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R.S. Audley Partners with H.B. Fleming to Construct Massive I-89 Span

by: Paul Fournier
R.S. Audley excavates abutment for five-year, $43.8 million contract to reconstruct I-89 Bridge over Connecticut River between Lebanon, New Hampshire, and Hartford, Vermont.
R.S. Audley excavates abutment for five-year, $43.8 million contract to reconstruct I-89 Bridge over Connecticut River between Lebanon, New Hampshire, and Hartford, Vermont.
A drone aerial photo shows the two 55-year-old I-89 bridges undergoing reconstruction by R.S. Audley, and 66,000-square-foot work trestle being built by H.B. Fleming. (Licensed drone photo by Michael “Moose” MacDonald)
A drone aerial photo shows the two 55-year-old I-89 bridges undergoing reconstruction by R.S. Audley, and 66,000-square-foot work trestle being built by H.B. Fleming. (Licensed drone photo by Michael “Moose” MacDonald)
H.B. Fleming’s Link Belt crane equipped with APE100 vibratory hammer drives 20-inch pipe pile for Finger 1 work trestle.
H.B. Fleming’s Link Belt crane equipped with APE100 vibratory hammer drives 20-inch pipe pile for Finger 1 work trestle.
An R.S. Audley worker guides a paired beam girder into place on bent for one of four trestle fingers.
An R.S. Audley worker guides a paired beam girder into place on bent for one of four trestle fingers.
Foreman Jason Littlefield oversees the crew as 200 cubic yards of ready mix is pumped by Carroll Concrete into cofferdam of future Pier 1 for its seal pour.
Foreman Jason Littlefield oversees the crew as 200 cubic yards of ready mix is pumped by Carroll Concrete into cofferdam of future Pier 1 for its seal pour.
A truckload of 20-inch pipe piles is delivered on trestle platform to H.B. Fleming crew as they work on extending finger trestles upstream.
A truckload of 20-inch pipe piles is delivered on trestle platform to H.B. Fleming crew as they work on extending finger trestles upstream.
A massive work trestle is being built to ease reconstruction of the I-89 Bridge over the Connecticut River between New Hampshire and Vermont.

Bow, New Hampshire, contractor R.S. Audley has a $43.8 million contract to reconstruct the bridge, which is actually two identical parallel structures built in 1966 to span the river between Lebanon, New Hampshire, and Hartford, Vermont. One bridge carries the northbound barrel of traffic while the other carries the southbound barrel. The New Hampshire Department of Transportation (NHDOT) inspects and maintains the bridges under an agreement with the Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans). Both bridges have structural and geometric deficiencies that earned them the ranking of second and third on NHDOT’s Red List for bridges. Audley will reconstruct the superstructure of the existing bridges and construct an in-fill bridge to close the gap between the two structures.

Trestle is Key to Success
Audley has five years to complete the reconstruction project, with the major focus for the first year to be on the construction of the 66,000-square-foot trestle in the river – a sizeable project in of itself, and one necessary for work crews to access the bridges. Subcontractor H.B. Fleming of South Portland, Maine, is building the huge trestle that serves as a work platform and access roadway.

“This is a challenging, complicated project of massive scale, and access to the work areas is key to the whole job. Without the trestle, we couldn’t do much of anything,” said Scott Stevens, Vice President of R.S. Audley’s Bridge Division. Stevens said they started the project in September 2020, with crews setting up staging areas on the New Hampshire side of the project on either side of the abutments. Initial site work involved stripping topsoil and excavating and placing a stone bed for access roads on both sides of I-89 to get to the river. Twin State Sand & Gravel supplied aggregate for the site crew as they forged access roads and began work on the abutment cofferdam. The site crew also commenced construction of the trestle, starting it from the New Hampshire side because they could not get to it from the Vermont side due to grade differences.

The trestle supports a 50-foot-wide work platform/access roadway with a surface composed of 12-inch-thick hardwood crane mat that rests on steel girders ranging from single W24x94s to paired W24x104s. Girders in turn are supported by steel bents placed every 30 feet along the longitudinal axis of the trestle. Each bent consists of three hollow pipe piles spaced 25 feet apart and topped with horizontal H-piles serving as pile caps. The trestle has a 564-foot-long main component built close and parallel to the piers of the southbound bridge, plus four "finger" trestles reaching out from the main trestle 180 feet upstream between the piers.

Fleming is employing Link Belt LS138 and LS218 Lattice Boom Crawler Cranes to build the trestle, according to Richard McLeod, the company’s General Superintendent. He said they are using American Piledriving Equipment APE100 Vibratory Hammers to install the 20- to 24-inch pipe piles, which are supplied by Triad Metals. McLeod said that as of the end of May, the trestle was about 60 percent complete.

In-Fill Bridge Closes the GAP
Since the project schedule calls for continued traffic operations during construction, the building team created some complex, multi-phased work sequences and established roadway traffic controls that have to be precisely followed.
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The two six-span bridges, which are separated by about 30 feet, have non-composite concrete decks and haunched steel plate girders supported on cantilever abutments and hammerhead piers. Audley’s contract involves completely removing and replacing the concrete deck and steel girders of each bridge, while also repairing, rehabilitating and modifying the existing abutments and piers. It also calls for the construction of a new in-fill structure between the existing twin bridges.

The in-fill structure is actually a whole new bridge comprised of a concrete deck, steel girders, five hammerhead piers, and new footings. The in-fill footings are to be constructed between each of the five pairs of existing pier footings, four of which are located in the river on the New Hampshire side of the project. The fifth pier is located in Vermont adjacent to the New England Central Railroad corridor. All of the pier footing work has to be conducted in the dry, requiring the installation of steel sheet cofferdams. Fleming will install nearly a million pounds of steel H piles for the in-fill bridge construction. All abutment piles are HP14x73, while all pier piles are HP14x89. The specifications require all piles to have driving points.

“There are so many piles for the new in-fill piers, which are battered in four different configurations, that they look like porcupines down there,” said Stevens.

Even the abutments need to be buttressed by steel sheeting to support the earth during modifications.

All New Decks and Girders
The new 8-1/2-inch bridge decks are composites of 3-1/2-inch thick pre-stressed panels and 5 inches of cast-in-place concrete. Precast manufacturer J.P Carrara is supplying about 1,000 of the typically 8-foot by 9-foot panels. Audley will be installing the panels, as well as all superstructure steel, with its new 140-ton Link Belt TCC 1400 Telescoping Crawler Crane. Cast-in-place concrete is supplied by Carroll Concrete. Roughly 6,200 cubic yards of ready mix is being supplied and placed. Carroll recently bought a new 47-meter pump for this job. Harris Rebar/Barker Steel is furnishing the significant amount of rebar required for this job. About 500,000 pounds of uncoated black reinforcing bar plus 600,000 pounds of epoxy coated bar are needed.

Decks will be supported by new welded plate girders with 68-inch web depth. An estimated 3.3 million pounds of structural steel is being fabricated by Casco Bay Steel Structures. Eventually, the three bridges will be joined together via concrete deck closure pours to form a single bridge with a 110-foot out-to-out width. The deck will be paved with 2-1/2 inches of bituminous concrete and will provide three 12-foot travel lanes and 12-foot shoulders in each direction. Continental Paving is installing the two-course hot mix asphalt pavement.

A Shifting Work Agenda
Once the in-fill bridge has been constructed, I-89 northbound traffic can be shifted to the new structure, enabling crews to replace the northbound bridge superstructure and rehabilitate its abutment. Next, crews will shift traffic back on the rehabilitated northbound bridge and place southbound traffic on the in-fill bridge so they can rehabilitate the southbound bridge superstructure. And finally, traffic will be placed back on the southbound bridge. This will complete the essential first step of the project’s complicated work agenda.
Designed to Resist Natural Disasters
The reconstructed bridges have been designed by McFarland Johnson to improve their ability to withstand natural disasters such as extreme flood events or seismic activity, features that were not incorporated in the 1966 originals. The Connecticut River has a long history of extreme flood events and is capable of producing tremendous scour damage.
Takeuchi Mfg Ltd
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A June 2010 waterway and scour report determined that both I-89 bridges were “scour critical” and that their foundations were unstable for calculated scour conditions. In particular, the 100-year depth of potential scour for Pier 2 was a surprising 20 feet.

As a result of waterway and scour studies, the project design includes scour countermeasures, the major components of which are ShoreJax SJ-24 “A-Jacks.” These are interlocking concrete armor units designed to resist erosive forces generated by fast-flowing water. Resembling the “jacks” of the traditional children’s game, these units can be bundled together with stainless steel cables for various applications, for example, preventing bridge pier scour. For the I-89 project, A-Jacks will be placed in a 148-foot by 78-foot pattern around each of Bridge Piers 2 and 3, which exhibited the most damaging scour in previous studies. An estimated 17,200 individual A-Jacks will be installed around those piers.

Another design improvement is said to enhance the structure’s resistance to seismic activity. Bridge seats will be fitted with CON-SERV disc bearings. In general, bearings transfer forces from bridge superstructure to the substructure. The bearings to be installed on the I-89 Bridge will be High-Load Multi-Rotational Bridge Bearings (HLMR), which according to the manufacturer allow the new beams to slide if an earthquake occurs.

On Track for 2025 Finish
The NHDOT has stated “the purpose of this project is twofold. The first and most important goal is to restore the bridges to a ‘State of Good Repair.’ The second goal is to improve the safety for vehicles crossing the structures while also improving traffic flow and operations.”

The extensive bridge reconstruction and geometric improvements to be made under Audley’s five-year contract are expected to achieve these goals. And they will be installed within the specified time frame, according to Stevens.

“Progress has been very good. We’ve finished 20 percent of the entire job within the first eight months. Barring any unforeseen problems, we expect to complete our work without any difficulty by the October 2025 deadline.”

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