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Published: 9/26/2007

$800,000 requested to rent special barges for King Bridge repairs

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Vacationers unwilling to pay in advance for rooms at their favorite hotels run the risk of finding no space available when their travel time arrives.

The same is true for the city of Toledo, where officials say they need to get their reservation in for equipment critical to completing Martin Luther King, Jr., Bridge renovations this winter - or risk another year of delay to the tardy project.

City council will vote next week on releasing $800,000 from Toledo's capital improvement budget to pay for the use of two huge "transporters" needed to move bridge sections upriver from an East Toledo storage yard to the bridge, David Welch, the city's commissioner of streets, bridges, and harbor, said yesterday.

A $10 million state loan that the city seeks is expected to plug a yawning gap in the project's construction budget.

The $800,000 discussed during an agenda planning meeting already was in the city's capital budget, but legislation is required to release the funds.

If the city doesn't commit to renting the "transporters" for the winter, Mr. Welch told council, some other project elsewhere is likely to snap them up.

"We've got to secure the transporters we have," he said. "There's a huge demand for those, so we have to lock them in."

City officials reported last month that two years of delays that afflicted the King bridge project were a main reason its cost has ballooned by between $5 million and $10 million - a figure made uncertain by disputes between the city and its engineers and contractor concerning responsibility for the delays.

So far, Toledo has spent about $42 million renovating the 1910-vintage King bridge.

That doesn't include the amount it and contractor National Engineering dispute, but it includes the $10 million first phase under which the bridge's concrete-arch spans were refurbished.

National's contract for replacing the drawspans originally was valued at $32.3 million.

City officials earlier this year acknowledged a $4.44 million cost overrun, which they attributed to the lengthy construction delays.

The drawspan replacement was to have been completed in early 2006, but a design error delayed a Wisconsin firm's fabrication of the new drawspans by about six months.

That set the project behind a full year because the drawspans can only be installed during the winter, when the Maumee River can be closed to navigation without disrupting commercial shipping.

And soon after installation began last winter, project officials discovered problems with concrete in the piers that anchor the drawspans.

Old concrete inside the piers had cracked during an earlier stage of construction, requiring it to be dug out and replaced.

Combined with weather-related problems that arose in February and March, the flawed concrete shredded an installation schedule that officials had acknowledged to be ambitious.

The city ended up missing its deadline to reopen the river to shipping by nearly three weeks, and even then only got two of four drawspan sections installed - just enough to reopen the King to two lanes of traffic.

The $10 million that the city now plans to borrow from the State Infrastructure Bank to close the project's budget gap will not affect Toledo's debt limit because the loan would be state-guaranteed, Bill Franklin, the city's director of public service, told council.

Mr. Welch said the debt would be paid off from a combination of sources, including future years' capital improvement budgets and state and federal transportation funds.

The state money would not arrive until Jan. 1, but that's consistent with the construction schedule under which replacement of the King's drawspans would not resume until after Jan. 7.

The two drawspan sections remaining to be installed will be moved to the bridge site by barge, then maneuvered into place using the heavy-lift transporters.

Mr. Franklin told council that work would be done by March, and other project-related work would be "substantially complete" by May 31.

"By the time you're finished with the bridge, will it qualify for historic status," Councilman Wilma Brown remarked.

Mr. Franklin replied that the bridge is already historic, but said with a smile, "you mean, will the repair be historic."

Ms. Brown said he did not have to answer.

Unlike last winter, when the bridge also had to be closed to traffic for more than two months just to get the first two drawspan sections installed, the remaining installation will require only "minimal" road closures of two to three days at a time for when the lift spans are set in place, Mr. Welch said, and later for final paving.

Staff writer Tom Troy contributed to this report.

Contact David Patch at: dpatch@theblade.com or 419-724-6094.



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