Antelope Valley bridge defects being fixed

Story and photos by Stephanie Morrissey, NewsNetNebraska

Four bridges, $250,000 and 45 days. That’s the compromise between the Joint Antelope Valley Authority (JAVA) and construction firms to fix defects on the bridges in the $246-million Antelope Valley Project. Officials say the repairs will not cost Lincoln taxpayers. “It’s a long lengthy process but one that had to be done,” said Kris Humphrey, the city engineer overseeing the project. The repairs should be done in mid-November and involve temporary road and trail closures. Humphrey said no one specific contracting company is to blame.

Hawkins Construction Company workers seal cracking concrete patches.

Before the problems were found, the trails through the Antelope Valley area were one of the few places to bike downtown. “The first thing I thought is “Oh my gosh, is the sky falling or something?”’ Ashley Sellhorst said as she remembered the chunks of concrete she passed on her route. “I ride under those bridges nearly every day and the last thing I’m worried about is something falling on me.”

A construction defect under one of the Antelope Valley bridges with metal reinforcing bars exposed.

Pieces of concrete up to 18 inches long fell from the four bridges in an area from N to Q streets. The trails were closed early this year so temporary repairs could be made. It wouldn’t be the last time Sellhorst and other riders would have to find a different route.

Glenn Johnson, JAVA Chairman, explained the culprit of the cracks was the lack of necessary drains needed to remove condensation from inside the bridge. “Those drains never got put in. The contractor missed them. The engineers missed them,” Johnson said.

Normally, the City of Lincoln Engineers inspect new construction around town. In this case, JAVA oversaw the bridge inspections.  Humphrey said the reason why is because the Antelope Valley project was so large. “The city hired a consultant to perform the engineering services and it’s their job to watch over the contractors to make sure what’s being put in meets specifications,” Humphrey said. The city realized some of those specifications weren’t met when exposed reinforcement bars and cracked concrete began appearing under the bridges.

Repairs needed to be made and some questions needed to be answered. Did faulty specifications in the city’s plan or neglect by the consulting and contracting firms cause the bridge problems? The Federal Highway Administration helped fund the project and turned to the Nebraska Department of Roads (NDOR) to independently inspect the bridges.

Fouad Jaber, NDOR Assistant Bridge Engineer, said the Department of Roads found the bridge problems were caused by a missing drainage system, poor workmanship and inspections. “Due to freeze and fog, the leak in the piping cracked the concrete,” Jaber said. He added that some cracks were impossible to catch because of the way the bridges were built.

A runner weaves around workers underneath the bridges

Jaber said soil is normally excavated before bridges are built. In this case, the bridges were built first and then the soil beneath them was excavated. “Remember, the excavation hadn’t been done yet so there were no cracks to see,” Jaber said.

Jaber said he believed the project was designed well but some things got neglected. “In engineering we say concrete cracks so live with it,” Jaber said. Sellhorst has another take on the situation. “I don’t think there’s any excuse. I helped pay for this project and it could have been the death of me.”

While acknowledging the defect repairs, JAVA, Lincoln City Engineering and the Nebraska Department of Roads all say the bridges are structurally sound to drive on.

Plans for the Antelope Valley Redevelopment Project took shape over 15 years ago. The overall project is an attempt to reduce flooding, improve transportation and help in community revitalization.

The redevelopment project spans throughout the downtown area

Jaber said that NDOR demanded contractors and the city reach an agreement so there weren’t future, more costly problems with the bridges. “In the long term, we may have had some corrosion and that’s why the repairs are being done sooner than later,” said Jaber.

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