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Jeffrey D. Allred

As drivers pass over I-80 on 1300 East they may notice that the once-full bridge farm is now empty. A week ahead of schedule, crews working along the interstate were able to move and lower into place seven multimillion-pound structures between Highland Drive and 300 East.

Crew members on-site Wednesday were relieved to see the project nearing completion, but their work on the interstate is far from complete, said John Montoya, site project manager. Workers have begun laying pavement along the five lanes added to the interstate and will soon be constructing noise walls.

"We're not home free yet — we're not even to the midpoint yet, which is the traffic shift onto the new road," Montoya said. "This was the biggest challenge that we've completed, but there is a lot left to build."

After the lane shift, which is expected in late fall, crews will begin replacing bridges along the eastbound section of the interstate, using conventional bridge-building techniques.

In the past, the Utah Department of Transportation has used rapid bridge-building techniques at 4500 South, but crews there drove the structure in from the side and lifted it into place. For this newly completed project, crews launched the bridges from the interstate and lowered them into place. It was a first in the nation and a learning experience, Montoya said.

Montoya estimated that it took crews five to seven days to move the Highland Drive structure from the bridge farm to its final location above the street. For the first move Montoya said crews intentionally took their time to get a grasp of the many aspects involved in transporting the structures. By the time UDOT moved the 300 East bridge, it took just 36 hours from the initial move to the placement.

"When you move seven bridges you have an opportunity to learn from each one and apply those lessons to each proceeding placement," Montoya said.

Wayne Bowden, project manager for Ralph Wadsworth Construction, said that the rapid bridge project was a test to see if this kind of building technique could be done. He believes the crews passed with flying colors. Bowden said he expects to see other projects like this in the state and nation.

"I'd just like to acknowledge how hard everyone has worked to get us to this point," Montoya said. "We've had 50 to 60 guys working their guts out every day."

The days were long and hot, crew members said Wednesday. Dennis Theis, a superintendent with Mammot, a Dutch company that provided equipment for the move, said that on average he logged about 95 hours a week, but he added, "The overtime is good for the mortgage."

The project was an inconvenient and intense time for area residents and motorists, Montoya conceded, but he expressed his thanks for the public patience as crews worked to complete the project.

For each structure a self-propelled modular transport system was used to carry the 2 million- to 3 million-pound structures from the bridge farm to their location. Once at the gap crew members welded skid shoes, a transport tool that pushed and pulled the bridge across a launching beam until it met a set of lift jacks. From the lift jacks the bridge was lowered to its final position.

"In the beginning there was a lot to get used to," Theis said. "The project has gone good though; you can see the difference from bridge one till now. Everyone got used to the process."

During every move members of the public gathered around the edges of the construction site to watch crews transport and place the massive structures. Virgil Blackwash of Salt Lake City, who is retired, said he attended every move and has pictures to prove it. He said he has been fascinated with "stuff" like this since he was a child and was glad he had the time to witness it all.

"These kids have been workin' their butts off," Blackwash said. "It's been pretty neat to watch. I think (the crews) did a hell of a job ... they worked hard; a lot of hours went into getting this done."

E-mail: cnorlen@desnews.com