. “The project aims to relieve congestion and improve cross-river mobility, which is also expected to drive economic development in the region.”
Powered by the use of a variety of precast concrete products, the Ohio River Bridges project will aid commuters who travel through the area when workers complete construction later this year.
The Ohio River Bridges project has two major components – the Downtown Crossing, which includes bridges and associated roadways connecting Louisville, Ky., with Clark County, Ind., and the East End Crossing, which spans the Ohio River eight miles to the north.
Two bridges make up the Downtown Crossing: the new Abraham Lincoln Bridge, which carries six lanes of northbound Interstate 65 traffic, and the refurbished Kennedy Bridge, which carries six lanes of southbound I-65 traffic. The Lincoln Bridge is the first new bridge project across the Ohio River in the region in more than 50 years.
The largest construction components of the Downtown Crossing were completed in December 2015. The East End Crossing will be complete in October 2016. When finished, workers will have installed 40 acres of mechanically stabilized earth precast panels, 17 miles of precast beams, 200,000 square feet of precast deck panels and a variety of other precast concrete products.
National Precast Concrete Association Certified Plant A&T Concrete of Fort Branch, Ind., manufactured 300,000 square feet of MSE panels for the project. Their work is ongoing.
“We produced roughly 100,000 square feet of panels on the downtown side and about 200,000 square feet on the Jefferson side,” said Jim Pohl, owner. “We still have 30,000 square feet left to deliver.”
According to Jeff Allen, location manager for County Materials Corp., the company’s NPCA Certified Plant in Maxwell, Ind., produced many different precast components for the project, including 4-sided box culvert, inlets, reinforced concrete pipe and manholes.
The precast advantage
Featuring 88 stay cables, the new Lincoln Bridge is 2,100 feet long. It features 120-foot-long approaches constructed from prestressed beams as well as precast concrete deck panels, manholes, culverts and control access walls.
Prestress Services Industries of Lexington, Ky., supplied the beams and panels. Marcario Bernal, quality control manager for Walsh Construction, said precast provided many advantages.
“What I liked about precast was the ease of construction,” Bernal said. “It was much easier to get the precast beams in place – not as much bulking to do.”
Bernal also liked that prestressed beams don’t fluctuate with the weather.
“Your deck relies so much on how those beams move,” he said. “With structural steel bridges, the temperature fluctuations of night and day mean pouring concrete at odd times. Precast doesn’t move as much. It’s set already.”
For Barber, using precast meant the project could be completed with greater speed.
“Precast allowed for a very compressed construction schedule,” he said. “The precaster began deck panel production while we were still casting the foundations in place.”
Precast deck panels also allowed for off-site storage and just-in-time delivery, both of which were critical since Walsh Construction had to maximize space within the small footprint of the job site.
Additionally, going with other precast products helped Walsh expedite the project timeline. Sherman-Dixie Concrete Industries manufactured precast concrete pipe as well as storm drainage and sanitary structures from NPCA Certified Plants for the job. According to Bill Thompson, sales manager with Sherman-Dixie, the result has been positive.
“The folks at Walsh are great,” he said. “They’re ahead of schedule and everything seems to be progressing right along.”
Putting together the Lincoln Bridge
The Lincoln Bridge deck consists of 560 precast panels, each roughly 15 feet wide by 24 feet long. Some panels are completely solid while others have post-tensioning ducts.
Lee Hammer, quality control manager with Walsh Construction, said the design-build team never considered anything other than precast for the deck panels, adding that precast helped save substantially on cost because it allows for repetition.
Additionally, Barber noted the panels – which weigh 20 tons each – were “precast for speed, strength, durability and constructability.”
To deliver the panels from PSI’s plant, the design-build team took advantage of the Ohio River. Barges delivered 30-to-40 panels at a time – each stacked in placement order – to the site. It took the barges about a day to make the trek to the job site.
After the panels arrived on site, workers used a crane to lift them into position. The panels were set on top of foam padding to provide a good bearing surface and a seal for infill concrete. Thanks to some clever design, the panels easily fit together.
“There’s an 18-inch gap between panels with hairpin reinforcement cast into both sides,” Hammer explained. “Adjacent panels are offset from one another so they fit together like two combs.”
Though the use of precast helped significantly, construction of the Lincoln Bridge presented challenges, such as a compressed timeframe.
“Some of the biggest concerns we had were logistics and schedule,” Bernal said. “We had to work very closely with Prestress Services Industries to make sure they could meet the demands.”
According to Hammer, another issue the construction team faced was the ever-evolving nature of the project.
“It was design-build, so that meant we were working on the fly sometimes with the design not being complete,” he said.
Still, despite the challenges, the use of precast concrete for the Downtown Crossing project aided the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet in achieving success. Barber noted that when his office was reviewing the results from their request for proposals, Walsh Construction’s winning bid was almost 18 months faster than the next closest submission.
“The use of precast materials helped lead to those bid results,” he said.
Next steps: East End Crossing
The East End Crossing, scheduled for completion in the fall, will connect east Louisville with southern Indiana, near Utica.
This portion of the project is also making use of precast concrete. According to Barber, the construction team is using full-depth precast panels on the deck of the cable-stayed spans.
Once complete, the East End bridge will consist of approximately 750 panels weighing about 22 tons each.
“Precast was chosen to avoid significant amounts of time needed for form work, rebar placement, concrete placing and concrete curing,” Barber said.
An optimal solution
When the Ohio River Bridges project is completed later this year, all parties involved – including project owners, construction workers and the motorists who regularly travel the route – will benefit from the many advantages associated with precast concrete products. With reduced congestion in the region, travel times will improve and economic development will increase. And all the while, commuters will continue to benefit from the safe, durable bridges that were constructed quickly and efficiently with precast concrete.
Deborah Huso is a freelance writer specializing in construction, real estate, finance and agriculture.