Team players

Features - Cover Story

Work on a massive bridge demolition and construction project in Cleveland has been made possible by the collaboration and coordination between multiple entities.

July 14, 2014
Kristin Smith

Teamwork is an important aspect of any demolition and construction project, but when that project involves a major transportation artery to the downtown of a major city, cooperating with stakeholders and collaborating as a team is critical.

When Trumbull-Great Lakes-Ruhlin (TGR), was awarded the contract to demolish the Innerbelt Bridge in Cleveland and build a replacement eastbound bridge, the company understood it would need to work closely with the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT), railroads, city agencies and businesses to keep the project on schedule without causing major disruption to those living and working around the site. So far, with more than half of the bridge demolition complete, the firm’s ability to keep communication channels open has paid off.

Jason Tucker, TGR construction project manager, explains, “On a project of this size, you have to have constant communication.”

To make interaction easier, TGR and ODOT operate out of the same office near the area where the work is being performed. Also sharing the office building are the design firm, URS Corp., and quality control firm, Parsons Brinkerhoff.

“The fact that we are colocated makes it very convenient to talk about things when a problem comes up rather than having to call someone, leave a message and wait for them to call back,” says Tucker. “The big thing I’ve noticed since I’ve been here is there are a lot of people knocking on my door, but my cell phone never rings.” He adds the lack of phone calls and emails are “such a change from how work has been the last 15 years.”

Jason Wise, Innerbelt Bridge Design project manager for ODOT says of the cooperation, “We get compliments all the time from outsiders. We have a good rapport all the way around from all parties involved.”

Tucker says ODOT has done a good job of keeping decision-makers on hand in the building. “That is what keeps the project moving,” says Tucker. “On a tight schedule like this, if there’s a change to something we are doing, if it is going to take two weeks to get an answer, you will never make that up. We have lots of meetings, but they are all worthwhile because it keeps everyone in the know about what is going on. There are no surprises.”

The tight schedule includes allotting six months to remove the entire concrete bridge deck and several spans of structural steel that make up the Innerbelt Bridge. Demolition of the 5,078-foot bridge is expected to be complete by the end of summer so that construction of the new bridge can begin in August 2014. The new bridge, the eastbound span of the George V. Voinovich Bridge is expected to open by the end of 2016. The new westbound bridge was completed in 2013 by another firm and is currently carrying traffic in both directions­, amounting to 140,000 motorists each day.


“Basically as soon as demolition clears an area, crews will go in and start pile driving for the new bridge piers,” says Karen Lenehan, TGR public information consultant.

Tucker describes the project’s timetable as “aggressive but doable.”

TGR is a joint venture between the Ohio-based companies The Great Lakes Construction Co. and Ruhlin Co. with Pittsburgh-based Trumbull Corp.

“All three companies have a history of lots of different projects from demolition and construction,” says Tucker. “We took the best practices of all three companies and put them into one. We all have the same approach to the project. It is a good mesh.”

Piece by piece

The demolition of what also is known as the Pratt Deck Truss Bridge began in January 2014 and is a combination of traditional and controlled demolition.

The TGR team proposed a mix of both traditional methods and controlled demolition when bidding the design-build project. According to Lenehan, this approach maintains the security of sensitive areas while expediting demolition of other areas. She says, “While it may seem counterintuitive, the controlled demolition process is actually safer than cutting the steel and lowering it manually—a tricky task for the workers and equipment involved.”

Pittsburgh-based demolition firm Joseph B. Fay Co. spent much of the winter working on the concrete deck removal. With one of the snowiest and coldest winters on record, crews had to incorporate snow and ice control into their demolition activities.

The bridge is made up of a series of trusses, many of which had to be hand cut by workers in man lifts and lowered to the ground piece by piece using cranes. Workers wear protective suits to guard against lead exposure from the bridge’s lead-based paint. Lenehan notes the suits are just a protective measure as the risk of lead exposure is relatively low because the bridge has been repainted with nonlead-based paint.

The truss span over the Cuyahoga River and three other sections of the bridge involved hand cutting. The river closed to marine traffic while demolition crews placed equipment on barges and dropped steel into the river.

Lenehan says, “Coordination of the many entities which use the river has been another challenge.” Permits and plan approval were needed from the Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Coast Guard. Cooperation also was developed between the Lake Carriers Association and industries downstream from the bridge, including a large steel mill that receives materials from river barges.

“Over three days, half of the span over the river was actually dropped into the river,” says Wise. “That took some coordination with the coast guard and Army Corps of Engineers to shut down the river.”

To ensure all of the bridge debris was recovered, crews tied cable with buoys and numbered every piece of scrap metal it lowered into the river—28 pieces in all. Before the river reopened, the Corps used sonar to make sure no debris was left behind. Demolition over the river was completed June 4, 2014.

Areas of the bridge that go over Norfolk Southern and CSX railroad tracks and the city’s rail transit system also involved preapprovals before demolition could occur.

Tucker says everyone has been cooperative thus far. “I don’t know if it is because it is a high-profile project, but every entity puts their best people forward and people are more responsive to keeping things moving along.” He adds of the coast guard, “They’ve played a key role in the demolition and have done an excellent job.

“Recognition must also be given to the Joseph B. Fay Co. for performing the demolition work extremely safely,” Tucker adds. “They are working with large cranes, heavy lifts and high heights on a daily and nightly basis. All this while making up time lost during the harsh winter and adjusting the demolition sequence to coordinate with river, rail and road traffic.”

The controlled demolition will drop the remainder of the truss sections to the ground where they will be cut into smaller pieces for recycling. Controlled Demolition Inc. (CDI), Phoenix, Maryland, has been contracted to perform the work, which is expected to take place in mid-July. As of mid-June, the details were still being finalized.

Kirk Gegick, ODOT Innerbelt project engineer, says “We’ve gotten some spans down, the critical spans that had to be done prior to the controlled demolition, including the span over the river and the span over Norfolk Southern railroad, so things are progressing right now as we had planned.”

Preparation for the controlled demolition will involve closing roads, including the first new bridge making up the George V. Voinovich Bridge. The city, law enforcement and the fire department will be involved in the coordination. A 1,000-foot perimeter will be placed around the project to keep people out.

The actual explosions will take a matter of seconds to detonate and are expected to drop the remainder of the bridge trusses. Once the controlled demolition is complete, CDI will examine the surrounding area to ensure all the explosions went off and nearby structures are safe before reopening the area.

“It is complicated, but we have a very good team working on it,” Gegick says.

Sustainability focus

TGR has committed to 100 percent recycling in several categories on the project, according to Lenehan, including steel reinforcing bars, structural steel, structural concrete, concrete pavement and cleared vegetation.

She estimates 19,775 tons of steel and 32,500 cubic yards of concrete will be recycled during the demolition. About 95,000 cubic yards of soil is expected to be reclaimed overall from the demolition and new bridge construction. An artist has even used reclaimed wood from the project to create a sculpture (

“We are recycling almost everything on that structure,” says Gegick “It is a big cost savings to our department to have all of that scrap be used by our contractor. It obviously lowered their bid price going into the job, knowing they could recycle those materials.”

Just the beggining

The project team is using the Federal Highway Administration Infrastructure Voluntary Evaluation Sustainability Tool (INVEST) to gauge the project’s environmental impact. Jocelynn Clemings, ODOT public information officer says the team hopes to reach Platinum status —the highest level achievable. The westbound bridge was awarded Gold status.

From ODOT’s perspective, the replacement of the 1959 Innerbelt Bridge is “just the beginning” of the major plans that are in store for the area’s transportation system, says Clemings. Replacement of the bridge represents the first two contracts in a series of seven to rebuild the entire Innerbelt Corridor throughout downtown Cleveland. ODOT’s multibillion dollar Innerbelt Modernization Plan is focused on improving safety, reducing congestion and traffic delays and modernizing interstate travel.

“This investment by the state of Ohio will rehabilitate and reconstruct about 5 miles of interstate roadways and address operational, design, safety and access shortcomings that severely impact the ability of the Innerbelt Freeway system to meet the transportation needs of northeast Ohio,” she says.

Tom Hyland, ODOT construction project manager, says he feels lucky to be working with such top-notch people on the project. “We are getting the best of the best of all the organizations. They are bringing their best people to the table, the most innovative, most knowledgeable, fully committed to the job, and it is very rewarding to work with a crew like that.”

The author is managing editor of Construction & Demolition Recycling and can be reached at

A video report on the Innerbelt Bridge demolition is available at More photos of the Innerbelt Bridge demolition project are available at