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Michigan Pilot Program Reduces Bridge Repair Backlog

by: Debra Wood
Crews place the galvanized steel press-brake formed tub girders on the Nottawa bridge in St. Joseph County. (Photo courtesy of RS&H)
Crews place the galvanized steel press-brake formed tub girders on the Nottawa bridge in St. Joseph County. (Photo courtesy of RS&H)
Crews are using a Terex crawler crane to place the girders on the Nottawa bridge in St. Joseph County. (Photo courtesy of RS&H)
Crews are using a Terex crawler crane to place the girders on the Nottawa bridge in St. Joseph County. (Photo courtesy of RS&H)
Plans for the Nottawa bridge in St. Joseph County. (Photo courtesy of RS&H)
Plans for the Nottawa bridge in St. Joseph County. (Photo courtesy of RS&H)
Crews pour the deck of the bridge on 33 Mile Road. (Photo courtesy of OHM)
Crews pour the deck of the bridge on 33 Mile Road. (Photo courtesy of OHM)
Crews pouring a barrier wall on 31 Mile Road. (Photo courtesy of OHM)
Crews pouring a barrier wall on 31 Mile Road. (Photo courtesy of OHM)
Crews working on the Tallman Road bridge over the Maple River. (Photo courtesy of RS&H)
Crews working on the Tallman Road bridge over the Maple River. (Photo courtesy of RS&H)
Workers placing the subbase on Tallman Road. (Photo courtesy of RS&H)
Workers placing the subbase on Tallman Road. (Photo courtesy of RS&H)
Crews installing rebar on the Herbison Road bridge over the Looking Glass River. (Photo courtesy of RS&H)
Crews installing rebar on the Herbison Road bridge over the Looking Glass River. (Photo courtesy of RS&H)
For the first time in state history, the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) has embarked on a bridge bundling pilot project to improve conditions on 19 bridges owned by local agencies.

“It comes down to public safety and trust in the transportation system,” says Beckie Curtis, MDOT director of Bureau of Bridges and Structures. “Bridges are unique, because when a bridge condition gets too low, we must close it in order to maintain public safety.”

Local agencies own about 6,700 bridges in the state. Almost 1,000 of them are in poor condition, and less than 400 are in serious or critical condition and at risk of closure or emergency repair.

“A bridge bundle was one way to help address the large backlog,” Curtis says. “The program has demonstrated that MDOT can help make a dent in the backlog if the funding can be identified."

With such a large volume of bridges in need of repair, Curtis explains, it remains hard for the local agencies to preserve or replace all of those structures. Replacing entire bridges is more expensive and will cause more disruption to the communities than preservation interventions, which can increase the lifespan of a bridge and at a lower lifecycle cost.

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“We recognized the backlog of very poor bridges and wanted to address a significant number of them, so funds of local agencies could be spent more efficiently,” Curtis says.

MDOT has the overall authority to inspect the bridges and to ensure the quality of the state’s bridges. The department estimates $2 billion is needed to bring all state-owned bridges up to good or fair condition and another $1.5 billion to do the same for all local agency-owned bridges.

Creating the pilot program
MDOT received federal Highway Improvement Program funding for the $24.3 million pilot bridge bundling project. The bridges had to meet qualifications of the 2019 federal program. Additionally, MDOT wanted the bridges to be suitable for a relatively quick superstructure repair.

Taking on the reconstruction of locally owned bridges was new for the department. It strived to keep the owners informed and engaged. “It was a leap of faith,” says Sue Datta, senior project manager with MDOT.

MDOT hired consultant RS&H of Novi, Michigan, with the firm’s subconsultant primary OHM Advisors of Livonia, Michigan.

“It was a great project to get the bundle program kicked off,” says Jason Pickel, with RS&H.

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The pilot project bundle includes 19 bridges, mostly over water, under one design-build contract. MDOT indicates that bundling will “streamline coordination and permitting, increase economies of scale, and improve bridge conditions on local routes around the state."

All of the bridges’ superstructures will be rebuilt this year. Thirteen have been completed. The work should enable the bridges to function for another 50 years.

MDOT decided to let the contract using a design-build approach due to its ability to accelerate delivery and efficiencies in a bundle.

“It also gives the construction team the ability to be innovative,” Curtis says. One of those innovations included using galvanized steel press-brake formed tub girders for the bridges. These shallow trapezoidal girders designed for short spans were fabricated from cold-bent structural steel and are lighter than other girders.

“I researched it before we bid and determined it was a good way to go and visited the plant,” says Jay Desai, project manager with design-build contractor C.A. Hull of Commerce Township, Michigan. “They had the ability to manufacture beams for all 19 bridges in a year. And it’s a better product.”

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The joint venture of C.A. Hull and Anlaan of Grand Haven, Michigan, with Alfred Benesch & Co. of Detroit as the lead design firm, were able to design most of the bridges without any substantial substructural modernizations, which allowed the jobs to progress much faster.

“Collaboration, coordination and trust was the most interesting and challenging aspects, and it was successful,” Datta says.

Desai agrees, adding that coordination among the companies and MDOT also included collaborating closely with the 13 counties and municipalities receiving bridge reconstructions.

“All of the counties and cities were receptive to working with us,” Desai says. “There was a lot of cooperation on the job. MDOT felt like a partner.”

MDOT aims to use what has been learned from the pilot to expand its bridge rehabilitation program and let a $196 million contract to address 59 more bridges in November 2022. It received funds from the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act.

Constructing the bridges
Design started in May 2021. Construction activity began in March 2022. The design-build team decided in what order to reconstruct the bridge, taking into consideration bridges in close geographic proximity.
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This was MDOT’s first design-build bridge bundle, and Zak Underwood, project engineer with C.A. Hull, indicates it has gone well. “To pull off the design and construction of all 19 structures in such a short time period is a pretty impressive feat,” Underwood says. “Everybody came together well.”

C.A. Hull worked the bridges east of Lansing and Anlaan handled everything west of Lansing. The joint venture had several teams working concurrently across the state. Desai considered the bridges simple and says they required no special equipment. On one bridge, the team used a light-weight concrete fill to support the roadway.

The contractor must complete single-span bridges within 60 days and multiple-span bridges within 90 days. The projects will stay within the existing bridge footprints, and all work takes place from land.

The pilot includes replacing each of the bridge’s superstructures, a full removal of the deck and supporting beams and then replacing those elements. During construction, each bridge is closed to traffic. The local agencies and MDOT identified detours together.

Work has taken place simultaneously on multiple bridges, which have concrete decks and asphalt approaches. Substantial completion of the bridges in the pilot is scheduled for November 2022.

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“The overall success of it will go a long way,” concludes Pickel. “It’s not very often you have 19 structures, and they are all completed on time.”

Making a difference in Michigan communities
The Michigan bridge bundle program has provided benefits to the local communities.

“We had a good experience with the program,” says Marc Trotter, director of Engineering at the Clinton County Road Commission, which had two of its critical-list bridges reconstructed through the bridge bundling pilot. “Everything went smoothly. It was an advantage to not having been involved day to day, as they ran the job for us.” Trotter hopes more Clinton County bridges will be able to be repaired in the future.

The Macomb County Department of Roads had a similar positive experience. Two of its load-posted rural bridges have been reconstructed with a third one under way. C.A. Hull and the county staged the construction to avoid conflicts with other projects.

Scott Wanagat, county highway engineer at Macomb County Department of Roads, reports, “It was good to get them off the inventory of load-posted bridges” and that the pilot program went well.

“We recognize that there are many infrastructure needs across Macomb County,” said Bryan Santo, director of the Macomb County Department of Roads in a statement. “The MDOT bridge bundle program has been a valuable resource, allowing us to improve Macomb County's bridge system through a sustainable balance of bridge replacement, improvements and preventive maintenance.”

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