New Suspension Bridge cables in service as diving welders dismantle supports | Local Govt. and Politics

Diving welders are dismantling the steel supports that held up the Suspension Bridge until its cables were replaced, but pieces of the supports will remain as hidden souvenirs.

On Monday, workers dug through 20 feet of river mud to reach the base of the first of three sets of two 50-foot piles, which were driven into the bedrock closest to the western bank.

The workers will cut away at the piles piece by piece, although they won’t be able to remove them entirely. The piles penetrate down to about 336 feet below sea level, where the deepest parts will remain lodged even when the bridge reopens.

suspension bridge

A diver prepares to recover a metal piling from the bottom of the Brazos River.

Rod Aydelotte, Tribune-Herald

The Suspension Bridge closed in October 2020 for a $12 million renovation that will replace the bridge’s decking, cables and anchors. Work is expected to wrap up this fall.

“On the bridge itself, there’s a lot of work still happening,” Assistant Parks Director Tom Balk said.

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The project marks the most extensive renovation in the bridge’s 152-year history. Balk said during the cable replacement, the bridge’s deck sat on top of hydraulic jacks supported by 24-inch crossbeams welded to each set of piles.

“Now that we’ve got the new cable system in and everything is supporting the bridge independently, last week they were able to take the jacks and crossmembers off,” Balk said.

Underwater welders will dismantle each structure from the bottom up. As pieces come off, workers tie person-sized inflatable bags to each chunk of metal to bring it closer to the surface. Then, they use a boat to reposition the pieces so another crew operating a crane can pick them up.

suspension bridge

A diver steadies a balloon bag used to lift a metal support beam from the bottom of the Brazos River.

Rod Aydelotte, Tribune-Herald

The crane, which comes from Davis Crane Service, is almost as tall as the bridge itself. Its capacity is 80 tons, Balk said.

The bridge itself is still under construction. The main deck was originally wooden, but has been replaced with a concrete deck that will be patterned to mimic grooves between planks. Workers from Gibson & Associates are installing wooden decking that will run along either side of the bridge.

suspension bridge

A crane gets into position Monday on the Brazos River’s eastern bank to pull pilings out of the water.

Rod Aydelotte, Tribune-Herald

Once the wood is in place, they can start installing new railings built-off site. Finally, workers will reinstall lighting on the bridge removed at the start of construction and repave plazas leading to the bridge, making them ADA-compliant in the process.


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