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Continued: Rebuilding bridge will be hard, fast

  • Article by: RICHARD MERYHEW , Star Tribune
  • Last update: August 13, 2007 - 11:28 AM

"Is it going to be steel? Or concrete? How is it going to go together?" he said.

Long before they finish the design, they'll be building.

"[After] you come up with the foundation, you could be under construction in a couple weeks," Myers said. "And once you get the thing going, you build it as you are completing your design. All you have to know is what the hell you are going to build."

Although some construction techniques can speed up work -- doubling and tripling up on shifts, expediting deliveries of materials and putting some sections together off-site -- the biggest time saver comes with accelerating deadlines for decisions on design, permits and other red tape.

"There'll still be permitting and inspections, but there won't be so many people involved in the decision-making," Beckel said. "Instead of days, you're talking hours. Instead of weeks, you're talking days."

Some critics of fast-tracking worry that building so quickly could lead to worker fatigue and mistakes, jeopardizing the safety of workers and the quality of the work.

Bob French, president of Flatiron Constructors Inc., a national contracting firm based in Longmont, Colo., that has fast-tracked about a dozen major bridge projects and plans to bid on the I-35W work, admits that fast-tracking is riskier because "you are compacting a lot more [work] hours in a shorter period of time. People are working on top of one another ... and you have to concentrate harder on the safety aspect of it."

Nevertheless, he said, "safety will be, as always, the top priority."

Design suffers?

Others worry that rushing construction may eliminate a more elaborate and impressive design.

Some also say that fast-tracking under "design-build" gives the contractor too much control. What's more, unanticipated construction problems could lead to cost overruns or delays that would negate the benefits of fast-tracking.

Still, Will Kempton, director of Caltrans, a state agency that oversees transportation work in California and who has witnessed dozens of fast-tracked projects, said it's worth it.

"Some people have said, 'You are not being careful enough or taking enough time being safe.' But we're right there overseeing the work of the contractor," Kempton said. "We're watching very, very carefully. I don't see a loss in terms of safety or quality of the project. We'd say the risks are minimal. ... But the positives are very, very significant."

U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar, D-Minn., who toured the I-35W bridge site last week, said a safe replacement can be built safely by the end of 2008.

"The time it takes is less important if it's done properly and the new structure is of the most modern design, and with sufficient redundancy built into it to prevent this kind of catastrophic collapse," he said.

'It can be done'

Because the entire I-35W bridge collapsed, contractors won't lose time building temporary traffic lanes. And despite Minnesota's sometimes bitter winters, contractors shouldn't lose time to the cold.

Beckel said contractors can easily work during the coldest of days, erecting the foundation and superstructure girders and piecing together the massive concrete or steel.

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