Reconstruction of Florida’s I-75 Peace River Bridge underway and on schedule

Southwest Florida travelers will soon be reaping the benefits of the $53 million expansion and renovation of the Peace River Bridge in Punta Gorda, Fla.

This heavily traveled, four-lane section of I-75 had required continual maintenance, often resulting in lane closures and traffic disruption, and had ceased to meet the needs of area traffic. Dramatic improvements, however, are underway, due to the efforts of Boh Brothers Construction and the Florida Department of Transportation.

The Peace River Bridge was built in the early 1980s. It spanned 8,040 feet and stood 45 feet above the shallow waters of the Peace River, which flows out to the Gulf of Mexico. The deck was originally constructed of pre-cast panels, and over time, required ever-greater maintenance. Deck spalling forced maintenance crews to close lanes nearly every other week to make repairs. In addition, as the amount of traffic increased, the four-lane highway proved to be inadequate to meet the needs of the 44,000 vehicles that travel it daily.

The Florida DOT saw this as an opportunity to relieve the cost and inconvenience of maintenance and expand the bridge to six lanes, easing congestion. The project was put out to bid as “design/build,” and many contractors applied. “More than most,” according to The bid group was short-listed to three, and from that group, Boh Brothers Construction, of New Orleans, was awarded the contract.

“We had many concerns with the project,” said Debbie Tower, public information director for the Florida DOT, “including economic, historic and environmental. All of Florida is environmentally sensitive. In addition, managing traffic on the project was a significant concern. Keeping two lanes of traffic flowing each way was a priority. And, at the same time, we had to determine how to get construction materials to the site.”

Keeping concrete and other construction materials out of the water was of utmost importance to the DOT. The contractor would not be able to work on top of the bridge or from the area below.

“Boh Brothers came to us with the idea of building a new middle span of bridge between the northbound and southbound lanes, redecking the southbound strand, then eliminating the northbound lanes,” Tower said. “As a result, 60 percent of the renovation project will be a brand new bridge.”

Boh Brothers was then faced with the challenge of pouring a new concrete bridge deck, under some fairly stringent rules and regulations. The environmental impact issues with the job were considerable. The river is home to many species of wildlife, including families of bats, which had to be relocated before construction could begin. Boh Brothers was required to keep the concrete pump off the bridge itself, so construction wouldn’t impede traffic. And of course, they needed to keep concrete waste to an absolute minimum on the bridge and out of the water entirely.

Ed Foss, project manager for Boh Brothers, chose to place the concrete using two made-to-order bridge deck spreaders from Con Forms, out of Port Washington, Wis. Foss is using two Schwing trailer pumps and two Con Forms placing systems, starting the ends of the bridge and working inward. According to

The trailer pump sits at the end of the bridge, with 5-inch Con Forms slick line running out to the placer. Working from midnight to 7 a.m. to avoid the Florida heat and rains, Boh Brothers pours 240 feet of concrete at time. After each 60-foot section is pumped, workers break back the system, and using a quick coupler, are up and running again in minutes. A Bidwell spreader follows, and the deck is finished by hand. More than 15,000 cubic yards of concrete will be pumped through the placing boom, with the total approaching 40,000 cubic yards for the entire project.

The Con Forms Bridge Deck Spreader has a 70-foot span and a 40-foot double-swivel boom, which the crew maneuvers to place the concrete accurately and quickly. “A conveyor would have been too messy for this job,” said Ronny Michel, job superintendent. The spreader has an adjustable truss platform that rides on the screed rails.

The Peace River Bridge project is slated for completion in October. Florida travelers will have six lanes in service instead of four. And the DOT anticipates an end to its maintenance woes. The new portion of the bridge has a life expectancy of 75 years, with the renovated portion lasting approximately another 40 years. As an added bonus to residents, a new and deeper channel was created through the shallow river bottom to give boaters a new route to the gulf.