Micky Jacobs isn’t making any promises, but the way it looks today, the new U.S. Highway 77 bridge over the Platte River south of Fremont could be open to traffic before Aug. 1.
The most recent contractor’s schedule, Jacobs said, anticipates traffic shifting sometime the last week of July.
The contractor, Cramer and Associates Inc. of Grimes, Iowa, has an Aug. 1 incentive date if they can have traffic on the new bridge by then.
“Now that’s a target; things are subject to change,” Jacobs, Nebraska Department of Roads project manager, pointed out. “I can’t guarantee that’s going to happen, but if it was me and I was up against that date, I would surely try to beat that date, because that’s their incentive date if they have traffic switched before that date.”
Three more pours are necessary to complete the deck, but the current construction schedule shows deck placement to be complete by May 27.
There’s also some grading work and tie-in pavement left to do south of the bridge, as well as a county road east of there that needs to be taken care of before the bridge can open, Jacobs said.
“It doesn’t seem like a lot, but there is a lot,” he said. “This time of year dirt doesn’t dry as fast, and things like that, so it takes a little bit longer than it would in July.”
There are factors that can’t be controlled, like the weather, but Jacobs is cautiously optimistic.
“They’re going to still try to get all five lanes open yet this year,” he said. “When we open the bridge to traffic, it’s going to (initially) be one lane northbound and one lane southbound in the northbound set of lanes (on the east side of the new bridge).”
“People probably don’t get the sense of how big this new bridge is because they can’t see it,” Jacobs said.
“That existing bridge is 26 feet wide from face of curb to face of curb. The new bridge makes that look kind of small. You can almost place three of the old bridges on top of our new bridge," he said.
The deck of the new bridge is 80 feet wide. The west piers were built large enough to add a walkway if funding ever becomes available for that.
Opening the bridge to traffic is far from the end of the overall contract. There is still the old bridge to remove, as well as remnants in the water of previous bridges dating back more than a century that were left behind. That process is likely to take a couple years.
Workers are not allowed in the river itself between Jan. 31 and Aug. 1 in order to protect endangered species.
“They’re going to have to put a temporary bridge in to remove half the old bridge, and then put a temporary bridge in to remove the other half of the old bridge. Since they only have the windows from Aug. 1 through Feb. 1, they can only get half at a time,” Jacobs said.
With low water last fall, workers were able to clearly see many of the old pilings.
“We removed the old existing wood pilings and concrete caissons from previous bridges that we could reach off the temporary bridge,” Jacobs said. “First of all we had to see it, it had to be above water for us to see it, and then whatever we could swing out and take out, that’s what we did.”
The existing bridge was dedicated in 1955, replacing a bridge that opened in 1914.
“From what I could see, there was at least three and maybe four (previous bridges),” Jacobs said. “The (1914) bridge that they took down when they built the existing bridge was way out of our reach, we couldn’t get to any of that. You can actually see the old piers in the water when the table’s down low enough, and then there were round caisson bridge footings, which is indicative of an old railroad bridge…We took down two old abutments, so we know that there were at least two concrete bridges out there.”
Workers plan to begin putting up a temporary bridge on the south side on Aug. 1, barring environmental restraints, to start removing that end of the existing bridge.
The completion date of the $16.3 million contract is Jan. 31, 2016, but the contractor’s current schedule is shooting for a completion date of April 15, 2015.