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Bridge now set to open in a year

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The Memorial Causeway bridge contractor submits a plan to begin new pier work in November and open to traffic in September 2005.By AARON SHAROCKMAN Published August 31, 2004

CLEARWATER – Crews will start to replace four cracked columns on the new Clearwater Memorial Causeway bridge in November and the long-stalled city showpiece should open to traffic a year from now, the contractor on the project has said.

In documents obtained by the St. Petersburg Times on Monday, PCL Civil Constructors said it will be able to meet a Florida Department of Transportation deadline to complete work on the new bridge by Sept. 1, 2005, 17 months later than first planned.

“You have to constantly adjust to changing circumstances,” City Manager Bill Horne said. “We all had our hearts set to having the bridge open on time. Then we had to adjust to some delays. Now we had to adjust to a major delay. We again have kind of readjusted our mind set.

“We’re looking forward to 1 September,” Horne said.

Jerry Harder, a vice president with PCL, said the schedule conforms with an agreement reached earlier this month between the DOT and PCL.

To replace the cracked columns, workers will construct new piers to flank the old ones.

The new piers will look like brackets and enclose the old column to the east and west. When the new piers, eight in all, are in place, crews will slowly transfer the load of the road above. They will then remove the cracked columns.

The first cracked column is scheduled to be removed in March with work finished on all four piers by August next year.

Bridge traffic comes a month later. And by Dec. 28, 2005, the old bridge will be gone, according to PCL’s timetable.

The twin pier concept, which was approved by the state, ended months of speculation over the fate of the bridge’s four tallest columns, which straddle Clearwater Harbor. The state repeatedly said the columns and their footings must be replaced at PCL’s cost.

The company balked, saying there were cheaper and quicker fixes, including sealing and strengthening the columns.

But earlier this month, with lawsuits a possibility and the state questioning PCL’s future in Florida, the two sides reached an agreement to replace the columns. As part of that settlement, both sides agreed that the proposed fixes made replacing the pier’s footings unnecessary.

Harder said the final cost of the repairs is not known, though it will be under $10-million, or less than half of the original anticipated cost.

“We were previously of the opinion that sealing the cracks and strengthening the columns was a feasible solution,” Harder said. “The solution we have now is a practical solution that we’re (the state and the builder) both comfortable with.”

Also as part of the agreement, PCL will pay for the fixes and said it will not sue the state.

In exchange, the company’s chances at future state projects will go largely unaffected. The state will also waive $15,089 a day in late contract penalties. By the time PCL is scheduled to finish, those fines could have totaled more than $7.5-million.

“The most important thing for us is to get the bridge built,” DOT spokeswoman Marian Scorza said.

If the bridge doesn’t open by Sept. 1, 2005, the state will fine PCL.

Scorza said state officials are reviewing the timetable, which was submitted by PCL on Friday. PCL is also scheduled to submit designs for the repairs by Sept. 15. The state must approve the plans before it lifts a stop-work order on the four troubled piers.

The 2,540-foot-long bridge, expected to last 75 years, has experienced several mishaps since construction began in early 2002.

In December 2002, PCL elected to drop an 80-foot section of roadway on the west side of Clearwater Harbor with explosives after it sank a foot and twisted during construction. In July, crews used water-blasting equipment to raze a 40-foot piece of roadway when workers discovered more than three dozen serious cracks.

Harder said PCL’s relationship with the state helped the latest fix.

“We’ve been working with the department for almost two decades,” Harder said. “We have a good understanding to work jointly and solve problems. We stood shoulder to shoulder and solved this problem.”

Aaron Sharockman can be reached at 727 445-4160 or asharockman@sptimes.com

TIMELINE Here are some important benchmarks from a new timeline on the construction of the Clearwater Memorial Causeway bridge submitted late last week to the state by bridge builder PCL Civil Constructors:

Nov. 22, 2004 – Work on first new pier begins

March 21, 2005 – First old pier removed

June 13, 2005 – New piers finished

Aug. 15, 2005 – Old piers removed

Sept. 1, 2005 – Bridge open to traffic

Dec. 28, 2005 – Old bridge demolished

Source: http://www.sptimes.com/2004/08/31/Northpinellas/Bridge_now_set_to_ope.shtml

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