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Historic Pulaski Skyway Receives a Major Upgrade

by: Debra Wood
CCA built a work platform under the bridge while replacing the deck.
CCA built a work platform under the bridge while replacing the deck.
The $1 billion restoration of the iconic Pulaski Skyway, in Northeastern New Jersey, maintains its historic appearance while employing innovative engineering and construction techniques.

“The Skyway is an amazing feat, built in the 1920s to early 30s,” says Scott Thorn, Project Manager for the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT). “Today, to replace the bridge elements is a huge undertaking and we have had great success.”

The 3.5-mile bridge opened in 1932. The Pulaski Skyway carries 74,000 vehicle daily over the Hackensack and Passaic rivers, the New Jersey Turnpike, several railroads and industrial facilities. Back in those days, private property could be located under and adjacent to the bridge.

The Pulaski Skyway is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, due to its age, length and unique design. The bridge has been featured in movies and television shows. “Everything we do on the Skyway has to be run through the state historic preservation office,” Thorn says. “We are replicating the original design, so it will look like it did in the 1930s.”

The department had considered replacing the Pulaski Skyway, but it would have cost significantly more and taken about 25 years. Additionally, it would have involved business relocations, environmental clean ups and the historic nature of the bridge. The department performed some rehabilitation work in 1979 and 1980 but not a complete overhaul.

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“As with any structure, it has a lifespan,” Thorn says. “There were steel elements that had never seen the light of day, since it was constructed in the early 1930s. A lot of steel had to be repaired.”

NJDOT divided the rehabilitation into 11 separate construction contracts. Six different design firms have participated in the project. In its entirety, the scope included replacing the deck; rehabilitating ramps, the steel superstructure and substructure; strengthening the bridge to meet current seismic standards; improving drainage; replacing signs; and repainting the structure.

“We have done a number of innovative construction techniques,” Thorn says.

Past Projects
The first four contracts have been completed. That includes a $24.3 million contract to Kiska Construction of Long Island City, New York, to remove existing concrete encasement from the original steel on the eastern half-mile section of the Skyway in Jersey City.

“By removing the concrete encasement, we were able to evaluate the condition of the steel and plan for necessary steel repairs or member replacement in a future contract,” NJDOT Spokesman Stephen Schapiro says. In some cases, new steel plates with high-strength bolts could provide needed support and in other places, the steel required replacing.

Schiavone Construction of Secaucus, New Jersey, received Contract 2, a $139.9 million rehabilitation of the eastern approach to the Skyway, which consisted of upgrading roadways and replacement of five local cross-street structures.

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CCA Civil of Jersey City, New Jersey, received Contract 3, a $143 million replacement of the deck on the northbound side of the Pulaski Skyway. In addition, CCA replaced the outside steel balustrade with a new aluminum balustrade, and installed a safety rail, drainage system and period lighting, Schapiro says.

While reconstruction work progressed on the northbound lanes, all northbound traffic was diverted onto other routes. In addition, the department provided various traffic mitigation alternatives to displaced motorists. The plan included promoting bus and train ridership and car pools, reinforcing and then using the Turnpike extension’s shoulders as a traffic lane, coordinating within NJDOT and with other agencies to delay their road projects, and asking businesses to shift start times. Each little bit helped to make the closure successful, Schapiro says. “We undertook one of the largest traffic mitigation plans in the country,” Thorn adds.

Once complete, the department kept northbound lanes closed and moved southbound traffic to the new roadway, so work could commence on the southbound lanes.

CCA with joint venture partner Daidone Electric of Newark, New Jersey, replaced the southbound deck, along with the balustrades, drainage, and lighting. Work on the $220 million Contract 4 was complete in May 2019.

“It took four years to replace 14 lane miles of bridge deck, some of that being 135 feet in the air,” Thorn reports.

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During those two contracts, the entire original bridge deck, steel beams and girders were replaced. The framing plan varied. CCA built a work platform under the entire bridge to enhance safety.

Thousands of unique geometric-shaped pieces of concrete deck were prefabricated in a facility in central New Jersey with stainless steel rebar to avoid future rust and deterioration and brought to the Skyway and lifted into place. Crews used cranes on the deck or gantry cranes to move the pieces into place.

“The panels were not uniform,” Schapiro says. “It’s like a jigsaw puzzle.”

NJDOT used an ultra high performance concrete (UHPC), with steel fibers in the concrete between the panels. Thorn says it will last forever. “It’s the largest UHPC project in North America,” Thorn adds.

Current Construction
“A lot of the work we are doing now is under the Skyway,” reports Thorn, adding that includes rehabilitating or replacing steel, replacing concrete piers and retrofitting foundations.

Ferreira/Tutor Perini Joint Venture – between Ferreira of Branchburg, New Jersey, and Tutor Perini of Los Angeles, California – received the $57.5 million Contract 5 to replace the Kearney Ramp. Work began in April 2018 and is anticipated to finish in early 2021.

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Completion on Contract 7 also is expected in early 2021. Union Paving & Construction of Mountainside, New Jersey, received the $83.2 million contract to resurface Route 1 and 9 in both directions from the Skyway to Interstate 78 and to replace the existing deck on the Newark Ramp, which will also address the balustrade, drainage, and lighting along the entire length of the ramp, similar to the work completed along the mainline Skyway, Schapiro says. In addition, Union Paving will repair or replace the structural steel, strengthen the existing substructure to meet current seismic criteria, and replace or upgrade traffic signals.

Also, under way is Contract 8A, awarded to Cornell & Co. of Westville, New Jersey, which began repairing steel and replacing or rehabilitating three rocker bearings in the superstructure. The $17.5 million project began in September 2018 and will provide greater flexibility of the bridge and prepare for the replacement of rocker bents in a future contract. Work is scheduled to be complete in summer 2021. There have been a few overnight or few hour closures during jacking the bridge onto temporary towers.

Future Construction
Four more contracts are expected to go out between now and 2024. Contract 6 will strengthen or replace deteriorated steel and construct new foundations and piers in Kearny and repair or replace rocker bents at those piers. Additionally, the contractor will install a new fender system in the Hackensack River to protect the piers from vessels. Contract 9 will rehabilitate piers and repair or replace bents.

Thorn reports the work will entail driving piles into the river, avoiding the navigational channel, and working off barges. The contractors also will build a trestle from land out to the work platform, which will have a crane and everything else needed to complete the work.

Some of the piers will be rebuilt with the new pier surrounding the existing pier. “The new pier on the outside will hold the Skyway up,” Thorn explains.

Finally, Contract 10 will be to paint the entire structure to protect the steel from deterioration.

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The bridge will stay open throughout the later phases with temporary overnight and weekend closures. All of the work is scheduled to be complete in late 2027 or early 2028.

“It’s been successful to this day and we expect the success to continue,” Thorn concludes.

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