October 7, 2013
Fort McMurray bridge repaired after hit and run
Traffic is again flowing west on both lanes of the Hospital Street bridge in Fort McMurray after necessary repairs to the damaged bridge took several difficult turns.
Challenges during repairs included additional intricate work to fix damage done during the original repairs, which delayed the lane re-opening by five days The lane re-opened Sept. 20.
On New Years’ Eve this year, a passing high load hit the underside of the bridge causing minor damage to the bridge’s south underside and major damage to the exterior girder to the north underside. Interior girders also suffered minor damage.
The incident was a hit and run.
“So we closed the lane to ensure the safety of the travelling public,” said Rizwan Hussain, Alberta Transportation’s construction manager for Fort McMurray.
The outside westbound lane of the four-lane bridge was closed to traffic. It remained closed for months, much to the ire of the motoring public.
When the ministry tendered the contract not one bid came in and that, he added, doesn’t happen very often.
“However, it should be noted that the high load strike repair work is considered very specialized in nature and there are not many contractors in the industry capable of doing such work with quality,” said Hussain. “Fort McMurray is always difficult to find resources and this could be one of the reasons we did not receive any bid for the Hospital Street high load strike repair work.”
Alberta Transportation then picked up the phone and approached a couple of contractors already working the area.
In the end, Graham took up the challenge with a goal of completing the project in a timely manner. Construction started in August with a scheduled finish date of on or before Sept. 15.
Hussain explained the cost was higher than normal because of limited work shifts, daily traffic accommodation set-up and breakdown due to the high volume of traffic, the increased cost for working in Fort McMurray and illumination.
The work was done at night to minimize the impact on traffic travelling on Highway 63 under the bridge. That meant closing at either 8 or 9 p.m. with the lanes re-opening for morning rush hour at 4 a.m. weekdays and 5 a.m. weekends.
Northbound lanes of the highway were closed to allow safe work conditions and traffic was re-directed over the bridge.
Hussain acknowledged there was a lot of pressure from the public and local municipality to have the work finished sooner than scheduled resulting in some additional damage to the bridge as the contractor attempted to expedite the work.
Instead of hand chipping away the loose and damaged concrete, which can be time consuming, workers saw cut which caused some damage to the bridge’s strands. He explained strands are like cables that draw tension to the girder for structural integrity.
Noting the specialized work on the bridge, he added the strand work is critical.
The eight tension couplers needed for repairs to the strands had to be ordered from Texas because “none were available in Canada at the time,” said Martin Potgieter, Graham’s project manager.
A couple of standard couplers were also used for the repairs in replacing the damaged strands.
The tension couplers torque up the load in the strands “so you have the equal strength when you’re done,” said Potgieter.
The bridge once again has nine fully tensioned strands as it should be, he added.
The lane was re-opened to traffic Sept. 20 after the concrete – poured the week of Sept. 9 – cured and the specified load bearing strength was reached.
“The guys did well,” said Potgieter of his crew.
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