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In Their Own Words: How the Bay Bridge (Skyway Section) was built from Italy.
This is the first in an occasional series of guest articles written by people engaged in the construction of the new East Span. This installment was written in Italy by KFM Superintendent Brawn Lausen, currently working in the Skyway Precast yard in Stockton.
"Buon Giorno", from Italy. As oddly as it sounds, Italy does have an integral role in the construction of the new Skyway section of the new East Span. Most of the equipment needed to build the precast concrete segments for the Skyway will come from Italy. Why, you ask? It has to do with the size of the segments required for this bridge. The superstructure (the part of the bridge that rests on the columns) is made up of 452 precast segments that are erected one at a time until the entire bridge is finished. Each segment will be cast in our precast yard in Stockton, floated down the delta to the bay, and erected from a barge using hoisting winches. As you can imagine, it is a bit more complicated than this description, but this is the basic method KFM will use to build the Skyway superstructure. The biggest of these segments will be 26.2 ft wide, 87.5 ft long, 28 ft tall, and will weigh approximately 750 tons. To put these dimensions into perspective, if we put two of these segments together end to end, they would approximately equal the size of the End Zone of the Oakland Raider's football field. Also, along with being almost three stories tall, one segment would weigh about as much as fifty full size school buses! These segments are about ten times the size of the industry standard sized segment and will be the biggest precast segments built to date in the world!
So how did Italy get involved in this? Precasting segments requires certain equipment to cast, move, and load each segment. Due to the immense size of the Skyway segments, only a few companies were qualified for designing and fabricating the necessary equipment and only one was willing to take on that challenge within the allowable timeframe. This company KFM selected is DEAL, located in Udine, Italy, which is northeast of Venice. DEAL is experienced in the designing and fabrication of all the precasting equipment used in the industry today. They have a good history of providing quality equipment that runs well and works efficiently. Obviously, they had never built anything before that would handle the Skyway segments, but had good ideas on how to go about doing so.
Due to the importance of this equipment and the critical time schedule, KFM needed to have someone relocate from the United States to Italy to work together with DEAL. I was the fortunate one selected to go to Italy and oversee the design and fabrication of this unique equipment. I had not been to Europe before volunteering for this job so I had no idea of what to expect in Italy. Needless to say, it was an eye opener! I soon found that most drivers in Italy think they are Michael Schumacher and that there is a fifth food group that is the most important one, vino! At 6'4" and 260lbs, I can be easily spotted in the Italian crowd and I had to perform moves Houdini would be proud of to fit into my first rental car, which are much smaller than we are accustomed to in the U.S.
While I was dealing with all the cultural shock issues, I also had to deal with all the aspects of the Skyway work. Since Italy is nine hours ahead of the Bay Area local time, communication was an issue. This time difference essentially left only three hours of the working day that communication by phone was feasible. Therefore, the Internet became the biggest source for communicating between the two countries. I estimate that, between design issues, fabrication questions, weekly reports and schedules, and assembly problems, I average ten emails per day. This translates to almost two thousand emails on the subject of the Skyway precasting equipment. In fact, I am writing this article from Italy and will be soon emailing it to the Bay Area. The Internet is also my source for news and current events. I watched the Giants play in the World Series in Pacific Bell Park from my living room in Italy and will spend my Thanksgiving holidays communicating with family over the net. Needless to say, the Internet was and still is playing a vital communication role for me in Italy.
Another item that is quite different with the work here in Italy is how they use many different companies to complete the work. There are more than twenty companies working for DEAL to complete the contract. This has greatly expanded my area of responsibility and my rental car odometer proves it. One supplier that we frequently visit is a five-hour white-knuckle drive away from Udine. This visit means that we leave Udine at 5:00am and do not return until around midnight that evening. Can you say, "Grand Tourismo?"
The precasting equipment required for the Skyway includes a mobile 800-ton segment carrier, two 165-ton overhead cranes, and four casting machines used to form each segment. The segment carrier will be used to lift each segment from the casting machines after casting, move each segment to the storage area, and load each segment onto the load-out barges. This machine is diesel powered and is customized specifically for the Skyway project. It has sixteen tires each standing over 11ft tall and weigh more than 6,000 lbs apiece. It stands over 55 ft tall and weighs just over one million pounds before lifting a segment! The two overhead cranes are twins and will be used to hoist all of the materials that go into the segment before we pour it. These overhead cranes are electric and run on the same rail that the railroad uses. Each overhead crane weighs just under 250-tons and stands over 100 ft high. The four casting machines vary in size according to the shape of the segments they will be used to build. Each casting machine is used to cast certain parts of the bridge. Since the bridge varies in size from one end to the other, KFM needs casting machines that are highly adjustable. As one segment is cast, the machines then are "transformed" into the next sized segment. This is accomplished with the help of many mechanical and hydraulic jacks and by using many different procedures. The casting machines are very large machines and, while the design is not yet 100% complete for all of them, the total weight of steel of all four machines is estimated to be 4.3 million pounds!
As you can tell, there is a lot of hard work that goes into getting these machines designed, fabricated, shipped, and assembled even before the first segment is cast for the bridge. Currently, most of the equipment is completed and either on site in Stockton or on its way via an ocean-going vessel. I am waiting for a few important parts to be completed and then am returning to the United States just before Christmas. Although Italy has been an enchanting place and I would do it again if given the chance, I am looking forward to returning to America and living in California. Living over here has given me a greater appreciation for the United States and the opportunities available there. Hopefully, this article gave you a sense of what it is like here and was helpful for those people who wanted to know a little more about how Italy played a vital role in the construction of the new Skyway.
KFM's Brawn Lausen on the Skyway section's Italian connection. December, 2002.