The ABCs of Bridge Replacement

How do you replace a bridge that handles significant traffic over a major interstate, when there is no way to build a temporary bridge, and shutting down the bridge for years to accommodate reconstruction is unfeasible?

That was the question facing the Connecticut Department of Transportation (CTDOT) as to how they would replace the Route 1 bridge over I-95 in Stamford. The answer: Accelerated Bridge Construction.

Accelerated Bridge Construction (ABC), is an increasingly popular bridge construction technique that requires minimal disruption to traffic flow by “pre-building” the bridge – in part or in total – before being moved into place. This method minimizes the length of disruption for reduced lanes, detours, or construction zones, but has more significant impact over a concentrated period while roads are closed, and the new bridge is put into place. CTDOT has begun using this technique, first in Southington and, more recently, in Stamford and Rocky Hill. FHI is thrilled to be part of the team on the Stamford and Rocky Hill projects.

Projects of this nature require unique public-outreach efforts. Closing roads, particularly closing interstates, means people who live and travel through the area will be significantly affected, and they need to know what’s happening well before and during any closures, especially for a project of Stamford’s magnitude, when two major roadways are impacted. The five-lane Route 1 bridge carries an average of about 17,000 vehicles over I-95 every day and I-95 carries 170,00 vehicles a day on average.

The Stamford project required two weekend closures of I-95, during which the construction crew moved two 1.8-million-pound bridge spans into place, one span each weekend. On Friday evenings of the closure weekends, I-95 was closed and traffic was routed onto temporary detour roads located mostly on the highway’s on-and-off ramps. Route 1 was closed entirely, with a detour through local streets. By early Sunday morning the interstate was re-opened, and Route 1 traffic was flowing over the new bridge spans by early Monday morning.

“It’s such a major corridor, and any kind of construction would be felt by hundreds of thousands of people,” said Jill Barrett, Public Involvement Manager on the project. “In ABC construction, the general motto is to get in and get out. That is very well received by the public. They generally prefer some short-term pain for long-term gain.”

Public outreach for ABC projects begins long before a road is closed by construction. In Stamford, the team met with local neighborhood groups, churches and businesses to piggy-back on already established communication channels. They also used pre-existing social media accounts, drafting posts for stakeholders to use. CT State Police were integral to this communication effort. The team also created and posted to the project web site – i95exit9.com – which showed a time-lapse video of the bridge placement.

The Rocky Hill project involves replacing the Elm Street bridge over I-91 south of Hartford, a smaller project requiring the closure of I-91 for two early-morning Sundays in July.

In Rocky Hill, Shawna Kitzman from FHI lead the public outreach effort. She developed mailers, created and distributed project flyers, detour map, and social media posts, and coordinated with local businesses, churches, and government agencies. Rocky Hill Public Schools and Parks and Recreation Department assisted in spreading the word about the project, which requires Elm Street over I-91 to be closed for up to 60 days.

Physically going out into the community and speaking to the people most affected by the construction is a key element to a successful public outreach effort.

“It’s easy to get buy-in from the public when they see benefits from the closure,” Barrett said. “People are terrific. They really appreciate it when CTDOT reaches out to them before major construction affects their lives.”

For Stamford, the project team established a dedicated phone number, email address and the project website, so inquiries could go directly to the public outreach team.

“We wanted to be able to answer people’s questions quickly, even at late hours and on weekends,” said Kelsey Kahn, a public outreach coordinator for FHI.

Over a three-week period starting the week before construction, FHI’s team fielded more than 250 inquires. Most were simply questions from people about how to get where they needed to go while avoiding the area, and what days and hours I-95 would be closed.

A crucial factor in the outreach success in the Stamford project was that the outreach team was fully embedded in the project team. Public outreach staff attended bi-weekly project team meetings and made regular visits to the construction site to see what was happening first-hand.

“We knew everyone and their role on the team,” Barrett said. “We worked together to support each other and shared one goal: to have really successful closure weekends. And we did. I-95 traffic volume was down 50 percent on closure weekends, and the roads opened ahead of schedule.”

For more information contact Shawna Kitzman at skitzman@fhiplan.com.

Aerial view of Span 2 in preparation for final movement. Taken on afternoon of 6/1/19 by Eric Tallarita
Bridge deck demolition over Northbound I-95 continues into the morning. Taken on morning 6/1/19 by Pete Venoutsos