PCL Construction - Lake Barkley Bridge

PCL Construction Bridge

PCL Construction maintains high quality standards while working on the Lake Barkley Bridge project in Western Kentucky. 

By Stephanie Crets

Employee-owned PCL Construction is involved with more than 700 projects at any given time across North America, the Caribbean and Australia. The company works in the civil infrastructure, heavy industrial and building construction markets, where its projects include offices, condominiums, retail outlets, hotels and resorts, educational and healthcare facilities, water treatment facilities and bridges.

Founded in 1906, PCL is the sixth-largest contracting organization in the United States and the largest in Canada, weathering every storm in the industry thanks to its diverse market reach. It is also ranked as a Top Green Contractor by Engineering News-Record magazine and has been recognized as one of the “100 Best Companies to Work For” in Fortune magazine for 10 consecutive years.

“We are a leader in the industry, definitely,” Project Manager Eric Chavez says. Chavez has been with the company for more than 15 years, including three years of internships he did with PCL before graduation from college.

Chavez believes that the employee-owned feel and family culture are what have kept PCL strong through the decades. That ownership means extraordinary performance by employees and high-quality results for clients. At the same time, local ownership ensures that local dollars remain in the communities where PCL employees live and work.

“We band together and create a project family,” he says. “It’s a supportive culture. As we go through projects, even when times are tough, we find time to get together and have fun, including our families.”

Protecting the families and communities of PCL employees is a priority at PCL. Chavez says the company stands behind him and his crew in following the latest safety standards on all projects because its workforce is PCL’s most valuable asset. 

“We have a ‘Zero Incidents’ goal at PCL,” Chavez says. “We are talking about safety all the time. Not only is safety a top priority, but quality is also. The company stands behind us 100 percent in both of those.“

Building Bridges

One of PCL’s 700 ongoing projects is the Lake Barkley Bridge connecting the Land Between the Lakes area in Western Kentucky. The existing Henry Lawrence Memorial Bridge was labeled “functionally obsolete” by Kentucky transportation officials. Considering the bridge was built in 1932, it was long overdue for a replacement.

Led by Chavez, the $128 million Lake Barkley Bridge project will not only replace the bridge, but also widen 1.5 miles of the approach of US 68/KY 80 from two lanes to four lanes, each 11 feet wide with 4-foot shoulders and a 10-foot pedestrian/bicycle path.

Construction is underway for the project, which was awarded to PCL in February 2015. The bridge is expected to be open for commuter traffic by October 2017, which is when the existing bridge will be demolished.

One of the key design and structural features of the Lake Barkley Bridge is the basket-handled tiered arch. The main span of the arch is approximately 110 feet tall with the arch members inclined inward at 15 degrees. The arch will be a signature gateway entrance structure for the Land Between the Lakes.

Overcoming Challenges

PCL decided to handle this project a little differently. The company turned a marine job into a land-based job to make overall construction easier for the crew and keep the waterway open for barge traffic. Chavez explains that, in this type of work, construction crews usually would be working via cranes on barges, but instead PCL built trestles from the west shoreline to the west side of the navigation channel and from the east shoreline to the east side of the navigation channel, leaving the navigation channel open for barge traffic.

Using cranes on trestles, the team is able to access work on both the east and west sides of the lake. “People use trestles all the time, but it’s something we did to help with the construction of the project,” Chavez says. “Now, there’s very little barge work that needs to be done. It’s innovation like this that has helped us secure the project.”

The project has not been without its challenges, however. Chavez distinctly remembers the sinkhole that consumed several classic Corvettes in 2014 at the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Ky., when supporting layers of rock gave way. Chavez notes that similar karst formations are found in the bedrock where the bridge is being constructed. Karst topography is problematic because it is the dissolution of soluble rocks near lakes and rivers, typically causing sinkholes and other supporting issues.

To prevent this kind of damage, PCL must drill through layers of rock to find the solid bedrock to fully support the bridge. Without this precaution, if the company were to build and drill on what it thinks is a solid layer, the bridge may break through and be structurally damaged.

“This issue was identified in preconstruction and KYTC designed around it, but it still becomes a challenge having the equipment and machinery to drill through the rock, find the formation and getting the drill past that into the bedrock,” Chavez explains. “This is the first time I’ve done that in rock, and learned how we’re drilling with all the different equipment for the depths we have to go.“

The project is moving forward at full steam, despite these initial challenges. “We’re out here, building the work and delivering a quality product for the owner,” Chavez says.

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