Tuesday, Jul 26, 2016
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Frigid weather doesn’t freeze work to repaint Craig Bridge

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    Larry Norman of Foundation Steel LLC, Swanton, removes a rusted handrail from the Craig Bridge.

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    Heated tents protect Atsalis Brothers Painting workers from the cold on the $11.1 million project, which must be finished March 15.

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    A polar bear cub, left, plays with a bucket as its mother, Crystal, investigates at the Toledo Zoo. The polar bears have the option to stay inside or go out during the frigid conditions. Today’s forecast calls for more subzero temperatures.

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Heated tents protect Atsalis Brothers Painting workers from the cold on the $11.1 million project, which must be finished March 15.

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The dead of winter is hardly an ideal time for outdoor painting, but when it came to the Craig Memorial Bridge’s drawspans, the Ohio Department of Transportation had no choice.

And while the winter is shaping up to be one of Toledo’s coldest, for Atsalis Brothers Painting Inc. of Canton Township, Michigan, the $11.1 million show must go on.

PHOTO GALLERY: Craig Memorial Bridge gets paint job

“It’s not slowing us down too much. It’s got to get done,” said Kyle Ruedel, ODOT project engineer. “We have until March 15. They’ve taken the necessary heaters down there to get the job done.”

The hard place behind the weather’s rock — make that ice — is the Coast Guard, whose permit for the project sets that March 15 deadline to reopen the Maumee River to marine traffic.

While other parts of the bridge can be painted in warmer weather, winter is the only time the Coast Guard allows the Maumee’s shipping channel to be closed. Unlike highway traffic, ships can’t be detoured around a bridge construction project, and during sandblasting and painting, the Craig’s drawspans can’t be raised.

So along with the need to keep old paint, rust, and other debris from the project’s sandblasting from falling into the river, Atsalis must set up tents to keep its heaters’ heat in too.

“When painting, it has to be 50 degrees” or warmer, Mr. Ruedel said. “The paint’s got to be able to stick.”

The two bouts of sustained subzero cold that have buffeted Toledo so far this winter haven’t coincided with actual painting.

The first deep freeze coincided with the project’s Jan. 6 scheduled start date, and that was simply put off until three days later. This week, crews were only in the sandblasting stage, for which the temperature didn’t matter — although it was still windy and miserably cold out on the bridge.

“I’ve been warmer, I can tell you that,” said Larry Norman, an ironworker from Foundation Steel LLC, Swanton, who worked Monday to replace rusted sections of the bridge’s maintenance catwalk before it is painted. “This has been pretty brutal.”


Larry Norman of Foundation Steel LLC, Swanton, removes a rusted handrail from the Craig Bridge.

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Painting should start “in the next week or two,” Mr. Ruedel said, with crews working around the clock in alternating 12-hour shifts — just like the area’s snowplow drivers do.

By that time, the project engineer hopes Toledo’s weather will be at least a little warmer than the 16.5-degree average at Toledo Express Airport during January’s first 27 days. But if necessary, he said, the work will be broken into smaller sections, with tents divided into smaller chambers, so the necessary warmth can be maintained.

“The main spans will be the toughest, but we’re not going to wait for warmer weather,” Mr. Ruedel said. “We’ll bring in extra heaters if we have to, and we won’t heat the whole thing at one shot.”

The 16.5-degree average, if it holds, would tie this month for the eighth-coldest January in Toledo’s history. Weather forecasts Tuesday called for another morning low well below zero today, followed by a modest warmup for Thursday and Friday and more snow.

Rough winters have had a knack for finding the years when a Toledo drawbridge is under major repair. In 2007, construction problems and the sixth-coldest February in Toledo’s history so delayed work to replace the Martin Luther King, Jr., Bridge’s drawspans that the project ended up being completed the following winter.

Problems included a construction barge being swept away by Maumee River ice that broke up during a thaw.

Even with the reduced work load, the city’s contractor didn’t get the river reopened to boats until March 28. The city avoided Coast Guard fines only because, with no boats actually arriving until March 29, permit extensions were granted.

More rough weather interfered with construction the next winter — February and March, 2008, both had Top 10 snowfalls for those months — but that year, the March 15 river-reopening deadline was met.

The Craig Bridge project is painting-only, but there are about 121,000 square feet of metal to be cleaned and painted. Most will be spray-painted, but moving parts and other sensitive areas will be shielded and painted by hand.

“[There are] a lot of nooks and crannies in there, a lot of hard-to-get-to places,” Mr. Ruedel said, and the ODOT standard paint is applied in three layers — a 12-day process once each surface is prepped.

But the state engineer is confident the crews will get the job done on time, even with adverse weather.

“They’re good workers, and they’ll find a way,” he said.

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

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