The project includes work on five bridges. However, the bulk of the work is being done on the six-lane Grand Haven Bascule Bridge.
Built in 1958, the nearly 700-foot-long bridge spans the Grand River. It is along the main tourist route, and people coming from Northern Michigan and the Chicago area use the bridge to get to the town. During the peak summer months, the average daily traffic count is 70,000 to 80,000 vehicles. With the next closest bridge that spans the waterway 16 miles away, the bridge is essential.
Between the hours of 6:30 a.m. and 8:30 p.m., the drawbridge opens once an hour on the half-hour when a recreational vessel or pleasure craft is present to pass under the bridge. In addition, the bridge opens on demand for vessels from the Coast Guard, Department of Natural Resources, barges, and the Harbor Steamer – if there is high water as well for commercial boat traffic.
There have been times when the bridge has been stuck open, which leads to significant traffic back-ups. As part of the project, the team will be doing mechanical and electrical work to ensure the bridge opens and closes properly. Although MDOT worked on the electrical elements of the bridge a few years ago, the work associated with this project will be much more extensive.
“There’s an electrical cable that goes 10 feet under the river that we are upgrading,” says Gregg Zack, MDOT’s Lead Project Engineer, who is overseeing all construction activities. The team will also be upgrading the steel deck of the bridge and all the stringers below, which have not been done in years. In addition, the bridge’s steel deck is being replaced.
The other four bridges that the project is focused on are in the surrounding towns and within half a mile of the Grand Haven Bascule Bridge and Spring Lake and Ferrysburg. The bridges span the Grand River and Spring Lake Channel.
On these bridges, the team is doing rehab work, including installing new approaches, deck patching, concrete overlay, and joint replacement. “The fixes on these bridges were the standard run-of-the-mill work,” Zack says. “However, the issues related to them were impacting traffic and it made sense to work on them since we are already in the area working.”
In addition, the bridge has to be functional as per Coast Guard rules from Mid-May to November. The only time the team can work with the bridge fully closed is from November to mid-May. “When we are working on the mechanical below and steel grading above, we need to be able to shut down the bridge and take it apart,” Zack says. These rules and restrictions apply to the other four bridges as well. Even when the team does some closures, it leads to significant backups.
Zack credits the contractor, Anlaan Construction, for the good progress the project has made. To deal with the short windows, the Western Michigan-based bridge contractor – who specializes in heavy civil construction – has had lots of people working on the job at one time.
Anlaan also does an excellent job of asking questions before issues come up so the team can resolve them before they become more critical, according to Zack. “We meet at least every two weeks to look ahead to what challenges we have. The meetings include the local community, police, subs, consultants, Anlaan, and MDOT.
The contractor regularly updates the schedule and is on top of deadlines. When things are getting close to critical, the team is working on a plan to make sure they meet the date. For example, the team began talking about the need to have the bridge operational in May at the end of January.
Construction on the project began in March 2021, and it is scheduled to conclude in June 2023. Nearly halfway through the project, the team is on schedule or even slightly ahead. Zack credits two things for this. “The contractor is attacking the winter schedule more aggressively than planned, which is putting us in a better place moving forward. Plus, we have had good weather.”
When the project is complete, commuters will enjoy improvements to vehicle safety and operations. In addition, the project is expected to extend the service life of the roadway and bridges being impacted. And for those tourists eyeing the area for their summer vacation – the trip will be smooth, giving them more time to enjoy the beach.
Photos courtesy of the Michigan Department of Transportation