The DOT is making good progress renovating the Brooklyn Bridge, including the approaches
It is a landmark and an icon -- but for the approximately 139,000 daily motorists, pedestrians, and cyclists, the Brooklyn Bridge remains, simply, a vital East River crossing. So when the New York City Department of Transportation launched its $509 million bridge-rehabilitation project in early 2010, commuters could start looking forward to a new bridge roadway and widened ramps, so long as they also practiced patience during the upcoming four years of construction.
Click here to view a slideshow of the Brooklyn Bridge project.
Today, the Brooklyn Bridge Rehabilitation project is about halfway complete. Work is steady, and crews from the project team, led by Skanska Koch, have established a rhythm for nightly lane closures, which allow for the critical project task of deck repairs on the approach ramps, as well as other restorative work.
"Everybody seems to understand that the bridge work needs to be done," says Robert Collyer, P.E., the DOT's Deputy Chief Engineer for Bridge Capital Design and Construction. "It's more a matter of when we do it, and how much noise it makes. 'When' meaning 'Why can't you do it during the day as opposed to work at night?' The answer to that is, if we work during the day we'd back up Manhattan traffic so bad, it would be gridlock."
Collyer took the helm of the Brooklyn Bridge team in 2011, after completing similar rehabilitation work on the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge, and leading the project for complete replacement of the Willis Avenue Bridge (between Manhattan and the Bronx). His expertise has helped maximize productivity, especially during overnight closures with traffic-lane reversals and the full-weekend lane closures needed to safely complete the work.
Because the Brooklyn Bridge's central span was renovated a decade ago, this project is concentrated on replacing roadway decking on both the Manhattan and Brooklyn approach ramps. It is done using "super slabs" -- lattice of reinforced-steel inside solid-concrete panels, fabricated off site and measuring up to nine inches thick. They replace the multiple layers of concrete and asphalt that were added over the decades, some so old they still have original trolley tracks embedded within, even though rail service over the bridge ended in 1950.
Super-slab installation involves genuine heavy lifting. It first requires removal of the existing pavement, done by saw-cutting it into sections that can weigh up to 16,000 pounds each for a crane to lift them out. Work thus far has been concentrated on the Brooklyn-bound travel lanes, where nearly 400 super-slab panels will be replaced by the project's end.
The Manhattan-bound travel lanes will be part of the next phase of work, with Collyer's team beginning to turn its attention there this spring. The good news is, once crews start on the deck replacement on the Manhattan-bound lanes (the north side of the bridge), overnight lane reversals will not be necessary -- only the usual 11 p.m. or midnight-to-5 a.m. westbound lane closures. The simple way to think of it is: Motorists can always get to Brooklyn, but have to use another bridge or tunnel to get to Manhattan during the lane closures.
While approach ramp and deck renovation is a major component of the project, several more key elements also are included. One of the most exciting to commuters will be expansion of two access ramps. The first is from the southbound FDR Drive onto the bridge; the other from the eastbound main span to the Cadman Plaza exit -- both ramps will soon accommodate two through lanes of traffic instead of one.
The approaches on both sides of the East River each have their own smaller arches over Park Row, Pearl Street, and the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway -- and each are being rehabilitated, along with the arch blocks that anchor the bridge's main cables.
Repainting the bridge's cables and structural steel is another essential part of the project. All of the existing lead-based paint is being removed through abrasive blasting taking place within containment areas, under negative air pressure to ensure no particles escape. The process involves blasting steel columns and beams with steel grit, which is then collected by vacuum inside the containment units and recycled. If needed, steel is repaired or replaced, and a five-coat paint system in "Brooklyn Bridge Tan" is applied.
Collyer reports that the project remains on budget and is currently on schedule for 2014 completion. He says that the second half of the project will likely go a little faster than this first half, adding, "wherever we can push it along, we're going to."
Night and weekend lane closures are a big part of keeping the schedule, sometimes more than tripling the number of workers on the job and greatly accelerating their accomplishments. But the bottom line is that time invested today on the Brooklyn Bridge rehabilitation will bring long-term benefits.
"With proper maintenance, we should be good for the next 30 years before we have to go back," says Collyer. He notes that Hurricane Sandy, fortunately, did not substantially disrupt the project -- although a construction embargo was in place for several weeks so that storm-related activities could continue while coordinating traffic diversions over the bridge.
"All of the East River bridges -- not just the Brooklyn -- they're all over a hundred years old, so they do require continuous care," says Collyer. "And once you're finished, they don't get any better; they continue to deteriorate. But they were built very well, they had good safety factors that were included in the original designs. They are continually monitored, and they're in good shape right now."