Louisiana DOTD and City of New Orleans Partner to Revitalize Wisner Boulevard Bridge
In the heart of New Orleans, intersected by Interstate 610 and near the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, Wisner Boulevard is a heavily travelled route that runs parallel to Bayou St. John and the sprawling City Park. The decades-old Wisner Boulevard Bridge Overpass which carries traffic over I-610 - and which has been deteriorating for many years - is now being replaced with a new and much improved structure. The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (LA DOTD), City of New Orleans, Regional Planning Commission and Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) are partnered on a $19.5 million project to reconstruct the bridge, with construction on schedule for completion in the spring of 2017.
A Crumbling Bridge
According to city officials, the existing concrete girder bridge, constructed in 1955, had reached its designed age limit and lacked safe lanes for pedestrian and bike traffic. Inspection reports over the past decade have rated the bridge in poor condition, surveys have included the existing structure as one of the area's top 10 problem bridges, and news stories have featured photos of the crumbling roadway.
Now, the 57-foot-wide bridge has been demolished and is being replaced with a new 65-foot-wide steel girder bridge at the same location. Mark Jernigan, Director of the Department of Public Works, reports, "The new bridge will feature travel lanes on both sides, just like the existing bridge, but it will also include a pedestrian bicycle lane to improve the connection between the communities in this area."
Safer for Pedestrians
The new bridge structure, with an approximate length of 1,800 feet, features a new steel girder overpass and asphalt approaches. It will include two 12-foot travel lanes in each direction and a 12-foot pedestrian and bicycle path along Bayou St. John, adjacent to City Park. The 1,300-acre City Park is among the top 10 most-visited urban parks in the country, and is nearly 50 percent larger than New York City's Central Park; it is considered by many to be the model American urban greenspace. City Park is very popular among bikers, joggers, and walkers, which will make the new Wisner Bridge's pedestrian/bicycle path a welcome addition to park enthusiasts. Additionally, the Wisner Shared Use Path will be extended from the new bridge all the way to Esplanade, where it will meet the Esplanade Bike Lanes, making it the city's first river-to-lake connection of dedicated bicycle facilities.
Justin Guilbeau, LA DOTD District 2 Project Engineer, is managing all of the construction engineering and inspection functions for the Wisner Bridge project. The project designer is Rahman & Associates, Inc. of Kenner, Louisiana, and Boh Bros. Construction Co., LLC, headquartered in New Orleans, is constructing the bridge.
Renewal and Construction
The old bridge was permanently closed to traffic in December 2015, and construction on the replacement bridge project began in January 2016. The removal of the old bridge occurred between January and May; pile driving was done between March and July. Girder placement began in August, starting on the north side of structure; over 60 percent of the new footings and columns are now complete. Phases underway or upcoming include pouring the remaining footings and columns, and pouring the bridge deck and railings.
The Wisner Bridge project is being completed as part of the Louisiana DOTD's Off System Bridge Rehabilitation and Replacement Program. This program's purpose is to replace or rehabilitate structurally deficient or functionally obsolete parish structures in a cost efficient manner. Every two years, participating parishes are provided with a list of qualified structures, estimated replacement costs, specific instructions, and the parishes' available funds. Design, detailed plans, and construction for replacement projects are generated, with emphasis on meeting the minimum design standards set by the LA DOTD and the FHWA. The FHWA provides 80 percent funding for the design and construction of the projects. The State contributes the 20 percent matching funds. The funds are distributed amongst the parishes based on the percentage of surface area of qualified structures.
Utilizing a TMP
Gary C. Pentek is the Off-System Bridge Program Manager, and serves as the overall project manager for the Wisner Bridge replacement project. He comments, "This is probably the biggest transportation project in New Orleans right now. Discussions about options for the Wisner Bridge began in 2006. We originally considered a rehabilitation of the existing bridge, but analysis showed that it would be too expensive, and after rehab, we would still have an old bridge.
"To begin the project, we first had to develop a Transportation Management Plan (TMP), which ultimately ran to about 90 pages, but we were able to work through it fairly quickly."
A TMP lays out a set of strategies for managing the work zone impacts of a project. Because work zone objectives, needs, and issues vary from project to project, the scope, content, and degree of detail in a TMP will also vary. The individual agencies involved must ultimately establish and implement TMPs that best serve the mobility and safety needs of the motoring public, construction workers, businesses, and community.
Pentek continues, "A major first step at the outset of construction was utility discovery and relocation as needed. We performed due diligence, and made the decision to find the utilities at the beginning. This is a very important step that helps prevent problems as construction gets underway."
He adds that Subsurface Utility Engineering (SUE) services were utilized - this process helps project designers manage risks associated with surprise encounters with buried utilities, which can bring construction projects to a complete halt. These services have been proven to reduce construction costs related to the risks associated with inaccurate or incomplete utility information.
Working Through Traffic Issues
The new bridge is using steel instead of pre-stressed girders, Pentek reports. "Steel is easier to handle, and in the future, if problems arise, with steel you can see the problems."
Contractor Boh Bros. Construction Co., LLC is a family-owned, third-generation heavy construction company specializing in heavy civil construction, utilities, paving, site preparation, piling, and marine projects. The location of the existing bridge and the traffic volumes in the area have presented a few challenges to the firm during the replacement project. About 86,600 vehicles travel I-610 on the average day, according to Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development traffic records, meaning the work of replacing the span over the interstate had to be carefully coordinated.
The new bridge was designed to span over I-610 while eliminating the center piers in the median. The bridge footing had to be designed and constructed in such a way as to avoid the many utilities on the south side; there is also a railroad crossing below the bridge. Additionally, the project had to maintain the existing footprint to minimize impacts to City Park.
Generally, crews are working Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., but night work is allowed when required. Even with the high interstate traffic volume, Boh Bros. was permitted to have up to three weekend closures of a section of I-610 as needed. The first closings of the entire section of I-610 in both directions occurred in January and again in February, to allow for the demolition of the old bridge. There was a third closing of the interstate in September, at which time crews installed the new steel girders.
During the construction period, motorists headed lake-bound on Wisner Boulevard are being detoured to Desaix Boulevard and then to St. Bernard Avenue. River-bound motorists on Wisner Boulevard are being detoured to Harrison Avenue and then to Marconi Drive.
Pentek says that communication between all the project partners is the biggest thing needed for a project to run smoothly. "This project has definitely benefited from having excellent partners. We have an excellent consultant in Rahman and Associates and our contractor, Boh Bros, has done a great job - they have remained very focused, and made the demolition phase a good experience."