By Neal Buccino, Senior Public Information Officer
Photography by Rudy King and Mike Dombrowski
Picture a standard I-beam, the type you might see at a construction site. Now imagine it’s taller than the Statue of Liberty’s height from feet to torch and twice the distance of an NBA basketball court. Oh, and heavy. This megalith, composed of concrete surrounding densely packed steel rebar, weighs as much as 80 cars or a trio of Sherman tanks. (Below image courtesy of PDK Commercial Photography)
The massive structure is a bridge girder. A total of 397 girders, each up to 176 feet long, three-and-a-half feet wide, nearly eight feet tall and weighing 110 tons, will support the approach roadways for the Goethals Replacement Bridge, currently under construction in Staten Island, N.Y. and Elizabeth, N.J. to straddle the Arthur Kill.
They dwarf the construction workers who guide them atop column caps ranging from 20 to 120 feet above the ground, as well as the heavy-duty cranes needed to lift them and even the columns themselves. For more on the project, see today’s photo essay by the Port Authority’s Rudy King and Michael Dombrowski, and Dombrowski’s time-lapse video of their installation.
As the images show, there is nothing small about hauling these mammoth girders to the Goethals Replacement Bridge construction sites in Elizabeth and Staten Island, or in their installation high above ground.
Each beam is manufactured in central Pennsylvania, then shipped as a 16-axle truckload for the 130-mile trip to the New Jersey construction site on the western side of the Arthur Kill. The trip is issued permits for overnight travel hours to minimize traffic impact.
At the construction site, workers outfit each girder with tubes that will carry water for the bridge’s fire suppression system and electrical wiring for its lights. About half of these vast beams are then driven over the existing Goethals Bridge to the construction site on the New York side. That final journey begins promptly at 4:30 a.m., and requires a half-hour traffic hold to ensure safety.
Once each girder arrives at the Elizabeth or Staten Island construction site, it’s hoisted into place atop the column caps. The job requires heavyweight cranes, as well as experienced workers guiding the girders into place. Two sets of columns and caps will each be joined by five girders, until a final pour of concrete at their ends unites them into a single monolithic structure. To date, a total of 75 girders are in place on either side of the bridge.
These concrete leviathans won’t be immediately noticeable when the Goethals Replacement Bridge is complete. They certainly won’t be its most distinctive feature. That honor will belong to four sets of 272 foot-tall V-shaped towers or pylons, which will hold 72 stay cables to support the bridge’s main span across the Arthur Kill.
But through a lifespan expected to surpass a century, the girders will play an essential role in the transportation of tens of millions of vehicles and tens of billions of dollars worth of cargo each year, and for the needed replacement of a functionally obsolete bridge with a much-improved 21st century crossing.