Escanaba River Bridge work to resume in June

ESCANABA — After being suspended in late November 2018, work on the U.S. 2 and 41 bridge over the Escanaba River is set to fully resume this June, Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) Construction Engineer Steve Cadeau said Monday. Cadeau spoke about the project during a meeting of the Escanaba Noon Kiwanis at Hereford and Hops Monday afternoon.

When it is completed, the new bridge will be 40 feet wider than the bridge it is replacing. It will have four 12-foot lanes, two 10-foot shoulders and — on one side — a non-motorized pathway separated from traffic by a barrier.

Some work is set to take place on the bridge today, Cadeau said. (See related article.)

Paving on the bridge’s eastbound lanes, along with other work, is scheduled to begin in June. Cadeau said that — if MDOT’s current schedule holds — work on the bridge should be finished shortly after this.

“We’re looking at July 1 to be complete,” he said.

Cadeau shared an overview of the bridge project’s history and MDOT’s plans for the future of the project.

Work on the current bridge project began in April 2017. The bridge being replaced was built in 1929 and was widened from two lanes to four in 1956.

“It had reached the end of its service life,” Cadeau said. The project also included efforts to replace the E&LS Railroad bridge in Wells Township.

On July 5, 2018, progress on the bridge project — and other road projects in Michigan — was impacted by a labor dispute between the Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association and the Operating Engineers 324 union.

“For 52 days, as most of you have witnessed, (there was) little to no work in the middle of construction season on this project,” Cadeau said. According to Cadeau, Zenith Tech (the Escanaba River bridge project’s prime contractor) eventually found certified crane operators for the project, allowing work to resume.

Cadeau said the labor dispute has not yet been fully resolved. Aside from a potential need to find workers to operate a paver, this should not have a large impact on the bridge project if it does resurface.

“(The) good news is that we have done most of the work on the bridge — we don’t need the big cranes, those have been demobilized,” he said. Cadeau also noted MDOT is not involved with negotiations between the transportation association and the union.

Weather conditions in the area have affected the bridge project, as well. Early in 2017, heavy rainfall caused high water and strong currents on the Escanaba River. This, in turn, made it difficult for workers to get started on the project.

“We struggled to get into the river — that delayed us six weeks right off the bat,” Cadeau said. MDOT worked with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to get a modification to its permit that allowed workers to work on the river and access roads to be raised by one foot.

More recently, the arrival of winter weather halted work on the bridge on Nov. 28, 2018. In response to concerns about people speeding through the project’s work zone while work was suspended, Cadeau said MDOT used signs displaying drivers’ speeds.

“(It) seemed to help a little bit,” he said. In addition to their direct role in controlling traffic, Cadeau said the signs collected data that has been shared with local law enforcement agencies.

Cadeau said the bridge project should not be heavily impacted by the possibility of heavy runoff this spring. There is only one access road still in place for the project, and this cannot be removed until June 15.

“Other than that, everything else is out of the river and we should be fine with that heavy spring runoff,” he said.

COMMENTS