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OCEA Project Finalist – Huey P. Long Bridge Widening

March 5, 2014

This is the second of a series about the 5 finalists for ASCE’s Outstanding Civil Engineering Achievement (OCEA) awards. Established in 1960, the OCEA Award recognizes a project that makes a significant contribution to both the civil engineering profession and society as a whole. The winner of this year’s OCEA award will be announced at ASCE’s Outstanding Projects And Leaders (OPAL) Gala, March 20, at the Renaissance Arlington Capital View Hotel in Arlington, Virginia. Today, read about the Huey P. Long Bridge Widening. The project also was featured in Civil Engineering magazine.

Huey P Long BridgeShortly after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, the State of Louisiana in 2006 embarked on an ambitious project to widen the historic Huey P. Long Bridge  located in Jefferson Parrish, Louisiana. The cantilevered steel truss bridge, which was designated as a historic landmark by ASCE in 2012, now carries both a 2-track railroad line and the 3-lane US 90 across the Mississippi River.

The 7-year, $1.2 billion widening project – which started in April 2006 and was completed in June 2013 – is the first change to the structure since it opened in 1935. The four-phase project – which includes main support widening, railroad modifications, main bridge widening, and new approach construction – expanded the structure from two 9-foot lanes to three 11-foot lanes with a 2-foot inside shoulder and an 8-foot outside shoulder. It will also include new signalized intersections to replace the traffic circle at Jefferson Highway and Bridge City Avenue.

ASCE News Associate Editor Doug Scott interviewed Stephen Spohrer, P.E., M.ASCE, Louisiana TIMED program director, and chief strategy development and marketing officer at G.E.C.

1. What is the most innovative or creative aspect of your project? 

The obvious first one is that the whole span lifts to put the bridge in place. Rather than several years of constant restrictions, our plan required only 3 complete shutdowns of the railroad, the river, and the highway. Imposing the significant structural and physical changes on a bridge this busy with only 3 real traffic interruptions is unheard of in our business. The second most innovative and creative aspect of the project was the public outreach and the first-time-ever use of the social media now in common use. This team-building concept has come of age since it was pioneered at the start of our work. Visualize the 50,000 ADT (Average Daily Traffic), the 24 trains per day including 4 Amtrak trains, and all of the ship and barge traffic that a river as significant as the Mississippi brings, with almost no complaints from any of our users. They all became part of our team, and our team prospered on account of their membership.

 2. What was the biggest challenge? 

Building the team that could accomplish this great work was the biggest challenge. We had 4 construction contractors, each with their own contract, schedule, and profit motive. We had 2 clients – the co-owners of the bridge – one a railroad and one a state agency. We had the general public, the Class 1 railroads and Amtrak, and the steamship and barge associations that all had key roles in the work, whether they liked it or not. With that assortment of interests and backgrounds it would seem doomed to failure, but the opposite happened. We made them all work together and the team finished early with very little budget creep.

3. Did your project have any technical issues that you had to overcome? If so, what were they and how did you overcome them?

There were the usual specification interpretation questions that were mostly resolved. Bridges have been built of steel for many years and this was a well-engineered project.

4. What time and budget challenges did your project have and what did you do to overcome them? 

The Huey P. Long Bridge Widening project is one of 16 projects in the $4.6 billion Louisiana Transportation Infrastructure Model for Economic Development (TIMED) Program, managed by Louisiana TIMED Managers (LTM), a joint venture of GEC Inc., Parsons-Brinckerhoff, Inc., and The LPA Group Incorporated. It is the single largest transportation program in Louisiana history and is designed to enhance economic development and improve evacuation routes and safety through an investment in infrastructure. LTM had a fixed price, fixed time contract with significant financial penalties for failure. This particular project’s start was dealt a severe setback by the unprecedented impact of Hurricane Katrina. Simultaneously, the world market for steel and Portland cement and other significant construction materials caused a huge spike in every cost index one can study. The time challenges were managed by the strict, no-nonsense adherence to the CPM schedules that LTM imposed on the contractors and on the supporting engineers, with whom they interfaced [on] the work. On the budget question, LTM/DOTD built in reasonable escalator clauses that allowed the contractors to bid the work with minimal contingencies. As the work progressed, LTM pursued cost savings through time savings and through executive partnering in place on all the work.

5. Sustainability is one of the 3 strategic initiatives here at ASCE. Describe how your project adheres to being sustainable. 

The project is essentially a widening of a 75-plus-year-old structure, a very obvious example of sustainability from the beginning of the work. This could very easily and for a little less money have been a project to build a new bridge and destroy the old one. Instead, we widened and strengthened the existing facility with new work designed to remain functional for at least another 75 years. The bridge was widened without being harmful to the environment, staying in its existing footprint, and with minimal depletion of natural resources, and thereby supporting the concept of growth and long-term ecological balance.

Next, read about the Inner Harbor Navigation Canal Surge Barrier

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