Gainey’s custom precast concrete solution offers quick installation, minimizing shutdown of major Louisiana highway.
By Heather Bremer
South of Baton Rouge, La., the Mississippi River snakes its way through a collection of industrial areas that utilize the river for transporting a wide range of products.
Louisiana Highway 30 shadows the Mississippi as it winds its way toward the Gulf of Mexico, acting as a major route for heavy industrial traffic through the southeastern part of the state.
While essential to commerce in the area, the thoroughfare presented a significant challenge for the Willow Glen chemical facility in getting shipments to the river for transport.
How could the facility bury pipes needed to carry its chemicals beneath Highway 30 to waiting ships on the river without shutting down this major roadway for an extended period?
Gainey’s Concrete, with a reputation for custom-made precast concrete solutions, had the answer.
Willow Glen’s engineer, Tim Bacon of Sigma Engineering, worked with Gainey’s and Senior Design Manager Cyndi Glascock on a project several years ago, and he was familiar with the company’s capabilities. While some may have considered cast-in-place concrete, Bacon knew they didn’t have time for that.
“He contacted us because he needed to move fast,” Glascock said. “Some people aren’t always familiar with using precast over cast-in-place, but for him it was a no-brainer.”
Precast concrete also addressed another of Willow Glen’s major concerns: protecting the pipes.
According to the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development, more than 12,000 vehicles traverse that stretch of Highway 30 in a single day.
“It was going to go under not just a regular major road but a major route with very heavy industrial traffic over it,” Glascock said. “Big tankers and such up and down the road, so they wanted to also protect the pipes.”
A CHALLENGING DESIGN
The project went through several design stages. Originally, Bacon envisioned utilizing a box culvert but switched to installing one large vault. He felt they could speed up the project if they avoided laying individual sections of box culvert.
“It was originally 7½-feet-by-36-feet-by-3-foot-3 tall, and it was a single vault,” Glascock said. “Then they came back to us about a week later, and they’re like ‘There actually will be more pipes, so we need to make it larger.’”
Gainey’s team headed back to the drawing board. Willow Glen’s team proposed a 10-foot-by-36-foot vault, but Glascock felt a vault at those dimensions would be too heavy and difficult to cast. A pitch was made to split the project into four boxes.
Willow Glen countered with a request for two.
“We ended up with two very long vaults, 6-foot-by-36-foot-by-5-foot-8 tall,” Glascock said. “And we moved forward from there.”
A NEED FOR CREATIVE SOLUTIONS
The challenges did not end once a design was selected.
The structures in Gainey’s four-box proposal would have weighed nearly 60,000 pounds, allowing the company to utilize its own equipment to lift the boxes once they’d been cast and cured. But the long vaults that were settled on weighed 115,000 pounds.
“This meant we would need to bring a crane with more lifting capacity to Gainey’s to perform the lift,” said Tim Sander, operations manager at Gainey’s. “We decided to hire a professional crane and rigging company to perform the lift and transport the large, heavy structures on their specialty trailers.”
Since the Gainey’s plant would not be able to move the structures until shipping day, it was imperative to select the right location for casting. Other projects going on at the same time had to be considered as well as the placement of the transport equipment. Not a drop of concrete was cast before the plan was in place.
“Before the first piece was formed up, we planned the location of the crane, the placement of the trailers that would be carrying the structures and compared that data to the load charts for the crane that would be performing the lifts to make sure they had enough reach and everything would work out,” Sander said.
Because the two vaults would be set side by side, Gainey’s needed to ensure the walls wouldn’t bow. That caused some adjustments to the typical formwork. Two 4-inch-by-6-inch walers per wall were secured to the formwork. Wooden cross braces also were installed at 5-foot intervals on the inside formwork to keep the walls from pulling in on themselves when the structures were lifted.
The walls remained straight, and the field installation went smoothly.
“We’ll never know if it was necessary, but just as another precaution because they were so long, we put wood bracing in between but just temporarily,” Glascock said. “We just left it there until they got it in place, then they just popped the wood out.”
FINDING GREAT PARTNERS
Another big challenge was connecting Deep South Cranes’ rigging with the anchors that Gainey’s planned to cast into the structures. Each of the massive vaults was supposed to have eight ALP Supply utility anchors cast into the walls. But the crane company’s rigging would not fit into the recess pockets designed for those anchors.
Gainey’s experimented with several alternatives, then reached out to ALP’s technical team. ALP suggested using clutches designed for their ring-lift system on the utility anchors.
“The clutches fit well and successfully bridged the gap between the anchors and rigging,” Sander said.
Gainey’s found another partner in Delta Specialty Precast Concrete Engineers when concerns arose about the possibility of the lids cracking.
The weight of the traffic wasn’t a worry. The lids, at 8 inches thick, could handle that. Glascock’s concerns centered around when the lids would be lifted.
Delta helped find a solution.
“They helped us design an eight-point pick for the lid versus a standard four-point, so that way the weight of the lid balanced out against itself,” Glascock said. “And when we went to lift that, it didn’t crack, and we didn’t have to engage the steel. The concrete on its own was sufficient.”
The structure’s bathtub base unit was very heavy. Because of this, the base unit also was designed to be lifted with an eight-point pick.
SIZE AND SPEED
Vault production, using a 6,000 psi mix design, took about a week and half. When finished, they were the second largest pieces ever produced by Gainey’s. Coincidentally, the largest, at 125,000 pounds, was for another chemical facility on the same highway as Willow Glen.
The structures remained at Gainey’s just long enough that anyone who took a plant tour during The Precast Show in May 2021 got to see the pieces before they shipped out.
Once the pieces did leave the yard, the turnaround time at the job site was fast.
“Within two days’ time, the road was back up and running,” Glascock said. “So, they were able to excavate, we dropped the boxes, they backfilled and kept going.”
PRECAST IS THE PROVEN CHOICE
Time is money in the industrial market, and, for this project, precast concrete proved its time- and money-saving capabilities once again. Gainey’s has analyzed statistics on rainfall in Louisiana, which showed 2021 was the third-wettest spring in the state’s history. When working with project owners, Glascock often cites these stats and how precast can help avoid issues cast-in-place projects may encounter.
“What happens when it starts pouring down rain and your whole project gets ground to a stop?” Glascock said. “With precast, as soon as the sky is dry, we come in and bring the product in, and we’re out.”
Safety is another advantage of precast concrete. Easy, fast installations mean less time that a crew is working in the middle of a highway system, trying to place rebar or working atop scaffolding.
“It really eliminates a lot of the safety hazards in a situation like that,” Glascock said.
And when it comes to quality, there’s a certainty and reassurance you often won’t find with cast-in-place.
At Gainey’s, quality-certified technicians batch the structures in quality-controlled plants that are NPCA-certified. Batch tickets are generated by computers so Gainey’s can provide documentation about the mix used and what batch it came out of. The company also performs its own cylinder breaks.
“So, before it gets to you, you already know the strength of your concrete,” Glascock said. “You’re not placing it in a hole and then finding out later, ‘Oh, this wasn’t strong enough.’”
The Willow Glen project is yet another chapter in precast concrete’s powerful story, one that can be a lesson for Gainey’s as it continues to offer solutions to industrial markets.
“Projects like this really excite me because they challenge everyone here at Gainey’s who plays a role in them,” Sander said. “Those challenges force us to learn, grow and ultimately we become better precasters.”
Heather Bremer is a communications manager at NPCA.