Next generation bridge construction technology

(Maine) — A bridge in York, Maine, is the first in the Northeast to use what is expected to be the next generation of bridge construction technology, and the company making the innovative pieces is local precast-concrete manufacturer, William E. Dailey Precast.

The contract, awarded in September, is for a seven-span bridge over the York River that will involve the manufacture of almost 30 of the Northeast Extreme Tee, or NEXT beams.

Eric Schaffrick, sales manager for Dailey, said the company had representatives who joined engineers and members of various state transportation agencies as part of the Pre-Cast Industry Northeast tech committee meetings that designed a new piece for bridge construction.

“They designed this section specifically for the bridge market to assist with accelerated construction and (to be a) more economical and user-friendly section. It took about two years for all the agencies to kind of agree on how the section should look, the design parameters and such with the intent of providing something more economical in the arsenal for designers to use in the Northeast. Because there’s such a high demand for bridge replacement needed, this section provides a lot of attractive benefits,” Schaffrick said.

A simple description of the NEXT beams is that each piece is two beams with a flat deck on top over which a concrete deck is poured, but that simplicity is one of the aspects that makes the resulting bridges inexpensive and the construction quick.

NEXT beams have several advantages over the more common bridge construction technology and materials, according to Dailey officials, because they can produce an “aesthetically pleasing bridge, made very quickly.” There is a lot of flexibility in how the pieces are made, prior to the concrete being poured, so they can more easily meet the needs of a bridge rather than having a bridge be designed to meet the restrictions of standard materials.

All of the “geometry” of the bridge is visible so they can be easily inspected and because they’re made from concrete, they last a long time and require little maintenance, Schaffrick said.

“We’re getting on the leading edge of total precast structures so that we can reduce the closure time of roads, so that the turnaround on a bridge and the cost of the bridge is much, much less,” Schaffrick said.

Dailey’s Plant Manager Noble Levesque said the manufacturer hadn’t had to make many changes to prepare the Shaftsbury plant to make NEXT beams other than purchasing the mold.

“A lot of precast companies create parking garages, the floor of a parking garage is similar to NEXT beams so the learning curve was reasonably steep,” Levesque said.

The York project, however, has been a good test for Dailey’s, allowing its staff to get some practical experience in making the beams, according to Levesque.

“Customers are constantly challenging producers to manufacture the biggest, the longest, the widest. So we took this cross-section and of course the first project out was something that pushed the limits of the beam. We cast sections that were in the vicinity of 80 feet. Now we’re even pushing it further into the 94-, 95-foot range. To overcome it was just a matter of having something bigger, bigger cranes, bigger trucks,” he said.

Robin Outwater, one of the project managers for the York bridge, said Dailey believed the NEXT beams and the projects that use it will help keep the company busy.

“We feel that this product will serve that market very well and we’re doing our part trying to promote precast in general but it would behoove us, in terms of future jobs and growth and development, very much so moving forward to continue our presence in this marketplace,” he said.

Schaffrick said products like the NEXT beam would help states and municipalities service the many bridges that need to be replaced even when money is tight.

“They have a limited amount of resources to address these type projects so I think the industry is responding to say, ‘Hey, we’re here to help. Here’s another tool that you can put in your toolbox: economical sections, along with accelerated bridges and total precast.’ I think our industry has a lot to offer out there. The response to a demand is going to be plaguing our area for some time to come and trying to stretch that dollar for these local agencies is important,” he said.

The bridge in York is expected to be built in May and June.
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