By Roz Hamlett, Portfolio Editor
Frank Minervini oversees the structural maintenance of the George Washington Bridge — from bolts and joints to suspender ropes and cables, as well as the 77 lane miles of roadway, the tunnels, toll booths and the bus station at the east end of the span.
It’s a labor of love for the 27-year Port Authority veteran, who leads a team of six workers covering every inch of the bridge. And it’s no easy task, given the dynamic nature of the bridge environment and the physically demanding work that must be performed.
“We treat every job as if our personal signature was going on it,” Minervini said. “In inclement weather especially, we feel we have a responsibility to all the nurses, doctors, fire, police and first responders, as well as our fellow Port Authority employees, who need to cross the bridge to do their jobs.”
Working at the GWB has never been for the careless or faint of heart. To qualify for a spot on the structural maintenance crew, candidates must pass written and physical tests, including walking to the center of one of the bridge’s enormous barrel cables and straddling it.
Those selected need to be able to navigate treacherous cables and ropes, withstand the driving snow, sleet and rain that comes with the job, and conquer the bridge’s breathtaking heights, which can send shivers down the spine of even the toughest worker.
“You may have it in your heart, but you have to pass the height test,” said Fred Grover, Minervini’s deputy. “It’s dangerous work, but we have the angels on our shoulders.”
Assisted by the Port Authority’s Engineering Department, the structural maintenance crew performs all types of structural repairs generated by inspection reports. These include bi-weekly visual inspections and quarterly imaging of the finger joints, which are sensitive to temperature changes and prone to breakage.
The finger joints in the bridge road surface expand and contract vertically in response to the weather, and give the bridge flexibility.
Working at heights up to 600 feet above water in wind gusts that can approach 30 miles per hour, the team conducts some 150 hands-on inspections annually to make sure the 85-year-old bridge maintains its structural integrity. During the winter, there’s the dangerous task of knocking off ice that can collect everywhere, including the bridge’s four massive barrel cables.
Minervini, who described himself as “in awe of the structure and its importance to the region” when he started work there in 1999, said his team’s approach to keeping the bridge structurally sound and safe for drivers comes from a pride of ownership.
“We take ownership of the facility and we care about what we do,” he said.