The new Belleair Beach Causeway Bridge is honored as one of the top 10 bridge projects of 2009.
BELLEAIR BEACH – Residents and visitors driving over the nearly completed Belleair Beach Causeway Bridge might be happy to know they are crossing over an award-winning structure.
County officials and the contractors who worked on the bridge are basking in the limelight after receiving a national accolade for the use of an innovative construction technique. “Roads and Bridges” magazine recently named the Belleair Beach Causeway Bridge replacement project as No. 5 in the top 10 bridge projects in 2009.
The reason for the kudos was the “complex and unique process including an incremental launching system that involved casting and launching 660 feet of the concrete superstructure in 37.5 feet increments,” according to a press release from HDR, the bridge’s designer.
E.C. Driver & Associates Inc. provided construction engineering and inspection for the $72.3 million project to replace the nearly 60-year-old bridge and improve roadway approaches.
The actual construction was done by Johnson Bros. Inc. and Misener Marine Construction.
John Meagher of Madeira Beach, an engineer with Johnson Bros., was the project manager for the bridge. He said the award was a “pretty big deal” to be selected from all the bridges in the United States.
“We feel pretty good about it,” he said.
Meagher said the Belleair Beach Causeway Bridge was “an unusual bridge. It is high level and pretty long and involved several types of construction.”
The 74-foot high, fixed-span bridge was the second project in the United States to include the use of incremental launching in its construction. The method was recommended by Johnson Bros. for the east and west ends of the main bridge.
Meagher said in reality, the Belleair Beach Causeway Bridge was the first to use the incremental launching method with concrete. The first use, done in Ohio, involved steel.
“This exact method has never been used in the United States,” he said.
The idea came from another engineer who had used the technique during bridge construction in other countries. Meagher said incremental launching is common in Europe.
Before deciding to use the technique in Pinellas County, Meagher went to Barcelona, Spain, where a bridge was being constructed using incremental launching to get a feel for how the process worked.
“A lot of planning went into making the decision to go with incremental launching. It was a big deal,” he said.
So what is incremental launching?
Meagher said the repetitive process involved preassembling the 18 deck spans for each side on the ground using a template. After the concrete cured, the deck spans were moved into place by sliding each piece across the cap. The cap tops each of the bridge’s upright support columns.
He said incremental launching was more efficient and saved time and money. But safety was the biggest factor because construction workers could work on the ground instead of 50 feet in the air.
Meagher said the technique worked great and that he would do it again if the right project came along.
The Belleair Beach Causeway Bridge replacement project, which began in March 2007, is scheduled for completion by the end of the year. It is the county’s largest infrastructure project to date and includes replacing the bridge that spans the Intracoastal Waterway and a second bridge that crosses a relief channel.
The project was paid for in part with Penny for Pinellas revenue.
Meagher is rightfully proud of the nearly-completed structure.
“There’s none like it,” he said. “It’s unique in itself and it was unique in its construction.”