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California Bridge Project Rolling Along

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

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A bridge that was washed out by violent flood waters in California's Big Sur region in February will be replaced over the summer, and you might say engineers expect everything to roll along smoothly.

Rendering courtesy of Caltrans

A preliminary artist's rendering depicts what the Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge will look like upon completion. The project is scheduled to be completed in late September.

The $24 million Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge replacement job will include a relatively uncommon kind of installation: The "roller launch" or "incremental launch" method, in which the single-span steel girder bridge will be rolled into place after being built on the north side of the canyon.

Couldn't Be Salvaged

The original Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge, which was constructed in 1967, was closed permanently to vehicle and foot traffic on Feb. 11. Runoff-triggered landslides (Big Sur reportedly received more than 10 times its normal rainfall in February) battered and damaged bridge supports, which buckled in the rain-saturated earth and started to slide and sag.


Crews needed seven days in March to topple the original Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge, which had to be demolished after heavy rain buckled and damaged the span's supports.

The bridge was demolished March 16-22. Even that came with some difficulty: After a 6,000-pound wrecking ball anchored to a 250-foot crane initially failed to break the bridge’s supports, demolition crews had to make several adjustments, including targeting precise strike points, before successfully toppling the span.

Ready to Launch

California Department of Transportation spokesman Jim Shivers told the San Luis Obispo Tribune News that Golden State Bridge of Benicia, the contractor on the job, will construct the massive, 15-girder steel structure on one end of the canyon, then launch the span into place on Highway 1, a process he says will likely take days.

According to a paper on incremental launching prepared by Mike LaViolette for the American Assocation of State Highway Transportation Officials, the first U.S. highway bridge to be constructed using the launching technique was built near Covington, Indiana, in 1977, and in the 40 years that followed, more than 1,000 bridges were built using the technique. A survey done as part of that paper in 2007, however, determined that more than half of state highway systems' chief bridge engineers were unfamiliar with the process.

Removing the Columns

David Galarza, Caltrans’ structure representative for the project, said in a video produced by Caltrans that sections of the columnless bridge are scheduled to begin arriving in Big Sur in May. The previous bridge had a series of three colums, which sustained damage in February's rain-induced landslides. By building the new bridge without columns across the canyon, Galarza says Caltrans will eliminate the potential for that sort of damage recurring.

The bridge, which spans 320 feet across the canyon, should be open to traffic by late September, Caltrans says.

As Smooth As Possible

Frequent brainstorming sessions have been held among representatives of Caltrans; Golden State; a number of various subcontracting and consulting firms; the U.S. Forest Service; and other agencies.

The goal, according to Bob Riggins, an assistant structure representative for MNS Engineers, is to hasten the installation of the bridge without sacrificing safety or quality of the completed project.

Riggins told the Tribune News that the focus was on “how we could cut months off the project. Then we started to ask, what we could do to shave a week here or there?

“Recently, we’ve gotten to the point of saving a day, getting something done a day sooner. And now it’s, ‘If we do this, could we do it in four hours instead of eight?’"

Residents Inconvenienced

About 450 people live south of the bridge closure, according to local news reports. They have limited access in and out of Big Sur, so a foot trail is being built, to take locals around the area where the bridge is being built.

Monterey County Supervisor Mary Adams told local TV channel KSBW that the bridge’s absence having impacts on tourism, and fretted it could eventually shutter some Big Sur businesses.

“People are being very frank that if we aren’t able to get a bridge built and get traffic flowing soon, there are businesses in Big Sur, south of that bridge that are not going to make it,” Adams said.


Tagged categories: Bridges; Caltrans; Construction; Contractors; Demolition; North America; Program/Project Management

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