Cover Story

Engineering History

It will take 220 million pounds of steel, 300,000 cubic yards of concrete and more than 5,800 workers to build the New NY Bridge—and seven UB alumni are helping to bring it all together.

Progress continues apace on the new bridge’s main span. Photo: Courtesy of the New York State Thruway Authority

By Rebecca Rudell

“Every day is an adventure.”

It’s what each UB alumnus said—and, we imagine, what every one of the thousands of men and women working on the New NY Bridge project would say as well. The sheer magnitude of the project (it’s a 3.1-mile twin-span over a deep water channel) and the historic location (where Rockefellers played and the Headless Horseman was “born”) are just two of the factors that make it a fascinating undertaking. Add in the fact that there’s a 328-foot crane floating on the Hudson that can lift 12 Statues of Liberty, and you pretty much know you’re involved with something special.

The $3.98 billion bridge project officially began in 2011, when legislation was enacted and labor agreements signed, but its history goes back even further. The original Tappan Zee Bridge, which spans the Hudson River and touches down in Tarrytown, N.Y., and South Nyack, N.Y., opened in 1955. Built during a materials shortage brought on by the Korean War, it has required hundreds of millions of dollars to be spent over the years in maintenance and repair. Even so, some people are amazed it’s still standing. A government official dubbed it the “hold-your-breath bridge.”

So, in 1999, discussions to replace the bridge began. Those “discussions” carried on for more than a decade. Finally, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo pushed the project forward, making the new bridge a reality. Ground broke—or more correctly, was dredged—in August 2013. The governor had a checklist for the bridge. It had to 1) be aesthetically pleasing, 2) use the design-build process to keep the project on time and on schedule (see below), and 3) be the most open, transparent project in state history. (As for No. 3, check out NewNYBridge.com. You’ll find everything you’d ever want to know about bridge construction.)

The new design is a twin-span, cable-stayed bridge with eight 419-foot towers that soar majestically above the Hudson. The largest bridge project in New York State history, it includes cutting-edge design features (like a monitoring system that can detect when winds are too strong for large trucks), and uses construction equipment that allows the steel and concrete towers to be built right on the river.

We spoke to the seven alumni working on the project about what makes the bridge unique, how they contribute to the team and why they enjoy coming to work every day. Whether they provide steel quality assurance or sign the paychecks, all of them said they are awed by the colossal scale of the project, the talent involved in the design and construction, and the fact that each of them is playing a part in New York State history.

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Rebecca Rudell (MA ’95, BA ’91) is a contributing writer for At Buffalo.

Bridge Players

New York State Thruway Authority (NYSTA):
Owner of the Tappan Zee Bridge and the New NY Bridge Project

New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT):
State agency providing technical and management support to NYSTA

Tappan Zee Constructors (TZC):
Design-builders; hired by NYSTA to design and construct the New NY Bridge

HNTB:
Owner’s engineer; consulting firm hired by NYSTA to provide technical oversight of the project

Arup:
Subcontractor hired by HNTB to provide a broad range of services
 

Greenman-Pedersen:
Subcontractor leading TZC’s independent quality-assurance program

There are hundreds of other companies (more than 680 in New York State alone) working with the NYSTA to complete the New NY Bridge.

Sleek & Strong

The project’s first stay cable is raised to its anchor point. Photo: Courtesy of the New York State Thruway Authority

The New NY Bridge will be the first cable-stayed bridge over the Hudson River and will be one of the longest bridges of its kind in the United States. Bridges stay up because of two forces: compression and tension. The weight of the main span deck is transmitted to the towers—through the cables—and, ultimately, to the bedrock below.

  • There will be 192 stay cables on the main span, with 12 on either side of each tower.
  • Stay cables will range from 190 feet to 625 feet.
  • If laid end to end, the length of the cables would equal 14 miles. The metal strands within the cables would extend 700 miles.

Design-build Guru: Dan D’Angelo (BS ’83)

Dan D’Angelo (BS ’83)
Deputy Chief Engineer, NYSDOT

What he does: D’Angelo facilitates technical questions on subjects like geotechnical materials—the soil and aggregate that support the bridge—and provides a variety of risk-management services. He’s also on the advisory boards for the Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering (CSEE) and UB’s Institute of Bridge Engineering (IBE). (See sidebar, below.)

He wrote the book: When D’Angelo was statewide director of design for the NYSDOT, he led the team that wrote the procedure manual for the department’s design-build project delivery method. So it’s little wonder he was chosen to prepare the procurement documents used to select the design-build contractor for the New NY Bridge Project.

Why D’Angelo likes working on the New NY Bridge: “It takes many different skill sets to build this project—engineering, environmental, contract management, administration, safety—and it’s quite enjoyable to see how it all works together.”

What does design-build mean?
In the design-build process, one contractor is responsible for everything—design, construction, cost and schedule—essentially streamlining the entire process and eliminating the potential miscommunications, scheduling conflicts and cost inflation that tend to occur with the more traditional “design-bid-build” method.

Design-build also allows for major construction (e.g., foundation work) to begin before detailed design work (pedestrian paths, overlooks) is finished. The timesaving process is shaving about one year off construction of the New NY Bridge.

Rise and Climb

Self-climbing jump forms were used to build the iconic main span towers. Photo: Courtesy of the New York State Thruway Authority

Between summer 2015 and winter 2016, eight bright, blue boxes could be seen moving up the bridge’s slender, concrete towers as they were built. Called “jump forms,” the ingenious 650-square-foot workspaces were used to create the towers in situ.

Here’s how they work:

  1. Internal and external steel frames are secured to a tower segment.
  2. The external frame is raised up—or “jumps”—creating a safe space for the bridge crew to work inside.
  3. Crew members install steel reinforcements and the internal frame is moved up.
  4. The internal frame, which serves as a casting mold, is filled with concrete.
  5. Once the concrete has cured, a series of rails is lifted to the next level and the process starts again.

Man of Steel: Paul Rimmer (BS ’82)

Paul Rimmer (BS ’82)
Senior Structural Engineer, Greenman-Pedersen Inc.

What he does: Rimmer is responsible for quality control of all steel products used to construct the New NY Bridge, including road deck girders, boxes inside the towers that cable anchors attach to, expansion joints between concrete deck panels and overhead sign structures.

Another day, another bridge: During his 30-year career with the NYSDOT, Rimmer worked on literally hundreds of projects, including the Lake Champlain Bridge replacement between New York and Vermont, and the Troup Howell Bridge replacement (Frederick Douglass-Susan B. Anthony Memorial Bridge) in Rochester, N.Y.

How he became so steel-savvy: Described by Dan D’Angelo as a national expert in steel, Rimmer acquired his encyclopedic knowledge of the metal through decades of experience—solving problems on the job and learning from those he worked with, whom he calls “legends of the fabrication world.”

That’s a lot of steel:

  • 220 million pounds of steel will be used to build the New NY Bridge.
  • More than 1,100 steel foundation piles will be used on the project. If laid end to end, the piles would extend 50 miles.
  • More than 6,000 steel-reinforced concrete panels will form the bridge’s road deck. One prefabricated panel can weigh as much as 74,000 pounds.

The project’s first steel girder assembly is slowly lowered to its final location atop a pair of concrete piers.  Photo: Courtesy of the New York State Thruway Authority

Always on Alert

Everything is designed to be “smart” these days, and the New NY Bridge is no exception. Part of the design includes a structural health monitoring system (SHMS), which will be the most comprehensive system of its kind in the country.

Sensors and other instrumentation will measure and monitor the structural behavior of the bridge as it undergoes daily traffic loads and temperature changes—and even during extreme circumstances like hurricanes and earthquakes. The SHMS also will allow bridge officials to program routine and preventive maintenance activities, and alert them if any damage has occurred.

An ironworker helps connect a seismic isolation bearing to the steel girder assembly. Photo: Courtesy of the New York State Thruway Authority

Sturgeon Steward: Noah Hitt (MUP ’05)

Noah Hitt (MUP ’05)
Office Engineer, HNTB Corporation  

What he does: Hitt provides environmental compliance oversight for the project. Aside from monitoring issues in the field, like storm-water runoff and erosion control, he also makes sure the mandatory environmental measures are in place and functioning properly, like the bubble curtains designed to protect endangered sturgeon.

What Hitt thinks of the New NY Bridge: “The interesting thing about bridges to me is that they are a physical connection, connecting towns and cultures, allowing people to share goods and ideas. Once complete, the New NY Bridge will be a much more efficient connection between New York City and the surrounding towns for commerce and tourism, but will do so as a beautiful, iconic structure.”

The New NY Bridge construction plan incorporates a bubble curtain, which is a series of perforated aluminum rings placed around the bridge’s steel piles (the enormous underwater steel support poles). As air is pumped through the rings, a steady stream of bubbles forms, surrounding the pile and absorbing sound-pressure waves caused when the piles are hammered into the ground. Unabated, these waves can kill sturgeon and other fish by interfering with their swim bladders (a gas-filled organ that helps control buoyancy) or causing blood vessels to burst.

Bubble curtain

In Control: Troy Calkins (BS ’01)

Troy Calkins (BS ’01)
Project Controls Manager, HNTB Corporation

What he does: Calkins, who brings a wealth of technical, financial and managerial expertise to the NYSTA, is responsible for cost control, schedule control and reporting. Before the New NY Bridge, he served as a construction manager on the East Side Access Project in New York City, a $10 billion project that will unite the Long Island Railroad with Grand Central Terminal in 2022.

Starting young: Calkins’ interest in civil engineering began when he was a kid. His father owned a small construction company and Calkins helped him build residential foundations. “My father always encouraged me to do bigger and more challenging projects,” he says. Dad must be proud.

On UB’s engineering school: “It has many large classrooms, which require you to be a self-starter, but also has very intimate classes that are more engaging. This balance is key to a successful career, especially in engineering.”

Bird’s Eye View

“Painters Point” is the third of six belvederes on the pedestrian and bike path. Its design reflects the arts and culture of the Hudson Valley region. Rendering: Courtesy of the New York State Thruway Authority

The New NY Bridge isn’t just for vehicles. Six belvederes, aka overlooks, will be situated at strategic locations across the span for pedestrians and bicyclists to take advantage of. Each belvedere has its own specially designed seating, shade structures and interpretive panels, offering a place to learn a bit about Hudson River history and take in the million-dollar views.

Spec-tacular: Tim Kaiser (MS ’12, BS ’09)

Tim Kaiser (MS ’12, BS ’09)
Bridge Engineer, ARUP

What he does: A graduate of UB’s Institute of Bridge Engineering (see sidebar, below), Kaiser provides technical support to the NYSTA, specifically in regard to compliance measures. He reviews design and construction work plans to ensure that the bridge is built according to specifications, conducts audits and assists in the quality assurance program as the bridge is built.

Why he loves bridge work: “It’s really about designing a unique solution to an existing problem. Unlike a building, a bridge always has a very specific setting and set of challenges, and it’s fascinating to develop a one-of-a-kind solution for the problem at hand.”

On the IBE: “It gave me an edge on the competition when applying for careers in the bridge engineering community. My experience was seen as unique and valuable.”

Contract King: John Kowalski (BS ’83)

John Kowalski (BS ’83)
Commerical & Contracts Director, NYSTA

What he does: Kowalski’s a big player at the New NY Bridge, managing the administration of the $3.14 billion design-build contract. His many duties include processing payments to contractors, reviewing and analyzing project schedules, preparing change orders to the contract, handling dispute resolution and claims avoidance, and making sure contractors abide by the project’s civil rights goals.

Eating on the job: Kowalski is fascinated by the marine work involved in the construction of the bridge. “It’s very challenging. Everything that happens—from moving lumber to organizing lunch—has to be staged on the water from barges.”

Why Kowalski enjoys working on the New NY Bridge: “There’s something to be said about the engineering world—a job like this—you get to see the fruits of your labor in a literal, concrete sense every day. It’s very rewarding.”

Preparing the Bridge Brigade of the Future

IBE students visit the old Tappan Zee Bridge. Photo: Courtesy of IBE

America’s infrastructure is old. Really old. In major cities across the country, we still depend on pre-Civil War water mains and railway tracks. And many bridges built in the 1950s during the construction of the interstate highway system, like the Tappan Zee, no longer meet today’s needs.

Aside from the fact that hundreds of projects languish on a lengthy backlog awaiting government approval, and that the cost of repair or replacement runs into the billions, there’s another issue holding back progress: The professional workforce needed to manage these jobs is retiring. Yes, talented civil engineers are graduating into the workforce every year, but many lack the professional skills needed to lead these complex endeavors.

In 2013, after years of meetings and gathering input from fellow engineers, George Lee, SUNY Distinguished Professor Emeritus, established UB’s Institute of Bridge Engineering (IBE) to help address this dire situation.

“We are earning a reputation for putting out well-qualified students who can jump into the role of bridge engineer right out of school.”
Jerome O’Connor

While other universities offer courses in bridge engineering, UB’s IBE is the only program of its kind in the country, where students can earn a Master of Science degree that focuses specifically on bridge engineering. And it’s already making a difference. “We are earning a reputation for putting out well-qualified students who can jump into the role of bridge engineer right out of school,” says Jerome O’Connor, the IBE’s executive director.

The IBE program has three focus areas: education, research and professional engagement. Students take core technical courses, like steel bridge design and earthquake engineering, but they also perform studies of actual bridges, for example, using analytical software to determine whether standing bridges require repair or need to be strengthened to support higher traffic loads.

Students also benefit from interaction with practicing engineers, like Dan D’Angelo and Tim Kaiser. D’Angelo has served on the advisory board of the IBE since 2014, contributing to the curriculum, mentoring students and evaluating projects. Kaiser, an alumnus of the program who joined the board a few months ago, describes the IBE as a community, not just for students to interact with engineers, but also for pros to come together and expand their knowledge.

Indeed, in addition to granting degrees to students, the program offers online courses and seminars as continuing education for professionals—crucial in a field where technologies are being developed all the time. “The IBE,” Kaiser says, “provides an opportunity for experts to share their experiences and really accelerate the profession.”

High Standards: Craig Teepell (BS ’98)

Craig Teepell (BS ’98)
Deputy Construction Manager, NYSTA

What he does: Teepell works with everyone from the U.S. Coast Guard to the design-builders (who own and operate the I Lift NY Super Crane), ensuring that the hundreds of contractors working on- and off-site are complying with the NYSTA’s schedule and high standards of quality and safety.

Past projects: After 9/11, Teepell worked on the redevelopment of the World Trade Center site and hooked up with the NYSDOT Major Projects Office, where he stayed for nearly a decade before taking on the New NY Bridge. Before Major Projects, he worked with the NYSDOT in Buffalo as a design manager on the Harlem Road roundabouts and the Sweet Home Road project near UB, which incorporated a new median and bike pathway.

Why Teepell enjoys working on the New NY Bridge: “The equipment is unique. The size is fascinating. The Hudson River is historic. Everywhere you look there are plaques,” he jokes, “like ‘Here’s where George Washington had lunch.’”

How Super is the Super Crane?

  • The Super Crane is one of the largest floating cranes in the world, with a boom length of 328 feet.
  • Originally built for the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, where it was known as the “Left Coast Lifter,” the crane passed through the Panama Canal to get to New York, paying a toll of $68,000.
  • The I Lift NY Super Crane (its East Coast moniker) is capable of lifting 1,929 tons, the equivalent of 12 Statues of Liberty.
  • I Lift NY will reduce construction time by several months and lower project costs by more than $1 billion.
  • There are only four people trained to operate the crane and they work two per shift. But it takes nearly 25 people total, including deckhands and mechanics, to perform a lift.

The I Lift NY Super Crane. Photo: Courtesy of the New York State Thruway Authority

Old vs. New

TAPPAN ZEE NEW NY BRIDGE
Cantilever truss design: a combination of cantilever spans (horizontal structures supported at one end) and truss spans (steel lattice frameworks) Cable-stayed design (see Sleek & Strong, above)
Opened in 1955 and has required significant maintenance and repair in recent decades Set to open in 2018 and designed to last 100 years before any major structural maintenance is required
Seven lanes that are narrower than the required 12 feet. Center lane carries traffic east or west, depending on peak traffic Eight 12-foot traffic lanes + disabled vehicle lane/shoulder + emergency access + room for express bus lane + shared-use path + belvederes (overlooks)
Designed to support 100,000 vehicles a day. Current traffic exceeds 140,000 a day Two separate spans built to handle future traffic growth
Horizontal struts above bridge (these, unfortunately, collect ice in winter, which then drops down on vehicles) Angled towers and stay cables
Superstructure approximately 280 feet tall at its highest point Eight towers, each 419 feet tall

Bridge Facts

More than 300,000 cubic yards of concrete will be used for the new bridge. That’s enough concrete to build a sidewalk from the project site to Key West, Fla.

The project’s educational outreach team has spoken to more than 50,000 students.

Artist Jeff Koons, famous for his balloon-animal sculptures, was on the design panel, prompting people to joke that they would be building a balloon bridge.

More than 5,800 people have worked on the bridge to date.

Dianne S. Wheatley

Fantastic and informative article on this bridge. Like new format for newsletter.