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From Boat Deck to Bridge Deck

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

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“It’s not just a job, it’s an adventure.” That may have been the U.S. Navy slogan, but the adventure we’re talking about here just may be your job—bridge work.

That’s right. Believe it or not, tourists are booking passage on boat tours to view bridge projects in progress across the United States.

The Associated Press (AP) reported earlier this month that seats on a paddlewheel boat tour to view construction of a bridge crossing the St. Croix River are a hot commodity.

St. Croix Crossing

Three times a month, up to 350 tourists pay $10 each to embark on a guided 90-minute tour and view construction of St. Croix Crossing, a bridge that will connect Oak Park Heights, MN, and St. Joseph, WI.

Construction on St. Croix Crossing
Minnesota Department of Transportation

Passengers on boat tours of bridge construction sites are eager to get an up-close look at the massive scale of the projects and gain a better understanding of the process.

Up to an hour before departure time, the sightseers begin vying for the much-sought-after upper deck positions in order to get the best views of the bridge work.

The tour really is about the construction, not just a scenic outing on the water that coincides with the project.

During the excursion, Minnesota and Wisconsin department of transportation engineers discuss the bridge and approach work underway, as well as job progress and upcoming construction plans.

The Crossing structure replaces the 80-year-old Stillwater Lift Bridge with a new four-lane bridge to connect expressways on both sides. At a total project cost estimated between $580 million to $646 million, it is among the biggest, most expensive bridge jobs in the history of the Upper Midwest.

Construction began in the spring of 2013 and is expected to be complete by 2018. The new river crossing should open to traffic in fall 2016 and carry about 18,000 vehicles each day.

Minnesota’s tour program began as a way to ease residents’ concerns about bridge safety and educate them on the construction process. The public’s trust had been shaken by the 2007 collapse of an I-35 highway bridge in Minneapolis, which dropped at least 50 vehicles and their passengers 60 feet into the water below.

That program began as “walkabout” tours, but area residents are so eager to learn about the St. Croix project that transportation officials and a partner riverboat company had to add more trips and use the biggest boat in the fleet to fill demand.

The New NY Bridge

Minnesota and Wisconsin residents aren’t the only ones bitten by the bridge bug. In New York, sightseers go out on the water to take in construction work on the New NY Bridge.

The New NY Bridge
New York State Thruway Authority

Transportation officials and project engineers are often on hand to inform tour-goers about the construction process and scope of work.

There, tour-goers pay up to $93 for their paddlewheel lunch trip down the Hudson River to the work site.

Larry Singer, who coordinates the tours for the Historical Society of Rockland County, told the AP that four tours have drawn about 140 people so far, and a fifth is set for September.

The New NY Bridge is a $3.9 billion project to replace the Tappan Zee Bridge. The first span of the new twin-span bridge is scheduled to open in 2016, with the whole bridge slated for completion in 2018. Project notes indicate that design and construction plans will result in a bridge that will last 100 years without major structural maintenance.

Other Sites

In Seattle, the Washington State Department of Transportation is offering free public tours of two active work sites.

Washington State Department of Transportation

Whether by boat or on foot, tours of active construction sites have proven popular with sightseers across the country.

Tour groups, selected from a random drawing of those who sign up, venture into the construction zone of the new State Route 520 floating bridge on Lake Washington. In a two-hour outing, SR 520 project engineers educate attendees on their efforts to replace the floating bridge.

Another tour takes groups into the SR 520 West Approach Bridge North Project in Montlake. On a 90-minute trek, visitors learn about the work being don on the “vulnerable” west approach bridge.

Walking tours of the George V. Voinovich Bridge project over the Cuyahoga River in Ohio have been sold out all season, although additional tours for large groups may be scheduled. Twice a month, up to 20 people head out into the construction zone adjacent to Cleveland's Industrial Flats to take a peek at the ongoing work.

Job Site as Tour Site

Of this unexpected tourist market, transportation officials and contractors feel the popularity stems from several things. People are awed by the scale of the projects, interested about the process itself or want to understand more about why they take so much time and taxpayer money to erect.

Watching the workers high above the water, retired industrial arts teacher Jack Wert told the AP: "You can watch someone build a house but it's not anywhere near the engineering of a project like this.

"It's unique," he said. "This is really amazing."


Tagged categories: Bridge Piles; Bridges; Department of Transportation (DOT); Infrastructure; Market; North America; Program/Project Management; Roads/Highways

Comment from Mark Lewis, (8/4/2015, 11:13 AM)

Bridge tours are awesome, although all of mine have been through professional associations in the San Francisco Bay Area: 2008 Golden Gate Bridge Painting Project (NACE), 2012 New SF-Oakland Bay Bridge Construction (Bay Area WaterWorks Assoc) and last year's tour of the Bay Bridge Demolition (SSPC). Highly recommended!

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