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Published: Friday, 10/22/2004

I-280 closings to begin

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Bob Lindsey stands guard at the new anchor devices, left center, installed on the existing crane to prevent the legs of the crane from lifting up or shifting sideways. Bob Lindsey stands guard at the new anchor devices, left center, installed on the existing crane to prevent the legs of the crane from lifting up or shifting sideways.
LONG / BLADE Enlarge

Construction of mainline approach spans for the new I-280 bridge over the Maumee River will resume tomorrow, but to do so project officials have abandoned a promise to keep the freeway open except on scattered nights and weekends.

In light of the crane collapse Feb. 16 that killed four construction workers and injured four others, work can no longer be done above traffic, Richard Martinko, the Ohio Department of Transportation's assistant director for highway management, said during a news conference yesterday afternoon.

Detours will start at 6:30 a.m. tomorrow, when southbound I-280 will be closed between I-75 and Navarre Avenue to all traffic except motorists crossing the Craig Memorial Bridge. The closing could be postponed in case of bad weather. Northbound detours will begin in two weeks.

After the news conference, reporters took an escorted tour of the construction site to see how a crane identical to the one that fell has been modified to ensure its stability. Most prominent are two large struts attached to each of the crane's two anchoring legs intended to keep those legs from either lifting up or shifting sideways.

An Occupational Safety and Health Administration report issued in late July faulted Fru-Con, the Ballwin, Mo.-based project contractor, for improperly anchoring the crane that fell, which the agency said was at least partially to blame for the collapse.

Fru-Con is appealing the OSHA finding and a $280,000 proposed fine that came with it.

Matti Jaekel, the company's president and chief executive officer, said yesterday that the firm's own forensic investigation highlighted "several possible causes for this accident, but no single cause could be identified."

"This crane weighs 2 million pounds, and things that heavy aren't supposed to move," Mr. Martinko said. "But somehow it did."

The 315-foot crane's collapse killed four members of Ironworkers Local 55: Arden Clark, 47; Robert Lipinski, Jr., 44; Mike Moreau, 30, and Mike Phillips, 42. Two ironworkers and two operating engineers were hurt.

"I deeply regret that the accident tragically occurred," Mr. Jaekel said. After reciting the victims' names, he continued: "I can only imagine the suffering their families, friends, and co-workers had to endure."

He and Mr. Martinko both said that the plans to resume crane work were developed under consultation with OSHA, engineering experts, and other parties to the project, including labor unions.

"I am confident in our team's ability to complete this project safely," Mr. Jaekel said. "We will complete this wonderful bridge in memory of those who suffered so dearly."

Chuck LaFaso, the local business agent for the International Union of Operating Engineers, said Wednesday night that he was satisfied with the "work-forward" plan.

Joe Blaze, the business agent for Ironworkers Local 55, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

The collapsed crane was destroyed, and project officials had estimated that resuming work with just its surviving twin would delay the bridge's completion until early 2007 at the soonest. But Mr. Jaekel said yesterday that Fru-Con may procure two replacement cranes - of similar, but not identical, design - that would allow it to meet the original project deadline.

"Our goal is to deliver this project to Toledo on time, by the end of 2006. We will have additional equipment on the site by next summer," Mr. Jaekel said.

Under that scenario, the existing crane would be used to complete the East Toledo approach spans and the southern half of the bridge's main span, while the new arrivals would be put to work on the North Toledo approach. The northern half of the main span is to be assembled in cantilever fashion, using the bridge's stay cables.

Many of the approach spans on either side of the river will stand above the existing I-280 roadway. Before the Feb. 16 accident, pre-cast concrete bridge segments were assembled using the mammoth cranes with traffic proceeding underneath.

But when the crane collapsed, some of the debris entered I-280's northbound left lane. No vehicles were hit, nor did any strike the wreckage before traffic was halted.

"We do not want traffic underneath the truss when it is operating," Mr. Martinko said. While it would be possible to reopen I-280 intermittently between crane maneuvers, he said, it will be less confusing if the freeway is kept closed until all the overhead work is finished.

The initial closing of southbound I-280 will last one week. After that, the southbound lanes will be reopened for local traffic at Manhattan Boulevard, but until Dec. 8, access from I-75 will remain blocked and all traffic will be forced to exit at Front Street. Traffic will be able to enter southbound I-280 at Front, too, but the ramps there are not configured to allow motorists who have just exited the freeway to re-enter it.

The same sequence will occur on the northbound side two weeks later. Except for the Craig bridge, northbound I-280 will be closed entirely north of State Rt. 795 from Nov. 6 until Nov. 13. After that, it will be posted for local traffic only, with motorists not able to get through at Front.

Eleven approach spans were built before the crane accident occurred. While the freeway is closed, crews will be assembling the next seven spans of what will become I-280's southbound lanes on the East Toledo side of the Maumee.

Spans closer to the river will not be over the existing roadway, so traffic will resume while they are being built, Mr. Martinko said, although Front will be closed for at least a week. More I-280 closings will be needed next year and in 2006 while the northbound spans are assembled in East Toledo and for similar construction in North Toledo.

Depending on how the work proceeds this fall, Mr. Martinko said, officials may be able to reopen I-280 during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

Closing I-280, he said, "is not the best scenario, but this is the situation we're in."

Contact David Patch at:

dpatch@theblade.com

or 419-724-6094.



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