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Pier replacement, other woes push back Tener bridge work

| Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013, 12:52 a.m.
Work on the John K. Tener Bridge, is facing delays and will not be ready till July now. Jim Ference | The Valley Independent

Completion of the John K. Tener Memorial Bridge has been delayed again.

Pennsylvania Department of Transportation spokeswoman Valerie Petersen said the new target date is “sometime before July 4.”

The cause for the latest schedule change: Replacement of two piers that were initially scheduled for rehabilitation. The piers form support under the bridge to hold the structure's beams in place.

The piers that had to be replaced were left from the former Charleroi-Monessen Bridge, which was demolished in July 2011. The bridge, more than a century old, was closed in February 2009 because of structural problems.

Built in 1906, the bridge was rehabilitated shortly after World War II and again in 1986.

“Initially they didn't look too bad, and they did some (testing) and it sounded like good, solid concrete,” PennDOT Assistant District Executive Bill Kovach said of the piers.

“In this particular case, when they started removing the concrete, the deterioration went very deep.”

PennDOT had planned to have the bridge deck in place by October.

“Some of the delays early on were not exceptionally uncommon, and flooding issues happen quite often,” Kovach said. “But the need to replace these piers ... was what really set us back.”

The original estimated completion date was December 2012. But that was pushed back a few months because of demolition delays related to wire removal and issues involving railroad companies, Kovach said.

Contractor Joseph B. Fay Co. was awarded the $26 million project. Last summer, the substructure was completed and cofferdams removed. That allowed Fay and its subcontractor, the American Bridge Co., to proceed with steel erection. Cofferdams are sheets of steel driven into the river floor to wall off water.

Kovach confirmed minor problems with steel erection. The fabricator was late in delivering the steel, he said. Another concern is ideal temperatures.

The project ran into delays last winter when, while working on foundations for the new piers, the cofferdams kept flooding.

“There have been a lot of shorter-duration things that kept adding up,” Kovach said. “It's a lot of little things happening concurrently. We thought we were going to be at a point to do the concrete deck work by November.

As the project headed toward February, pouring concrete became impractical because of cold weather.

“We would rather take a couple more months and build a high-quality product than do something within a time frame and sacrifice quality and safety, as well as the safety of the workers,” Kovach said.

In the meantime, preparatory work will be performed so construction can begin immediately after the weather breaks.

“We understand anything like this affects people, and we understand (the frustration). But we still have to keep safety and quality foremost in our minds,” Kovach said.

“We want this bridge to last a very, very, very long time.”

Rick Bruni Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at rbruni@tribweb.com or 724-684-2635.

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