Cold, traffic, design caused Hoan failure
Published: April 10, 2001
By Candace Doyle
The failure of Milwaukee’s Hoan Bridge was caused by a combination of cold weather, heavy truck traffic and a standard 1970s design that is no longer used, said Les Fafard, the District 2 director for the state Department of Transportation. “All these led to, what we believe now, the failure of the bridge,” Fafard said at a press conference Tuesday morning.
The conference, held at the agency’s Traffic Operations Center in downtown Milwaukee, was scheduled to brief the media on the reasons for the Dec. 3 failure of the bridge and what steps now need to be taken to permanently repair it. The failed northbound portion of the bridge was demolished Dec. 28, and in February, the DOT opened the southbound lanes to two-way traffic after the bridge was retrofitted. DOT Secretary Terry Mulcahy said he was encouraged by the commitments made by President George W. Bush and U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta to make the repair of the Hoan a priority as well as their promises to seek federal funding for the work. Mulcahy said he was further encouraged by Gov. Scott McCallum’s directive to take immediate steps to repair the bridge.
Fafard said, though, that before that work could begin, the DOT needed to know the cause of the failure. “Back in December, when the bridge failed, we knew we had a big problem here,” he said. “We wanted to know what caused it.”
To determine the cause, Fafard said, the DOT enlisted the support of experts from Lehigh University of Pennsylvania, the Federal Highway Administration and Lichtenstein Consulting Engineers of New Jersey. What the team determined, he said, was that the bridge’s failure originated in a joint assembly – a bridge element at which many different pieces of steel are attached – on a main girder. The joint assembly had no room to give or bend, which was a typical design practice in the ’70s. Combined with cold weather and heavy truck traffic, the crack traveled rapidly and caused two of the three horizontal steel girders supporting the bridge to buckle.
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Cost of permanently repairing the bridge is estimated at $16 million to $19 million, said Linda Thelke, director of the DOT’s office of public affairs. But about $6 million of that is for costs already incurred in the bridge’s demolition and retrofitting. The remaining amount will be what the DOT anticipates it will cost to repair the Hoan. Fafard said money for the repair work is not yet available, but that the work would proceed as if it is. “We’re not going to wait for the funding to be in place,” said Fafard, who added that the DOT would continue to work with the governor’s office and federal delegates to secure funds to restore the bridge. The DOT is planning to award bids on the Hoan Bridge project on May 8, said Kurt Flierl, a DOT project manager. “Plans will be available for contractors April 24,” he said. “There’ll be a prebid meeting April 25.” The project will include replacing about 151 feet of structure removed when a span of the bridge was demolished. In addition, the bridge will need steel retrofitting, involving about 21 spans. Flierl said he expected that bridge builders – such as Lunda Construction Co. and Zenith Tech Inc., which built the Hoan in the first place – and steel-erecting companies would be bidding on the project. “Those would probably be your prime contractors,” he said. Candace Doyle can be reached at 414-276-0273, Ext. 125 or by email.