When You're Not the Lead Dog, the Scenery Is Always the Same

Editorial by Ralph Salamie, Kiewit Infrastructure West Co.,
ASBI President

Thanks to the collective efforts of ASBI members, segmental bridges have made their mark in America’s infrastructure. In 1973, the JFK Causeway in Corpus Christi, Texas, opened the door to segmental bridge construction in our country. During the 43 years that followed, collaboration among owners, designers, suppliers, and contractors has advanced the technology and improved the quality of segmental bridges. Our members have taken segmental bridges from a new technology to a recognized, competitive alternative when site conditions are the most demanding. We should be pleased with our progress, but not satisfied. The landscape of our market is changing, and competition with other bridge types is as tough as ever. Our future success as an industry will depend upon our collective ability to lead the charge in adapting to change.

Consider the changes in how the industry has done business over the past 15 years. To accelerate projects, mitigate their risk, and improve constructability, transportation agencies have extensively subscribed to alternative delivery methods, with Design-Build becoming a common tool in the tool box. Construction manager/general contractor (CMGC) were previously restricted to vertical work in the commercial market, however, in recent years, public agencies are adding CMGC as a way of engaging the contractor with their design team. In this world of alternative delivery, to be successful, designer and contractor must work together as an integrated team starting at preliminary design.

Another area of change for segmental bridges is the growing market of mass transit. Major cities across the U.S. are developing and expanding their urban transit systems to reduce our carbon footprint and relieve traffic gridlock. To navigate the infrastructure of our busy cities without disrupting surrounding traffic, new transit lines are being elevated, making segmental construction an ideal solution.

Finally, transportation agencies are requiring bridges to last longer, requiring 100-, and even 125-year service life designs. Post-tensioned segmental bridges have a distinct advantage over conventional girder bridges in extending bridge service life. Designers are taking advantage of high-performance concrete and stainless steel rebar to meet these new demands.

Despite the many segmental bridge success stories, we have stumbled in the eyes of our clients over the last several years, with isolated cases of poor grout quality in segmental bridge grouted tendons. DOT’s are looking to our industry to restore their faith in grouted post-tensioning. ASBI has taken a proactive approach to this issue, but there is more work to be done.

ASBI and the Post-Tensioning Institute (PTI) are partnering together to regain the excellent reputation of post-tensioned concrete in our bridges. ASBI is increasing its focus on process and training for grouted tendons, having just completed another Grouting Certification Training class, as well as offering the Construction Practices Seminar on May 24th and 25th in Denver. We are also supporting the development of specifications and procedures for the use of flexible fillers (grease and wax) as an alternative to grouted tendons. ASBI, PTI, and the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) are partnering to offer a Flexible Filler Training class next year.

In this issue of Segments, there are five ASBI committee reports, providing information on how each committee is working to advance our industry and improve the quality of segmental and cable-stay bridges. If you are reading this Newsletter with interest, there is a place for you on one of our committees. It’s a great opportunity to contribute and to learn.

Our market will continue to evolve and change. We can choose to be either leaders or followers. If we expect to see segmental and cable-stay bridges continue to provide winning solutions for our country’s infrastructure challenges, we must continue to look ahead of our competition and embrace change with the same open mindedness that those pioneers set into motion 43 years ago.