Worker safety and construction concerns due to cold weather could result in yet another delay in completing the Sterling Highway bridge in Soldotna.
Alaska Department of Transportation and Wilder Construction, the company building the bridge, gave conflicting reports about what decisions have or have not been made about how to respond to the concerns in interviews Thursday.
According to DOT project manager Dick Lowman and Alaska Wilder operations manager Clifton Olmstead, schedule changes are being considered, but no decisions have been reached.
However, Wilder field engineer John Sahlfeld said bridge construction workers are finished with work on the bridge for the year as of today and will not return until March. Additionally, he said, concrete for the bridge will not be poured until April 15.
He said that although he has not yet seen a final agreement, that the decision to halt construction at the bridge site over the winter months is firm.
“There was a meeting this morning where I believe it was formalized,” he said. “And a rough draft came across my desk, but I have not seen the final agreement.”
Sahlfeld highlighted worker safety as a concern with construction on the bridge over the winter months, and all three agreed that a major component of the next phase of construction, pouring concrete, also presents a major concern.
“Pouring concrete in the winter, especially a pour as big as this when you have to preheat the girders and keep everything uniformly heated ... it’s a very difficult thing to pour an open slab like this in the winter,” Sahlfeld said. “It’s been done, but you’re taking a risk doing that.”
In the five to seven days that the concrete takes to cure, a temperature of 50 degrees has to be maintained. If for some reason the temperature can not be maintained, the integrity of the concrete slab will be compromised, he said.
“If we started to pour and there were a storm, a cold snap, worst case, we could actually have to remove the concrete and start over,” Lowman said.
He said bridge safety and minimizing the impact of construction on the traveling public are the two primary concerns driving the DOT’s decisions, and that bridge safety will not be compromised.
Although delays are being considered, he said, no decision about how to best address those two concerns has been made.
“As it stands right now there’s nothing in the contract that says it’s OK for them to shut down,” he said. “(But) it’s beginning to look like we may be able to get a better job with a better completion date if we just shift our schedule.”
Lowman declined to discuss what possible delay dates or other solutions have been discussed in recent weeks.
Olmstead also declined to elaborate on what possible schedule changes DOT and Wilder may be considering, but firmly denied a decision already had been made to halt construction activity at the bridge.
“There’s nothing to an-nounce other than everybody right now is on holiday break,” he said.
Soldotna Chamber of Commerce executive director Michelle Glaves said she has been hearing rumors of a possible delay for several days and that a call she made to Wilder on Thursday confirmed what she had been hearing.
Glaves said she did not know who at Wilder responded to her call, but that the person on the other end of the line told her that construction would end until March 7.
Olmstead and Lowman said many options are being considered, but they could not get into the details of what is being discussed.
“The process is a contractual one between the state and Wilder Construction and it does not concern the public,” Olmstead said. “We’re not at liberty to share with you what we are discussing right now and when we have a final decision I’m sure that we and the state will announce it.”
Patrice Kohl can be reached at email@example.com.
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