New Champlain bridge contract put out to bid

ADDISON — New York and Vermont transportation officials on Monday began advertising for a contractor to build the new Champlain Bridge, a span that’s expected to be ready for traffic by the fall of 2011.
Monday’s action fires the starter’s gun on an expedited construction timetable that’s expected to result in work on the new bridge starting late this May or early June, according to Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans) Project Manager Dan Landry.
“I think we’ll have a lot of bidders,” said Landry, who joined New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) officials late last week for a two-day meeting in preparation of Monday’s launch of the bid process.
Indeed, the NYSDOT and VTrans are taking a rather unorthodox approach to the Champlain Bridge project in order to move it along.
First, the states plan to have a general contractor signed by April 16 — that’s a much shorter window for a selection process than the usual 16 weeks, according to Landry.
Second, the project is going out to bid with the bridge design plans roughly 85-percent complete. Landry anticipates one or two amendments to the plans during the next month to bring them up to fully complete.
“We wanted to give (prospective) contractors a chance to look at the plans as they are now,” Landry said, citing the special urgency to get the bridge project going.
Free ferries are currently shuttling commuters and their vehicles between Vermont and New York near the site of the former Champlain Bridge, which closed last Oct. 16 when an inspection revealed substantial pier erosion. The federal government is picking up the cost of the ferry service, as well as 80 percent of the costs of a new bridge.
Landry said he could not disclose the estimated price of the new bridge out of concern that it would affect the bidding process. But NYSDOT officials in January indicated the selected “modified network tied arch” replacement span could cost between $65 million and $90 million.
Once the contractor is picked on April 16, Landry said people near the lake can expect to see roughly six weeks of heavy construction equipment being set up at the site. He expects the contractor will hire quite a few subcontractors, offering opportunities for local firms to get a piece of the work.
Landry said the piers will go in first, along with abutments on both sides of the lake. Then workers will start off-site fabrication of many of the span’s steel and concrete components. At the same time, they will work on the tied-arch component of the bridge that will eventually be floated down the lake on barges and swung into place with huge cranes. Landry suspects the final components to be put in place will be the pre-cast concrete deck, sidewalks and railing.
Transportation officials said the new Champlain bridge will be built using techniques to maximize its lifespan. For example, Landry said many of the span’s components will be “metalized,” rather than painted. Steel portions of the former bridge were repainted every 10- to 20 years as a means of slowing the spread of corrosion. Metalizing, according to Landry, is a protective coating technique that’s expected to provide color options and 40 to 50 years of protection before having to be reapplied.
While new construction is still a few months off, the former bridge site remains a beehive of activity. Workers have been busy removing the last vestiges of the old Champlain Bridge, including the old piers. And two temporary ferries are operating round-the-clock, every 15 minutes, to shuttle people and vehicles to either side of the lake.
“It is going well,” said Heather Stewart, operations manager for Lake Champlain Ferries. “People have been very positive.”
Stewart said the two ferries have been accommodating a combined total of around 1,800 vehicles each day, ranging from compact cars to tractor-trailers and large farm implements. The ferries are scheduled to run non-stop until the new bridge opens.
“We are the temporary bridge until the new bridge is done,” Stewart said.
John Flowers is at [email protected].

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