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Walsh Construction Co. II/II in One Contractors Inc. – Wells Street Bascule Bridge Rehabilitation

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It is not every day that a company can say that it worked on a piece of a city’s history. But Walsh Construction Co. and II in One Contractors Inc. can, as they work on the Wells Street Bascule Bridge rehabilitation project in Chicago.

The project, which carries a budget exceeding $41 million, is part of the city’s $7 billion “Building a New Chicago” infrastructure program. Located on the city’s north side, the Wells Street Bascule Bridge stretches over the Main Branch of the Chicago River and is adjacent to the Merchandise Mart building.

The bridge, which originally opened in 1922, has long needed rehabilitation, Walsh Project Manager Sven Bosold says. The ravages of time as well as steadily increasing roadway and train traffic took its toll on the bridge structure. “The steel was in such a deteriorated state that large portions of the bridge required total replacement, others substantial repair work,” he explains.

In a joint venture, Walsh and II in One will replace the structure steel on the bridge’s leaves and repair its remaining steel. “Simultaneously, we are replacing the entire electrical operating system so it can open and close,” Bosold says.

The two firms also will replace the bridge’s mechanical systems and rehabilitate the bridge houses on the northwest and southeast sides. “These house the operating [and] electrical rooms,” he adds.

In the Public Eye

Walsh Construction and II in One started work on the bridge in October 2012, and it will be open to road vehicle traffic by Dec. 1, 2013. Although the project team is on track to meet the opening date, it has adjusted to difficult site conditions, Bosold admits.

With the bridge’s location over the Chicago River, workers constantly cope with vessels traveling underneath the bridge, including tourist boats and water taxis. The builders also have to cope with elevated trains passing overhead, as well.

Additionally, both ends of the bridge must be clear so that people can get by on foot. “We are in the public eye all the time,” Bosold explains. “It’s a very unique location where we are very exposed.”

Roadway access to the project is very limited due to its close proximity to Wacker Drive at the North and the Merchandising Mart to the South., That results in supplies and nearly all materials being required to be delivered mainly on barges. “We could not set up any substantial work zone on the South Side,” he says.

The two crawler cranes required for the construction are placed on marine barges on both sides of the bridge. Several support barges carrying a fleet of man lifts, generators, light plants and other equipment complete the impressive picture spectators have of the job site.

Walsh Construction and II in One also have had to coordinate their work with the Chicago Transit Authority to maintain the CTA’s Brown Line train traffic over the bridge at all times during construction, with the exception of two nine-day CTA shutdown periods and nearby tenants, including Merchandise Mart.

“We are in constant communication with all parties,” Bosold says. “So far, we have dealt with everybody pretty [well].”

A Good Fit

Bosold, who has been with Walsh Construction for more than seven years, says the company’s experience makes it a good fit for the project. “[Walsh] has had previous experience with bascule bridges here in Chicago and around the country,” he says.

He adds that he is proud of the work completed so far.

When the Joint Venture had to shut down the bridge’s CTA train service for nine days to remove and replace an entire truss section of the bridge, everybody in the city had an eye on the project. “Not completing in time wasn’t an option since the impact on CTA’s transportation would have been immense. Everyone seemed to be very happy [with us] finishing the required work by the given deadline,” Bosold says.

Additionally, the project team has met the challenges of Mother Nature. Although Chicago experienced several snowstorms during the winter of 2013, the team did not stop work at any time during the nine-day CTA shutdown, even when the biggest snowstorm of the season came through.

“Under these conditions, work usually comes to a halt,” he admits. “Because of our time restraints, we had [no] choice and were able to manage through [the storms]. The work force was more than motivated to show everyone what can be done. Very low temperatures and snow make it extremely difficult to execute work in a proper and safe way. But good planning and preparation for all possible situations allow us to maintain control of the situation.”

He adds that both companies and their subcontractors also have nurtured an environment that promotes teamwork. “Everyone works hand in hand, since the given project schedule is an extremely short time frame for such complex work,” he says.

“We have 12 months to rehab the entire bridge, so it is absolutely necessary to coordinate the work between us as general contractors and subcontractors,” he says. “Detailed planning and direct communication between all project partners so far guaranteed work to be executed on time.”

The project team also has proved that complex structural steel work can be completed even in a very short time period, just as long as it has the right preparation. “Nine days is a really short time frame, but we did extensive planning and coordination to get it right,” he says. “And of course, the proper set up of the job site and the choice of the right equipment and procedures  are keys for success.”

Bosold believes Walsh Construction will be in a good position to take on similar bridge projects in Chicago. “We anticipate that sooner or later more of [the city’s] bascule bridges will have to be repaired,” he says. “If the city has the budget to do so, we have a good position here to get that work.”