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Unusual Delta Frame Bridge Under Construction in Ohio

Night rendering of the new Innerbelt Bridge, that will feature an unusual design meant to span a great distance and clear an active boating channel
Carrying Interstate 90 into through downtown Cleveland, the new Innerbelt Bridge will feature an unusual design meant to span a great distance and clear an active boating channel. Walsh Construction & HNTB Ohio, Inc.

New bridge is part of a multiphase project to reconstruct an interstate corridor through downtown Cleveland. The project is the largest in the state’s history.

July 23, 2013—The Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) is in the midst of an ambitious multiphase project to reconstruct an existing interstate corridor in downtown Cleveland. As part of the project’s first phase, a new bridge is under construction that, along with a future sister structure, will replace the city’s existing Innerbelt Bridge. The primary component of the corridor project, the bridge must be especially long and tall in order to traverse several pieces of existing infrastructure—making it particularly well suited to an unusual delta frame design.

The Innerbelt Corridor Project is a multibillion-dollar effort to modernize the Innerbelt Freeway system, which carries Interstate 90 through downtown Cleveland and serves as the terminus of interstates 71 and 77. The first phase alone is the largest project in ODOT’s history and will result in a new westbound Innerbelt Bridge and improve and reconfigure more than a dozen other bridges and roads. A cantilever truss-arch, the existing Innerbelt Bridge was built in 1959 to carry fewer than 100,000 vehicles a day, but today well exceeds that capacity at nearly 140,000 vehicles daily. The bridge has also met its useful lifetime age limit, so its replacement is a priority. “We have actually spent about $10 million in recent years making repairs to that bridge to keep it in service until we can replace it,” says Jocelynn Clemings, a public information officer for the ODOT.

Another rendering of the new Innerbelt Bridge, that will feature eight delta frames of varying sizes

The 4,247 ft long westbound Innerbelt Bridge will feature eight
delta frames of varying sizes. Richland Engineering Limited &
Michael Baker, Jr., Inc.

While the existing Innerbelt Bridge is a single structure with four travel lanes in each direction, it will be replaced by two separate structures that will each carry five travel lanes. The bridge currently under construction, directly north of the existing bridge, will carry westbound traffic, while its future sister structure will accommodate eastbound travelers. The two bridges are being constructed as distinct projects under two separate contracts. The ODOT awarded the westbound bridge under a best-value design/build contract in September 2010 to a team comprising Walsh Construction, headquartered in Chicago, and HNTB, an engineering firm headquartered in Kansas City, Missouri. The project is the ODOT’s first value-based design/build effort. The eastbound bridge is currently out for bid. 

When the ODOT put the westbound bridge out for bid, it didn’t specify the bridge type, but it did detail the route. The bridge had to traverse several existing roads, the famed Cuyahoga River, an industrial area known as The Flats, multiple railroads, and several other properties. To that end, the bridge had to be nearly a mile long and approximately 115 ft above the river valley to accommodate commercial shipping traffic on the Cuyahoga River. It was up to the bidders to propose the best-value solution to meet the requirements.

Walsh and HNTB won the contract with a steel delta frame design—a rarely used bridge type, particularly in this part of the country. “It’s a good design for a tall bridge because you can make the piers very high and minimize the amount of the structural steel,” says Tom Flask, A.M.ASCE, a transportation engineer and public information manager for HNTB. As a result, the bridge will be less expensive to construct than one with a more traditional design and will have a more streamlined appearance, he says.

Aerial view of the bridge which shows it being constructed adjacent to the existing bridge and above a rail crossing

The new bridge is being constructed adjacent to the existing
bridge and above a rail crossing. Ohio Department of

The 4,247 ft long, 16-span bridge will have 8 delta frames, all of which will vary in size and have different girder lines as a result of the curvature of the bridge. But the typical frame will be approximately 16 ft across at what’s known as the V, or bottom girder, and 100 ft across at the top girder, near the bridge deck. The delta legs will be arched, but the straight measurement parallel with the bridge deck will be approximately 45 ft. The knuckle girders, tying all of the other girders together, will be approximately 70 ft long and will vary in height, while the webbing within the frames will typically be 1 1/2 in. thick. The size of the girders makes assembling them a challenge. “The girders are so large, they can’t come in as one package, so there has to be a field splice,” Flask says. “And each splice can have hundreds of bolts, so it’s sort of a time-consuming process.” 

The delta frames will be located between Piers 2 and 11 on the 14-pier bridge. At either end, where the bridge will be lower, it will have traditional steel girders. The bridge piers will be concrete and most will comprise two columns topped by a pier cap, resulting in a shape that resembles the Greek letter pi. But a few of the piers will have four columns to make them more efficient. At the points where the bridge is the highest, the piers will be approximately 80 ft tall. Two of the piers will be founded on drilled shafts as a result of soil conditions near the Cuyahoga River, while the remaining piers will be founded on H piles to a depth of approximately 200 ft, until they reach bedrock or meet refusal. “The piles actually go over two times as deep as the pier is high,” Flask notes, adding that the piers, including the footers, require 220 trucks of concrete, and half of that concrete will be located below grade.

Another aerial view of the Innerbelt Bridge which must traverse several existing roads

The new Innerbelt Bridge must traverse several existing roads,
the Cuyahoga River, an industrial area known as The Flats.
Richland Engineering Limited & Michael Baker, Jr., Inc.

One of the greatest challenges of the project has been coordinating construction around other activity taking place throughout the site. This was especially true when it came to erecting the span over the Cuyahoga River, which is only 200 ft wide at the point where the bridge crosses it. The river sees a great deal of commercial and recreational boat traffic, so the contractor had to coordinate with the U.S. Coast Guard and the Lake Carriers’ Association, a national organization that represents U.S. Flag Vessel operators traveling the Great Lakes (the Cuyahoga River empties into Lake Erie in Cleveland). The team asked to close the river to accommodate two barges that were used to construct the bridge over the waterway. “It was basically coordination between those three entities to agree on dates that we could get in the river and perform our work,” explains Tom Hyland, P.E., the project manager for construction on the Innerbelt Corridor Project for the ODOT. “We had one barge with the girders on it and one with the crane.” 

The $290-million westbound bridge is slated for completion in the fall. At that time, all I-90 traffic will be routed onto the new structure, and the existing bridge will be demolished to allow for construction of the new eastbound bridge on the same alignment. The eastbound bridge will have the same delta frame design as the westbound bridge, but the two bridges will not be identical because infrastructure beneath the structures will not allow their piers to line up directly. When the project is completed, it is expected to improve the quality of life in Cleveland. “We’re hoping that this project is a catalyst for future development and that it will eventually make Cleveland a more desirable place [in which] to live, work, do business,” and pursue recreation, Clemings says.



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