In the early afternoon of March 30, 2006, a tugboat line snapped in Florida's Tampa Bay, sending the 285-foot steel barge Apache on a collision course with the Gandy Bridge connecting Tampa with St. Petersburg. Fishermen watched from land as deck hands scrambled on the barge and braced for impact. Even from 650 feet away, they could feel the bridge move when the Apache slammed into one of the span's 48-foot horizontal support beams.
As the Florida Highway Patrol rushed to shut down the bridge that carries 45,000 vehicles a day, chunks of concrete, some as large as 3x3 feet, fell from a 30-foot section of the Gandy on to the barge and into the water. Thankfully, no one was hurt.
While the concrete was still falling, the effort to fix the bridge began. The U.S. Coast Guard contacted the Infrastructure Corporation of America (ICA), a private company contracted by the State of Florida to respond to and make repairs when accidents like this happen. In turn, the ICA was on the phone with John Robertson of Standard Concrete Products Inc.
Standard, of Tampa, Fla., designs and manufactures prestress and precast concrete. The producer was formerly known as The Hardaway Co. until a name change in 1996.
LATE NIGHT PHONE CALLS
“Within hours of an incident, my cell phone starts ringing,” says Robertson, the chief engineer at Standard. “We're coordinating with the ICA, department of transportation and the department of transportation's engineer. For them, time is of the essence.”
One hour after the accident, the ICA was in the water looking at the damage and they had Robertson on the phone discussing the precast needs of the project. The Florida Department of Transportation was relieved that the barge had not struck a vertical piling in the water, a collision that would have been disastrous. But the damage was still massive. The entire 48-foot support beam needed to be replaced, as well as the road's right shoulder and part of the right lane.
The next day, Standard began manufacturing the precast panels needed to repair the bridge. The concrete was ready to ship the next day.
“We can pour in a morning and have 28-day strength within 24 to 30 hours,” says Robertson. Standard uses a high-performance mix and closely monitors the water-to-cement ratio in its concrete to achieve such high-strength concrete in such a short amount of time. “We've spoiled the DOT,” Robertson says. “Now, they want it faster each time.”
Within five days of the Apache's ill-fated journey, the new 48-foot beam had been fabricated, delivered, and installed. Within two weeks of the accident, the bridge had been completely repaired and the 45,000 vehicles had resumed their daily flow back and forth across the Tampa Bay.
Standard has made a cottage industry out of emergency bridge repairs. Thankfully, the work is infrequent and not a major part of Standard's business. But the service makes the company invaluable to the Florida DOT and to all motorists in the Sunshine State.