Behind the bridge’s early opening
Ninety-five days may have sounded like an interminable period when the Grand Avenue Bridge detour was announced. But thanks to careful planning, collaboration, few injuries and good weather, the bridge is expected to open ahead of schedule in early November.
That collaboration has been key, said Kathleen Wanatowicz, project information manager for the joint-venture general contractor Granite/RL Wadsworth. And it extended to all community members, she said.
“Every stakeholder we have, every user group, has been part of the success so that we could finish early,” she said. “Whether it’s somebody who decided to carpool for the first time, or if it’s a large employer that decided to shift their flexible schedule, or if it’s somebody who supported a local business for the first time — all of these small victories have accumulated and added up to the success and the momentum we’re having right now on the project.”
Project officials with the joint venture and Colorado Department of Transportation are expected later this week to announce an opening date for the new bridge, but all indications are that it will be well ahead of the contract delivery date of Nov. 17.
The joint venture stands to earn a $250,000 bonus if the bridge can be partially opened to traffic 10 days ahead of schedule. The current plan is to open three lanes of the bridge initially, with a reversible lane of traffic alternating between the busy morning and evening rush hours. A full four lanes are expected to be opened by the end of November.
Teamwork was built into the project for years before the bridge closure and detour went into effect on Aug. 14 so that the old bridge could be demolished and the final segment of the new bridge could be built.
What’s known as a Construction Manager/General Contractor method of project planning meant the construction management team was involved in the design for years before work even began in January 2016.
It also meant Granite/RLW was able to plan well in advance for the critical fourth phase of construction when the bridge was taken off line.
A transit task force met regularly from January to August this year to examine every intersection and sign along the detour route. The group included CDOT, city of Glenwood Springs, Roaring Fork School District, Roaring Fork Transit Authority, Garfield County, Glenwood Springs Police Department and emergency management services.
“It is really cool to see how, when you really work toward a goal and you really work toward compromise and collaboration and decision making and then executing it — that’s been cool to see how it all rolls out,” Wanatowicz said.
Construction Manager Gaylen Stewart and Project Manager Pat Kalisz tweaked the schedule as needed throughout the project, she said. Close monitoring allowed crews to double up on construction activities occasionally, thereby shaving time off the overall detour.
A few vital statistics help to put the scale of the $126 million project in perspective.
An average of 100 workers were on site during the detour portion of the project, and since the beginning of construction that number ranged from 50 to 150 at times, according to Wanatowicz.
That included workers from 13 Colorado-based subcontractors, eight of which were from Glenwood Springs and the remainder from Grand Junction and beyond.
“We did hire a lot of local folks, and we had some people relocate their families from Utah to Glenwood Springs for the project,” Wanatowicz said. The joint venture companies are based in Salt Lake City.
The joint venture alone has put in some 123,000 man hours on the project to date, including 31,000 hours since the Aug. 14 closure. And that doesn’t even include the subcontractors.
That workforce has also spent an estimated $90,000 a month in Glenwood and the surrounding area during the detour period, on such things as hotel and motel rooms, short-term rentals, food and gasoline or diesel fuel.
Wanatowicz also said the attitudes of the crew members has been essential. They’ve been driven, in part, because many consider this their legacy project, she said.
“They’re almost completely self-motivated to do a good job,” she said. “They’re constantly in the public’s eye. It’s very unique to have this sort of infrastructure project that’s in the middle of the highway and the downtown commercial use.”
And they’ve stayed safe doing it, she said, noting only a few minor injuries and no major incidents to date. The unplanned collapse of a section of the old bridge in the first week of the detour was spectacular, but caused no injuries or lasting damage, and did not slow the project.
“Safety is such a culture for this joint venture,” Wanatowicz said. “It’s a very high standard, just being in the public eye and wanting to do a good job for the state.”
Even as the end of the detour draws near, Wanatowicz advised that residents should continue to reduce traffic whenever possible. The detour has certainly affected individual lives, and those traffic reductions are crucial to minimize the effects and keep the project ahead of schedule.
“Anything you can do to reduce the number of travel trips in your car is helpful to those who can’t,” she said.