“These bridges were all in poor condition,” says Benji Philpot, Project Director with MoDOT.
The Southeast District historically worked on five to six bridges annually, but it was not able to keep pace with the need to replace and rehabilitate due to the age and condition of the existing bridges. A point was reached where as many as 25 bridges in the Southeast District alone needed work at one time. The department decided to try a new approach to get ahead of the curve and provide a better value for the taxpayers, Philpot recalls.
The concept began with 15 bridges with required work across nine counties in the region and another additional 10 for added value with no budget increase. Two of the added value bridges were included in the contract with no increase in the original contract budget for a total of 17 bridges in the Bootheel Bridge Bundle. Twelve of those 17 were full replacements.
The MoDOT Southeast District includes both urban and rural areas, with heavy agriculture traffic. The $25.5 million for the bundle had already been included in the state’s transportation plan. The department was able to use the money that had been previously set aside for the two added value bridges for other projects.
“For us it was a really good savings,” Philpot reports.
MoDOT hired Robertson Contractors Team, which includes Robertson Contractors of Poplar Bluff, Missouri; engineers Horner & Shifrin of St. Louis; and Penzel Construction Co. of Jackson, Missouri. Robertson Contractors has been in business since 1990 and primarily works in Missouri and Arkansas. It performs utility, wastewater, and road and bridge work.
The team received the notice to proceed in August 2020 and construction began in February 2021.
“Design-build brings innovation and teamwork,” Philpot says. “What’s good about design-build is the contractors were able to work toward their strengths. They know what they could do, and we accepted a lot of innovations, different ways and methods.”
Robertson Contractors Team stayed with familiar products, because that’s what the department knew and was familiar with maintaining, says Travis Slayton, Project Manager with Robertson Contractors.
“We had innovation as one of the goals,” Slayton says. “We put a lot of emphasis on speed and flexibility of construction schedules.”
But the design-build team came up with alternatives to traditional lane closures with an innovative maintenance of traffic plan, reaching out to the community by multiple means, including social media. It then took into consideration when each community would most need the bridge available.
“We looked at the needs in each geographical area,” Slayton says. “We have done most of the work during road closures.”
The team also took into consideration any potential environmental impacts and took steps to avoid them.
“Our strongest value was being flexible and thinking of everyone involved,” Slayton says.
In the Little River Drainage District, the team went off alignment while building four consecutive bridges crossing the district’s waterways.
“We’ve received a lot of positive feedback for how we are handling the speed and timing of each project,” Slayton says.
Four of the 17 bridge projects are complete and five are under way. Most of the bridges did not require barges or working in the water. The exception was at the Castor and Black rivers where crews floated heavy girders out for erection. For other locations, crews placed rock pads and causeways.
Several projects highlight the important progress taking place with the bundle.
Robertson Contractors kicked off work on the bundle with a 600-foot-long bridge crossing the Black River, in rural Reynolds County, in February 2021. Built in 1959, the bridge’s substructure and steel girders were in good condition. However, the concrete deck had deteriorated due to traffic and the use of roadway salt in the winter.
The team worked directly with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and recreational outfitters to determine a schedule that would be most beneficial the team and the local tourism economy while avoiding environmental impacts. Plus, river water levels were lower in the winter.
The design-build team rehabilitated the bridge, removing, replacing, and widening the deck from 20 feet to 22 feet; painting; and adding new barrier curbs. The team also repaired concrete piers, replaced expansion bearings and joints, and smoothed out the approaches.
The team had to close the bridge and the detour was 65 miles long. To accommodate students who lived across the Black River from their school, Robertson Contractors built a temporary pedestrian bridge for students to cross. Adults also used the pedestrian bridge, since the Corps allowed commuters to park on its land. The post office also set up temporary mail boxes to ensure uninterrupted delivery of mail.
“It ended up being well used by the community,” Slayton says.
Crews completed the bridge work 10 days early in 56 calendar days.
“We were gone long before they opened the campgrounds,” Slayton recalls.
In Bollinger County, the Robertson Contractors Team simultaneously replaced two bridges over the Castor River and the Caster River Overflow, about 2,000 feet north, while traffic was diverted. Work began in June 2021, with Robertson collaboratively building one and Penzel the other. They completed the bridges within 116 days.
“There was a substantial amount of work,” Slayton says.
The team replaced the entire river crossing bridge, including the foundations. The new foundations are a mix of structural steel H-pile and open-ended pipe pile, with web wall encasements. The new bridge replaces an overhead truss system built in the 1930s with an NU girder design. It is a four-span structure, about 350-feet long.
The team opted for concrete girders for the bridge over the Castor River and a box beam design for the curved overflow bridge. Both bridges were widened from 20 feet wide to 24 feet wide.
“It was a great value to the department,” Slayton says. “It was a safety improvement and to the farming community, it’s nice not to have that width restriction.”
The entire bundle is scheduled for completion in December 2023. The bridges are expected to serve the public for at least 75 years.
Philpot praised the buy-in the department received from the communities and the collaboration with the design-build team.
“This has been a great process for us, an enjoyable project,” Slayton says. “It’s so much better when everybody is chasing the same goals…We take a lot of pride in working with our community here in Southeast Missouri.”
- Route 51 over Castor River
- Route 51 over Castor River Overflow
- Route K over Black River
- Route DD over St. Francis River (Slough)
- Route NN over Indian Creek
- Route DD over St. Francis River
- Route EE over Drainage Ditches 1, 251, 258, 259
Starting June 1, 2022
- Route 67 over Route 8
- Route W over Black River
- Route B over I-57
- Route 153 over Drainage Ditch #44
- Route 153 over Drainage Ditch #8
- Route A over Whitewater River
- Route EE over Drainage Ditch #65
Photos courtesy of Robertson Contractors