Thursday | 17 March, 2022 | 9:44 am

Fix-it formula

Written by By Corinna Petry

Above: The 447-foot-long Fern Hollow bridge fell 100 feet into the park below. Ten vehicle occupants sustained injuries.

Structurally deficient U.S. bridges are poised for repair and replacement with injections of federal cash

March 2022 - Pittsburgh-area residents learned about the structural deficiency of Fern Hollow bridge when it collapsed Jan. 28. Ten people were injured. In a preliminary report issued Feb. 7, the National Transportation Safety Board said the 447-foot-long bridge experienced a structural failure and fell about 100 feet into the park below.

Built in 1973 from uncoated weathering steel, the bridge consisted of a three-span, continuous rigid K-frame structure with two welded steel girders, welded steel floor beams, and rolled steel stringers. Each girder was supported by two welded steel frame legs, also made of uncoated weathering steel. Although certain areas of the welded steel girders were identified as being fracture critical, no primary fractures were found in these areas, NTSB states.

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An inspector from the National Transportation Safety Board points out an area of damage to the girder that likely occurred during the Jan. 28 collapse of Fern Hollow bridge in Pittsburgh.

Nearly 224,000 U.S. bridges need major repair work or should be replaced, according to an analysis of the U.S. Department of Transportation 2021 National Bridge Inventory database, performed by the American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA). That figure represents 36 percent of all U.S. bridges.

On Jan. 14, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) launched the historic Bridge Replacement, Rehabilitation, Preservation, Protection, and Construction Program (Bridge Formula Program), made possible by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The program, to be administered by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), provides $26.5 billion to states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico over five years and $825 million for tribal transportation facilities.

Based on average repair and replacement cost data published by the FHWA and submitted by state transportation authorities, ARTBA estimates the cost of identified repairs for all 224,000 bridges—including the 43,578 that are deemed structurally deficient—is $260 billion.

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The cost of identified repairs for 224,000 bridges in the U.S. comes to $260 billion. The new federal funding provides one-tenth of that dollar amount over the next five years.

Project launches

Several states have discussed major projects underway or soon to be launched, based in part on the federal infrastructure assistance they expect to receive.

Gov. Gavin Newsom said California will receive nearly $850 million in initial funding in year one of a five-year bridge repair program. “With more than 26,000 bridges in California—including some of the busiest and most iconic in the nation—we thank the administration for this historic investment to make our bridges more resilient.”

California will receive roughly $4.2 billion over five years to address highway bridge needs. Caltrans and local transportation agencies will target the funds to improve the nearly 1,500 bridges rated in “poor” condition in the state. California’s 2022-23 budget proposes a nearly $15 billion investment in transportation and infrastructure overall.

In Colorado, contractors began construction Dec. 3 to replace the historic bridge on Colorado Highway 92 over the Gunnison River. Completion of the new bridge is expected this November. The existing bridge is a 383-foot-long, three-span steel camelback pony truss built in 1938. It has both structural and functional deficiencies. The bridge will be replaced by a concrete bridge designed for a 100-year lifespan. The only metal likely to be used there, however, will be concrete reinforcing bars and guardrails.

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The release of federal dollars will create jobs for steelworkers, ironworkers and construction trades generally.

Massachusetts plans to replace the Rourke Bridge in Lowell, using funds from the federal government as well as state funds. The cost is estimated at $170 million. The state expects to receive $9.5 billion over five years under the Bridge Formula Program. The governor listed 181 bridges that will be funded for repair or replacement through 2027. The state expects to address more than one-third of its structurally deficient bridge backlog.

Louisiana authorities began work last August to replace the Louisiana Highway 1 bridge over Caddo Lake near Mooringsport. Built in 1940, the bridge connects Mooringsport and Oil City. The $18.2 million project is anticipated to be complete in summer 2024. The state expects to receive a total of $5.8 billion from the Bridge Formula Program. U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy says Louisiana “has been impacted more than any other state by flooding and natural disasters these past few years. This is the largest investment in roads, bridges, broadband and our coastline in our state’s history.”

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear unveiled a new infrastructure plan that includes projects using up to $6.2 billion in federal funds through 2028. Proposed projects include the Brent Spence Bridge Corridor project in Northern Kentucky, including construction of a companion bridge to share the volume of traffic on Interstates 71 and 75 between Covington and Cincinnati; and continued development of the I-69 Ohio River crossing at Henderson. “Kentucky owns and maintains over 9,000 bridges,” notes Kentucky Transportation Cabinet Secretary Jim Gray.

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Steelmakers have invested in additional capacity in recent years “because much of this U.S. infrastructure will be built using domestic materials and labor,” says Philip K. Bell, president of the Steel Manufacturers Association.

Kansas will receive $225 million under the Bridge Formula Program to help improve the condition of about 1,277 bridges in poor condition and to preserve and improve about 10,320 bridges in fair condition.

New Jersey awarded a $1.56 billion contract to Sweden’s Skanska to build the 2.5-mile-long Portal North Bridge replacement in Hudson County, New Jersey. The contract includes the replacement of the existing bridge with a new two-track fixed structure crossing over the Hackensack River. Construction will begin in the second quarter of 2022 and is scheduled for completion in 2027. Skanska earlier won a $161 million state contract to rehabilitate sections of the Pulaski Skyway in Jersey City, New Jersey. The contract includes rehabilitating the structural steel truss and spans. Completion of that project is scheduled for 2026.

Florida expects to start work this quarter to replace the SR A1A North Causeway over the Intracoastal Waterway. Built in 1963, the existing two-lane, 2,100-foot-long bridge, has structural deficiencies. The new bridge will be 4,152 feet long and extend over the waterway, a railroad and a local highway. The state expects to complete the $91 million bridge in 2026.

Back in Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Wolf recently visited the Route 462 Columbia-Wrightsville Bridge spanning the Susquehanna River. Built in 1930, it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The bridge is slated to undergo a major rehabilitation beginning in 2023.

“The passage of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is the largest federal infrastructure investment in decades, and the largest ever investment for bridges specifically,” said PennDOT Acting Deputy Secretary Mike Keiser. The new law fosters the largest infrastructure investment since 1993 in the state. “We really hadn’t had any adjustment at the federal level since that time,” he said. Pennsylvania is expected to receive about $4 billion in new federal highway and bridge funding over five years, including $1.6 billion for bridges.

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Industry response

During a media briefing Jan. 27 in Washington, Steel Manufacturers Association Chairman Mark Millett, who is also president and CEO of Steel Dynamics Inc., says that SMA members “are well placed to supply sheet, rebar or heavy structural” products for bridge repair and replacement projects.

SMA President Philip K. Bell says that although infrastructure investment is “incremental in nature, the demand will be sustained over time. Our members have invested in additional capacity” because much of this U.S. infrastructure will be built using domestic materials and labor. Every $100 billion of investment can incrementally increase steel demand by 4 million to 6 million tons, Bell says. “We are excited and looking forward to this.”

According to a survey conducted in January of members of the Associated General Contractors, construction contractors are upbeat about the available dollar value of projects to bid on this year. Respondents are most optimistic about highway and bridge construction: 63 percent expect there will be a larger dollar value of projects to compete for, compared to 5 percent who expect a lower volume, for a net positive reading of 57 percent.

“The new bridge funding is vital to our industry, [which has] developed alloys that allow for reduced maintenance and a greater service lifespan at a cheaper cost over the entire life cycle of a bridge,” according to Aluminum Association President and CEO Tom Dobbins. MM


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