Some night in late August residents at the south end of Alexandria may be awakened by a short blast quickly followed by a distinct thud. That is if all goes as planned.
Both those sounds will herald the demolition of the steel girders on the old Woodrow Wilson Bridge. Preceding that mechanical “munchers” will have chewed up the concrete deck prior to it being hauled away by large trucks.
All this is part of the plan to bring down the 46 year old span, as described by Michael Baker, environmental manager, Woodrow Wilson Bridge Project, following a community meeting June 28 at Lyles Crouch Elementary School. The meeting had been requested by the WWB Neighborhood Task Force.
“Our purpose tonight is to provide information on how we are going to take down the bridge. When that will start. And, how it will be hauled away,” said Ronoldo “Nick” Nicholson, project manager, VDOT, WWB Project, in kicking off the two hour session.
The actual demolition will begin following the transfer of inner loop traffic onto the recently completed new span the weekend of July 14. That following Monday morning, July 17, barring any hitches, the take-down will get underway, according to Robert Douglas, project director, Maryland Highway Administration.
“The process will begin by removing the utilities under the bridge. This will be followed by removal of the deck,” said Eric Glibbery, Granite Construction, one of the contractors awarded the job.
“The concrete demolition will occur first and the steel removal will follow,” he said. That steel removal will be the show.
“Charges will be placed in each beam. They are heat charges so don’t be expecting a big fireworks. But, they will be visible because it will be done at night. It will not be like imploding a building. More like a lightening and thunder storm,” Glibbery explained.
Prior to the actual drop of the girders the Beltway will close for an estimated 30 minutes, according to Baker. “When ever you are setting off explosives that close to traffic it has to be halted.
That is why the removal of the steel girders is being done at night,” he said. “But, we don’t expect to stop it any longer than 30 minutes, like a long draw span opening.”
Baker estimates the charges will detonate around midnight on the night selected. “We didn’t want to do it too late and yet we are trying to pick a time of low traffic flow. We felt midnight was a good compromise. It will all be over quickly,” Baker said.
“Our goal is to bring down the beams in 40 foot lengths between each set of support structures. Each set will fall simultaneously and hopefully hit the ground with a dull thud,” Baker explained.
When asked about potential concussion damage to homes and St. Mary’s School nearby Baker said, “The engineers and demolition experts have estimated that any concussion reaching nearby houses will be below the structural damage level.”
The project has retained Pro Tech to monitor the concussion via seismographs. “They will probably have several in the area,” he said. “If there is any structural damage, we will, of course, deal with that.”
DURING THE MEETING Councilman Andrew Macdonald, who serves as co-chair, along with Alexandria Mayor William Euille, of the Neighborhood Task Force, asked if the demolition plans were available to the City for review. He was told that the “City had been kept informed.”
This brought forth a response from Euille that neither he nor City Council had seen the plan. “The City has asked time and again to see the demolition plans. We still have not seen them. The City has not signed off on the plan because we have not seen the plan,” he said.
He was told that the National Park Service still had to review and approve it. Baker also said the City did not have to “sign off” because this was a federal/state project. National Park Service review was necessary because the Virginia side of the bridge is on NPS land.
When asked following the meeting when the Mayor’s request would be met, the only answer given by Douglas was “shortly.” That “shortly” turned out to be immediately following the meeting when Baker personally delivered the draft plan to Euille as he was leaving the session.
When asked for an appraisal of that plan the next day, Euille said that it had been turned over to City Manager James Hartmann’s
office for their review. He said, “I assumed it was also being assessed by Richard Baier, director, Transportation and Environmental Services.” Baier’s department has City oversight responsibility for the bridge project.
Upon calling Hartmann’s office, Brian Hannigan, the City’s new director of communications, said, “We don’t have it. We gave it back to the Woodrow Wilson Project because it was only a draft.”
There was no indication that it had been reviewed or copied for the Mayor’s and Council’s information after both Euille and Macdonald had strongly indicated a desire to see it, even though they were told it was “only a draft plan.”
Hartmann said, “We are waiting to see the finished document. That was only a draft.” When asked why it wasn’t kept for comparative purposes to the final document he said, “There was apparently a miscommunication.”
However, Baker indicated late Friday afternoon that he had no knowledge of the draft plan being returned. “We will have a final plan when the Park Service completes their review,” he reiterated.
According to Baker, the draft plan calls for the following scenario:
Demolition will start at Royal Street and move toward the river following prep work. In the area of the east bound lanes, where traffic has been routed onto the new span, demolition prep work has already begun, according to Baker.
The first to be demolished will be from the abutment at Royal Street to the first pier.
There will be no explosives used for the first set of girders.They will be dismantled by crane.
As for the concrete roadway that will be stripped and pulverized by “munchers” beginning at the drawbridge and working toward Royal Street. The concrete from the drawbridge back to Royal will be removed by trucks taking South Street to South Washington Street and over to Route 1.
The drawbridge will be hauled away in sections by barge. It will be taken down the Potomac to the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay for possible use as fish reefs, according to Baker. Steel will also be removed by barge. “They have a buyer for the steel,” Baker said.
From the draw span to the Maryland shoreline will not be removed for approximately 18 months to provide a work platform. When it is taken down it will be removed by barge.