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Published: 8/16/2005

Out of sight, workers race deadline

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Two stories below street level, project manager Jeff Kracun explains renovations under way and already completed. Work will culminate in March with the addition to two new draw spans. Two stories below street level, project manager Jeff Kracun explains renovations under way and already completed. Work will culminate in March with the addition to two new draw spans.
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The Maumee River breeze that cools pedestrians on the Martin Luther King, Jr., Bridge on stuffy summer days doesn't make it to Mike Donovan's workplace two stories below street level.

It's in a bridge pier where he and construction colleagues last week built a supporting wall for a new control tower.

"It's even hotter down here. There's no wind, it's humid. And we're working for a slave driver," he said, the latter remark made with a grin and loud enough for his foreman, Tony Ortiz, to hear.

For nearly a year, workers have been preparing the 95-year-old bridge for replacement of its draw spans - the sections that open to allow ships and sailboats to pass through.

Except for almost daily lane closings, little evidence of their work has been obvious to passing motorists. In recent weeks, crews have drilled several shafts for "post-tensioning" rods that will anchor the spans when they are lowered after boat openings, but otherwise, "everything goes on underneath," said Jeff Kracun, the project manager for National Engineering and Constructing, of Strongsville, Ohio.

The "underneath" work has involved a mixture of renovations and modifications to replace crumbling concrete in the draw-span piers, install electrical ducts for a new control system, lay a cable beneath the river bottom to provide power-source redundancy, and make the structure ready for new draw spans that will be about 13 feet wider than those they are replacing.

Those wider spans necessitated the new wall Mr. Donovan helped build.

The piers at both ends of the draw spans have pulpits on either side, and atop two of the four pulpits are towers from which the bridge is controlled. New control towers are to be built on the other two pulpits. Once they're operating, the old control towers will be torn down.

The heavy lifting will occur this winter when prefabricated draw span sections will be barged into place and installed. During that operation, the Maumee will be closed to river traffic from Jan. 1 until March 15 - a period during which few boats normally operate because of cold and ice.

A steel fabricator in Eau Claire, Wis., is "working around the clock" to make draw-span beams that will be assembled in Toledo, Mr. Kracun said, while a firm in Miami is making control machinery.

While National has approached city officials about what to do if the installation runs past the March 15 deadline for reopening the river, the project manager said that is strictly a hypothetical query.

"That's having our bases covered" in case a problem arises, he said, adding that drilling the anchor-rod shafts now gets work out of the way that previously was to coincide with the wintertime installation.

"They've always got an alternate plan and have really thought ahead. They're always looking for an opportunity to get it done quicker and on schedule," David Moebius, the city's commissioner of streets, bridges, and harbor said in praise of National Engineering's progress on the $33 million draw-span replacement project.

Their work follows a two-year, $10.2 million rehabilitation of the King bridge's arch spans that another firm completed last year.

When finished, the King bridge will reopen to all vehicles weighing up to the standard Ohio load limit of 80,000 pounds, Mr. Moebius said. The new spans will be capable of handling 154,000-pound "Michigan loads," too, but that will only be allowed by special permits, he said.

The old bridge has been load-limited to five tons for several years to accommodate automobile traffic only.

No repairs are being made to the old draw spans themselves beyond what is absolutely necessary to keep them in use until their replacements are installed. The bridge's underside is laced with reinforcing beams that city workers have welded on in recent years to shore up the structure, while non-weight-bearing metal shows extensive rust.

Some have criticized the bridge project's timing because it coincides with the Veterans' Glass City Skyway bridge project that is closing I-280 for periods of months this year.

But city officials struggled to cobble enough funding together to get the project started sooner, and Mr. Kracun agreed that once the money was in hand, it was wise to get going.

"This one's in pretty bad shape," he said. "It was absolutely time for this bridge."

Contact David Patch at:

dpatch@theblade.com

or 419-724-6094.



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