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The crew members of the freighter Algowest couldn t have timed their ship s arrival any better had they planned it.
On a May morning six years ago, state and local leaders cheered the start of a new landmark on Toledo s skyline a bridge that would arch high above the Maumee River ending nearly a half-century of river-related traffic delays on I-280.
The bells rang on the Craig Memorial Bridge, its gates came down, and freeway traffic ground to a halt as the 730-foot laker emerged from gathering gloom that heralded a spring thunderstorm, sailed past the ground-breaking ceremony, and tooted through the open drawbridge on its way upstream.
A week from now, the promise of that morning will be fulfilled when the Veterans Glass City Skyway opens to traffic. Toledo s "signature bridge," the biggest single construction project in Ohio Department of Transportation history, will be sealed and delivered.
No longer will I-280 traffic be subject to drawbridge delays an average of seven minutes per bridge opening, but for freighters like the Algowest, sometimes 15 minutes or more. Nor are freighters likely to be as vulnerable to delays from the Craig, which wasn t designed for the heavy pounding it gets from interstate truck traffic and has been prone to breakdown during its 40-year existence.
"It s a new beginning," said Steve Nathanson, chairman of the Veterans Glass City Skyway Task Force, a citizens group that at first promoted the bridge s construction and then coordinated public meetings and other activities that influenced the project s design. "This is a signal of northwest Ohio s renaissance."
"It s a wonderful feeling" to see the bridge reaching completion, Mr. Nathanson said.
Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner last week called the structure "a monument to patience, not giving up, and political conspiring" the latter item referring to some election-year arm-twisting in 1998 as well as Blade editorializing, that yielded gubernatorial candidates promises that the project would be funded without requiring tolls.
Mr. Finkbeiner has particular reason to hope for nice weather Saturday when the bridge is dedicated. During the groundbreaking ceremony six years ago, he took the microphone just as the clouds burst open and sent most participants scurrying for shelter.
"No matter the weather, the sun s going to be shining on Toledo, Ohio" when the bridge opens, the mayor said.
The cable-stayed Skyway bridge, built by Fru-Con Construction Corp. of Ballwin, Mo., under a $220 million state contract, holds numerous "firsts," including the world s thickest stay cables, the first use of stainless steel sheathing on those cables, and the first pylon with internally lit, inlaid glass panels.
"There is no bridge just like that one anywhere else," said Tony Reams, executive director of the Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments. "For this part of the country, it s going to have the same landmark qualities as the Golden Gate [Bridge] has in San Francisco."
"The bridge is going to be a spectacular result for the city of Toledo. It s going to be Toledo s postcard," said Richard Martinko, a former district deputy director and then assistant director of ODOT who had primary responsibility for the bridge. "I m very proud of the people who worked on this project."
Including approach viaducts, it stretches about 8,800 feet from its East Toledo end near Seaman Street to its North Toledo touchdown at Greenbelt Parkway, including a 1,225-foot main span that rises 120 feet above the Maumee s shipping channel.
Its structure was built entirely with reinforced concrete. The main pylon was poured in stages from 32 feet below the riverbed up to just shy of 400 feet above the Maumee s average waterline, atop which its pinnacle was assembled from three precast pieces to reach the tower s final height of 403 feet above the river.
To the visiting motorist, the bridge s highlight will be the pylon s variable-color lighting system. Behind its 176 inlaid, frosted-glass panels are 13,824 light-emitting diodes that together can create 16.7 million color combinations.
The colors will be programmed to move and change in patterns evocative of the seasons, holidays, or special events. No words or defined shapes will appear, state officials say, and except for a special show on the night after the bridge s dedication on Saturday, motion will be slow to avoid creating a distraction hazard for I-280 motorists.
Stainless steel was chosen for the stay sheaths because of its shininess, and at night the sheaths will be lit from below with white light from fixtures in the bridge s deck that will not shift or pulse.
At its peak, the construction project employed nearly 400 people. As many as 300 worked at the casting yard a mile away on Front Street, where 3,008 deck segments and 42 "delta frames" that reinforce the structure and anchor the stay cables on the main span over the river were manufactured over more than 2 years.
The bridge itself was the workplace for an array of engineers, tradesmen, and laborers, who put the precast pieces together, built the main pylon, installed lights and wiring, and attended to myriad other details that make the structure complete.
But five of the workers who someday might have told future generations how they worked on the skyline-dominating structure will never get that chance. While the bridge portends to be a symbol of Toledo s civic pride for generations, to many who worked on it, their relatives, or those who just lived in Toledo during its construction, it will be a reminder of the workers who died four of them on a single day.
Toledo s skies were brilliantly clear and winds were light on a frigid President s Day, 2004 Feb. 16 when one of two huge, yellow gantry truss cranes used to assemble the Skyway s spans from precast concrete segments peeled away from its moorings and crashed 60 feet to the ground, killing three ironworkers and mortally injuring a fourth.
Mike Phillips, 42; Mike Moreau, 30; Robert Lipinski, Jr., 44, and Arden Clark II, 47, all died of injuries they suffered when the falling crane either struck them or knocked them to the ground. Four other men two ironworkers and two operating engineers were injured, some of them permanently.
U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo), who during the groundbreaking ceremony had expressed hope that the I-280 bridge might be built without a single fatality or crippling injury, said last week that the accident hit her particularly hard because she had been at the construction site a month before it to congratulate workers for the project s safety record, which had been almost spotless up to that point.
"We worked so hard to do this with no deaths," Miss Kaptur said.
"Safety was a critical element in our plans," ODOT s Mr. Martinko agreed. "We were obviously very disappointed with the accident."
The fifth fatality occurred just two months ago, on April 19, when a work platform attached to the bridge s side detached and fell 82 feet to the ground, killing Andrew Burris, a 36-year-old carpenter who was working on the platform. That accident remains under investigation.
Along with its human toll, the crane collapse laid to waste the project s safety record, which previously had been touted as a paragon for heavy construction, and its completion schedule.
The accident was blamed on shortcuts taken in anchoring the crane s rear legs during the procedure of extending it for repositioning from above a completed span to the next one to be assembled. OSHA fined Fru-Con $280,000 for workplace-safety violations associated with the collapse, and the contractor paid out at least $11.25 million in settlements with the dead workers families.
After the crane collapse, work on other parts of the project including segment casting, main-pylon construction, and ramp-span assembly using a truss crane of a different design continued after short delays, but assembly of mainline spans was halted for eight months.
Then, in an embarrassment to both Fru-Con and ODOT, a positioning leg fell from the other of the two big, yellow trusses as it was being maneuvered into place to resume building the mainline on Oct. 23, 2004.
That accident, blamed on a miswired control switch, injured no one. But it put the mainline s construction on ice for eight more months while the contractor revised its construction plan yet again and procured additional equipment to keep the project s completion as close to schedule as possible.
Finishing the bridge would require closing I-280 between Greenbelt Parkway and Summit Street for more than 13 months while the North Toledo approach viaduct was built over the freeway s existing lanes. Original construction plans called for work to be done above active I-280 traffic, but that concept was abandoned after the crane accidents.
Once the last viaduct span was assembled in November, I-280 reopened.
After the new bridge opens, the freeway s trench through North Toledo is to be redeveloped as a park, as is the vacated Front Street interchange area in East Toledo. The Craig bridge will remain for use by local traffic and will become part of State Rt. 65.
While construction of I-280 widening projects associated with the new bridge was under way in North Toledo, officials gathered on an East Toledo wharf to break ground on May 18, 2001. The contract to Fru-Con for the bridge itself would not be awarded until the following March. Within three months, Fru-Con had begun drilling foundation shafts for the bridge s piers, was building a cofferdam in the Maumee River for the 403 -foot main pylon, and had ordered the two gantry-truss cranes with which it planned to build the main spans from an Italian manufacturer.
Except for the start of the Front Street exit ramp in East Toledo and an ever-growing forest of piers, significant project progress did not become apparent to the general public until July, 2003, when assembly of the East Toledo approach viaduct began.
By that time, the overall project was 45 percent complete and reported to be 405 days ahead of schedule, so much so that Fru-Con and ODOT announced an agreement to complete construction by Labor Day, 2005, instead of the previous Oct. 26, 2006, deadline.
The crane collapse and ensuing crane-leg incident set the project so far back, however, that even the original completion date couldn t be met.
While embarrassing, a concrete-quality problem that arose shortly after the crane collapse and required Fru-Con to remove and replace 184 cubic yards of the pylon had no lasting effect on the project s schedule. ODOT also discovered during construction that the plastic coating on many stay-cable strands was cracked, which compromised their longevity but not their strength. Replacements were ordered and are being installed.
To resume building the mainline bridge spans, Fru-Con modified the surviving truss for continued use without the self-contained repositioning system that had been in use when the collapse occurred.
The contractor obtained two other trusses: a gantry similar to the others on the site and an "underslung" truss that supported spans from below during assembly. But both took longer to ready for operation than had been expected, and even Fru-Con s decision to build several North Toledo spans using
old-fashioned scaffolds standing on I-280 s closed lanes could not get the bridge finished in 2006.
To encourage Fru-Con to at least get the old freeway open again in time for the Thanksgiving holiday and the winter that followed, ODOT agreed to delay assessing a $20,000-per-day late-completion penalty for the project until March 2, 2007.
The state had been docking Fru-Con $10,000 per day since May 28, 2006, for the continued closing of I-280 a penalty that exceeded $1.7 million by the time the freeway reopened. During the seven months since then, construction crews have put on the structure s finishing touches, including installation of the final two precast bridge segments on Dec. 20 and a Feb. 16 "closure pour" that, on the fatal crane collapse s third anniversary, joined the main span over the Maumee s shipping channel with the North Toledo approach viaduct.
Fines associated with the new bridge s late opening passed the $2 million mark last week, though Fru-Con nonetheless is due to be paid more than its original $220 million contract.
Andrea Voogd, an ODOT spokesman in Bowling Green, said state-approved changes to the project have added 7 percent, or about $17 million, to the contractor s bill. A price escalation of that magnitude, she said, "is well within expectations."
A dedication ceremony is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Saturday, followed at noon by a four-mile road race and walk with a circular route originating at the Summit YMCA and crossing the bridge. A motorized parade by veterans groups will cross the bridge s northbound lanes starting at about 12:30 p.m. The schedule for a special light show using the Skyway pylon s LED lighting system remains to be announced.
The Veterans Glass City Skyway will open to I-280 traffic sometime next Sunday. At press time, ODOT had no specific time for the opening nor was the state agency planning to accommodate any motorists who might desire to line up nearby to become the first to cross the river span after its opening.
The bridge s opening will not be accompanied, however, by an immediate end to construction in the area. Initially, just two of its three lanes in either direction will open. The rest will open later this year, once the transition between the North Toledo approach and existing I-280 is completed and all defective stay-cable strands have been replaced.
Conversion of surplus I-280 right-of-way into a city park and roadway reconfiguration around the Craig bridge, meanwhile, is scheduled for completion in 2010.
The park will include a workers monument that will be a memorial to those who died and a tribute to the hundreds of others who had hands in the bridge s construction. Many will move on to other construction projects in the Toledo area, but for some, their time in Toledo is over.
"I m going to miss this bridge," said Wade Bonzon, a field engineer with Figg Bridge Engineering who soon will move to Denver to work at a Figg project-management office. "It s been an amazing, lifetime experience. It s been five years of learning things out here."
"It s a shame that we lost five good men s lives," Mayor Finkbeiner said. "But now, the families are probably also uplifted that the project those men worked on is finally being completed."
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