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Bridge of Firsts Celebrates $48M Rehab

Monday, October 24, 2016

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An important structure in the history of bridges has just undergone an extensive four-year, $48 million restoration.

Constructed in 1874, St. Louis, MO’s Eads Bridge was not only the world’s first steel bridge but also one of the first structures of any kind in the United States to use steel as a primary construction component, according to the City of St. Louis.

It was also the first to use tubular cord members, and the first large-scale use of the cantilever technique in bridge construction.

Built by the St. Louis Bridge and Iron Company and named for its designer, James B. Eads, the structure was, at the time, the longest arch bridge in the world, at a length of 6,442 feet, noted.

After a construction period of seven years and at an expense of about $10 million, the Eads was also the first large bridge to cross the Mississippi River and the first to carry railroad tracks.

A New Lease on Life

More than 140 years after its completion, the bridge continues to make history. Connecting downtown St. Louis to East St. Louis, the Eads remains the oldest bridge still in operation over the Mississippi River, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

And with rehabilitation now complete, Metro Transit – St. Louis expects it has extended the bridge’s lifespan by another 75 years.

Metro Transit, an enterprise of Bi-State Development (BSD), shares ownership of the structure with the City of St. Louis, which maintains the road deck; the transit company is responsible for everything else.

Today the Eads carries vehicles on its upper deck, and two tracks on the lower deck are used by the city’s light rail system.

Eads Bridge Rehab
Photos: St. Louis Bridge Construction Co.

The world's first steel bridge, the Eads Bridge in St. Louis, MO, recently underwent a four-year $48 million restoration that included rehabilitation of its steel and application of a corrosion-inhibiting protective coating, among other work.

“After well over a century of use, the bridge was showing its age, and required a complete rehabilitation of its truss and superstructure to ensure this critical piece of a $1.8 billion network of transit infrastructure can continue to serve the region for generations to come,” the agency said on its website.

Under Rehab

Work on the bridge, which began in September 2012, was reportedly the first major rehabilitation of the structural steel, requiring crews to replace struts, bracing and other support steel that dated back to the 1920s or earlier. This required 580 tons of steel, according to Metro Transit.

As many as nine layers of paint, rust and corrosion were blasted off the bridge, which required containment measures for environmental purposes.

The bare metal was then primed with a rust inhibitor and topped with an anti-corrosion coating. About 7,500 gallons of protective coating were used in the process, Metro Transit said.

“When we originally started, we thought that it would extend the life of the bridge for at least 50 years,” John Nations, BSD president and CEO told St. Louis Public Radio. He added that during the course of work, crews realized that the bridge was still largely in very good condition.

Eads Bridge Rehab

Up to nine layers of paint, rust and corrosion were blasted off the bridge; the bare metal was then primed with a rust inhibitor and topped with an anti-corrosion coating. About 7,500 gallons of protective coating were used in the process.

Rebuilding the concrete that supports the road deck and sealing the steel structure with a protective coating, in addition to replacing track supports, track and rail ties, and patching masonry, all help to increase the expected lifespan.

Unexpected Challenges

Nations said costs for the project were expected to reach as high as $52 million, given that unforeseen surprises were expected to pop up as work progressed.

“When you start blasting off 140 years of corrosion and paint, you’re not always sure what you’re going to find,” he said.

Not least among their challenges, planners lacked accurate drawings of the structure from which to work.

Moreover, according to Metro Transit, crews not only had to overcome working with an unknown type of alloy, but also had to tackle how to reuse or replicate handmade pieces from the 1870s.

Additionally, crews worked while trains continued to cross the bridge in an effort to minimize the impact of the project on passengers.

Eads Bridge Rehab

Already at 142 years old, crews say the rehab has extended the Eads' lifespan by another 75 years.

One worker, James Pigue of Dittmer, 24, lost his life in July 2015 when he fell after a towboat struck scaffolding on the Eads Bridge.

During a reopening ceremony hosted Oct. 7, Nations paid tribute to Dittmer, recognizing his “courage to work high above a raging river to restore a bridge that unites our region.”

Support and Employment

Federal funds supported 91 percent of the cost of the total project, with $27 million coming from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA), created to help rebuild crumbling roads, bridges and other important infrastructure; preserve and create jobs; and stabilize and strengthen the economy.

The rehabilitation project employed painters, carpenters, ironworkers, electricians, masons and other laborers, the types of jobs that supporters of the ARRA had in mind when passing it in 2009, Metro Transit noted.

Contractors on the project, according to the agency, included: St. Louis Bridge Construction Company, TranSystems, ABNA Engineering, Gonzalez Engineering, K. Bates Steel Services, Kelly-Hill Company, KTA-Tator, Miller Contracting Inc., Thomas Industrial Coatings, Wissehr Electrical Contractors, and Western Waterproofing Company.

‘Continues to Be Useful’

During the program celebrating the project’s completion, which gathered residents along with local and federal officials, Nations also called attention to the significance of the project.

“At the original dedication of the Eads Bridge on July 4, 1874, James B. Eads declared that the bridge would endure, just so long as it continues to be useful to the people who come after us,” said Nations.

“He could scarcely have imagined that after 142 years of changes in society, in our region, in our landscapes and in our patterns of travel and movement, his bridge would still have a critically useful function for our region, our states and our country.”


Tagged categories: Blasting; Bridges; Coating Application; concrete; Containment; Contractors; Corrosion inhibitors; Historic Structures; North America; Primers; Protective Coatings; Steel

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