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The merger of engineering giants AECOM and URS represents the birth of a new corporate culture that takes advantage of both organizations' strengths.

By Jim Harris

Two years ago, URS Corp. and AECOM were ranked by industry observers as the No. 1 and No. 2 bridge engineering firms, respectively. In July 2014, that ranking changed when AECOM acquired URS, creating a powerhouse bridge design organization within the consulting industry. The combined organization has a global presence of more than 1,100 bridge engineers, and more than80 offices serving clients in North America alone.

“It was emphasized to staff after the acquisition was announced that this was more of a merger, and represented AECOM working to formulate a company that builds on the best from both organizations,” says Steve Stroh, complex bridges practice leader for the combined company. “AECOM is reinventing itself with a new culture to advance its corporate goal of 'delivering a better world.'” That culture is strongly emphasized in the Complex Bridge practice, where specialized expertise and world-wide specialized bridge experience can be delivered to all of their clients.

Before the combination, Stroh served in a similar role supervising complex bridge projects for URS for more than 30 years. In his current position, he leads AECOM's national complex bridge practice, which oversees the efforts across all of the regional transportation practices. The bridge practice is one of many within the national business line structure, with AECOM serving markets ranging from transportation to energy, water, government, commercial, industrial and more around the world.


Full Service

AECOM defines complex bridge projects as involving spans of more than 400 feet; smaller, specialized bridge projects that involve special engineering expertise; or immense bridge projects that require a large coordination of resources. The company has the capability to take on any project, regardless of size.

“One of the distinct traits of our combined organization is that we are a full-service provider when it comes to transportation facilities; we have the capability to design, build, finance, operate and maintain large infrastructure projects,” Stroh says. “We can cover the full range of services to assist our clients in delivering infrastructure projects.”

Although the company has significant self-performing capabilities, it believes in collaborating with specialty contractors or vendors on many of its projects. This includes retaining subconsultants for a range of services such as geotechnical testing, independent design reviews, wind tunnel testing or other boutique services.

First of a Kind

The newly restructured AECOM is at work on a number of projects that are well-suited to its capabilities.

Traffic opened in September on the reconstruction of the Pearl Harbor Memorial Bridge, which carries Interstate 95 over New Haven Harbor at the confluence of the Quinnipiac and Mill rivers in New Haven, Conn. The $577 million project involved replacing the bridge's mile-long viaduct structure, increasing its six-lane configuration to 10 lanes and providing full shoulders. In addition, the bridge viaduct includes ramps tying into the interchange of I-95 with I-91 and Connecticut State Route 34, located at its western edge.

The bridge's 515-foot center span is an extradosed cable stayed bridge, which is a hybrid between a prestressed box girder and a conventional cable stayed bridge. The structure resembles a conventional cable stayed bridge, only with shorter towers and smaller inclination angles on the cables, Stroh notes.

The bridge is the first of its kind to be designed and constructed in the United States. Roughly 70 bridges of this style exist worldwide, with more than half of those located in Japan. The extradosed cable stayed bridge design was chosen because a conventional cable stayed bridge would have penetrated the airspace of a nearby airport. Construction started in 2009. “This represents the introduction of a significant new bridge technology into the United States,” he adds.

Project Expertise

Other recent projects include the replacement of the Ironton-Russell Bridge, which crosses the Ohio River from Ironton, Ohio, to Russell, Ky. The new bridge, which replaces an aging and structurally deficient truss bridge, is a cable stayed bridge with a 371-foot-tall and 900-foot-long span. The bridge utilizes a cast-in-place concrete edge girder superstructure with twin delta-shaped towers. Construction of the $75 million bridge began in 2010 and will conclude this year.

The project included navigation simulation studies in conjunction with the Seamens Church Institute and the U.S. Coast Guard to determine the best locations to site the bridge's towers in the river. AECOM also commissioned wind tunnel studies to address the bridge behavior and design for high wind conditions.

Another large project now underway is the $273 million George V. Voinovich Bridge, which is a design build project that will replace a major portion of Interstate 90 running through downtown Cleveland. The 10-lane bridge has span lengths of up to 361 feet, and is 100 feet above the Cuyahoga River.

AECOM designed the eastbound portion of the project consists of a 3,000-foot-long innovative delta-girder main bridge over the valley and 11 other bridges, connecting roadway improvements The project also included the demolition of the existing valley bridge. The project is anticipated for completion later this year.

An example of AECOM's smaller signature bridge projects includes a $15 million bridge on 2nd Street over Shoal Creek in Austin, Texas. The 160-foot- long architectural bridge will be supported by a pair of trapezoidal-shaped steel arch ribs, each with a network arrangement of galvanized wire rope hangers connected above deck to the girder framing. “This is a very unique and architecturally focused structure, with an emphasis the visual experience from nearby observation points, from street level traffic and pedestrians and bicyclists using the bridge,” Stroh says. The bridge began construction in 2011 and is projected for completion later this year.

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