January 20, 2019

My Days at O&G: The Bridge Dismantlers

“My Days at O&G” profiles employees around the company working at unusual jobs every day.

At the sprawling I-95/I-91/Route 34 Joint Venture project in new haven, demolishing old bridges and building new ones is nothing unusual – 30 will be completed before the job ends in 2016. But the take down of one in particular, Bridge 3036, will be remembered for the challenges and uncommon achievement of the crews involved.

There are no heroes to be named at the Bridge 3306, according to Bob Nardi, the project’s Structure Superintendent. “It was a big team effort,” he says, emphatically, pointing to the contributions close to 20 workers made to the effort. “The guys worked long hours out in the frigid cold. They were all out there bundled up like the kid from “A Christmas Story.” I’ve never seen conditions like that before. Everybody knew what was on the line and they gutted it out to get it done.”

3036 was a 300-foot-long exit ramp from I-91 South to Route 34 West. Its replacement under construction now, will be 20 feet above Water Street. Because of its construction as a thru-girder bridge, the demolition took on added complexity and required additional engineering. It had to be taken apart in specific, twenty-foot segments and braced to keep the remaining segments from collapsing.

The demolition of Bridge 3036 necessitated intensive planning, detailed down to fifteen-minute blocks, that would lay out the interplay of workers and support personnel. Beginning in late 2013 numerous meetings between ConnDOT, joint venture partners O&G and Tutor Perini, program coordinator Parsons Brinckerhoff, engineers from Amman and Whitney, H.W. Lockner, URS and United Illuminating, with New Haven police and fire departments and the Connecticut State Police, put the plan for 3036’s demolition together. The crane “picks” of old girders, in some instances using a part of cranes for stability, had to calculate the dispersal of the weight of those cranes with their loads to protect underground utilities. Streets were closed, traffic was detoured. Power was shut off. At times the New Haven Fire Department stood a fire watch.

The plan exploited 4D modeling to visualize the space in virtual reality, and was in a few particulars tweaked during the nights as field conditions required. By Nardi’s recollection the initial plan was changed more than a dozen times. If one crew epitomizes the can-do camaraderie that pervades the entire project in new Haven it would be the crew who led 3036’s demolition. Through a three-week stretch of overnights they worked to almost unbelievable tight tolerances in some of the coldest weather conditions recorded in over 80 years, all with a perfect safety record.

That night crew was led by night Superintendent Pete Hinman. A tall man with a ready smile and 14 years of experience at O&G behind him, he much prefers the field to an office. “As cold as it got I’d still be rather be out on the job. I love it. It seems like the more difficult a situation is the better the people perform. Everyone pulls together.”

Simply keeping focused on what you’re doing is difficult in severely cold weather, Hinman will tell you. Couple that with time restrictions getting out on the road and back off, and the extra effort it takes just to get heavy diesel equipment started at extreme cold. It was a challenging time. “It was amazing to see all the trades, everybody, work together so perfectly,” says Hinman. “It was ten degrees out and dark, the wind was whipping, nobody would want to be there. It could have been just a miserable time but everybody rallied and pulled together it was awesome to be a part of.”

As many as 20 workers led by Hinman would be at 3036 weeknights from mid-February to early March, with intermittent work stoppages due to snow or high winds. Certain nights a pair of 250-ton cranes worked together to lift 70- and 80-ton segments off old 3036. Positioning the cranes on Water Street, calculating swing and set-down space, cutting up the segments on the ground and loading them onto flatbeds for removal, in a negotiated window of time was, as Hinman puts it, “a job in itself.”

The most dramatic time would begin on the frigid night of February 25 when things got very tight around the Cowles Building.

The historic Cowles Building, on the corner of New Haven’s Water and Chestnut streets, has been the home of C. Cowles and Company in its various incarnations since the late 1800s. When I-91 was built in the early 1960s and cut its course through New Haven it would come close to the multi-story building. Unbelievably close: at its nearest point a curving, elevated off-ramp (Bridge 3036) would come within a foot of the building.

The extreme proximity of the Cowles Building to the bridge was a concern for many reasons. One bump from a girder being raised off the old piers could cause the masonry walls to cave in. Hot sparks from the cutting torches that would slice the closest of the girders could ignite the building’s tinder-dry wooden windows. Add to the risk the sheer size of the pieces being removed – 48 to 130 feet long and 25 to 90 tons each – and demolition was performed above the I-91 South Exit 1 ramp onto Route 34, the integrity of which had to be protected.

John Gemetro, O&G Vice President managing the project, had high praise for everyone involved in taking down 3036, and in particular Hinman’s crew and the work they did around the Cowles Building. “Pete did a great job running the work, along with our two foremen Ricky Cruz and Bill Giannini in charge of maintenance and protection of the motoring public. Night Safety Manager Matt Dmyterko kept a close eye on everyone to be sure they were safe. Paul Parlapiano [of partner Tutor Perini] did great in charge of the iron workers and structural steel.” A veteran of many night road projects himself, Gemetro was duly impressed: “It was a real accomplishment to do what they did, under those extreme conditions, without any injuries or damage to property.”