Contact: Jodi Wheatley   Phone: (254) 867-2836

Fourteen Bridges Road: Section 5-A Crew Celebrates Completion of Construction with Topping-Out Ceremony

When Bruce Johnson became TxDOT's project manager for Section 5-A of the I-35 Expansion Project two years ago, he knew there would be major challenges ahead of him. After all, 14 bridges had to be built along the 13.5-mile construction zone from Loop 340 in Waco to FM 1858/Tokio Rd. in West, with nine of the existing structures being completely replaced in the process.

It took almost five years of hard work, but a couple of weeks ago, the last of all those bridge structures was completed. Only finishing touches remain.

"Bridge construction can be one of the most difficult parts of highway construction," Johnson points out. "A lot of things can go wrong, and they often do. In some cases, they did for us, too."

  Section 5-A crew members celebrate completing the construction of 14 bridges for the My35 Expansion Project with an old contractor's tradition: the topping-out ceremony.  

The biggest dilemma Johnson faced involved the drilling of the supports for two of the bridges. Because the drilling hit the water table, casings had to be inserted. Numerous problems arose when the casings were removed. The removal process misaligned the steel in the bridge supports of one bridge. Engineers had to be called in and several change orders were needed to authorize the changed construction plans.

Other tricky elements of the project included changing the intersection configuration for four intersections in the middle of the project while bridges were being built. "Reversing the stack" (changing an intersection from an overpass to an underpass, or vice-versa) is potentially disruptive to local traffic and requires everything to work just right. Eight mainlane overpasses were constructed in a specific sequence to minimize the local traffic disruption.

Johnson decided to mark the occasion by borrowing a tradition usually reserved for building contractors.

"Two weeks ago when the last of the bridge structures was completed, I got the idea to have a 'topping out celebration," Johnson says. "It's something I learned about several years ago. A tree is placed on the top section of a building when the last beam is put in place."

So Johnson, who lives on an acre of property in McLennan County, cut down a 10-foot cedar tree and invited members of his project team to be a part of the celebration.

For most of them, a topping-out ceremony was new, especially for a bridge project. But they all agreed—recognition of the exceptional feat of completing Section 5-A's 14 bridges was well deserved.

Johnson says the finishing touches for all the bridges will be completed next month, while the mainlane traffic for all of Section 5-A is expected to be switched over to three lanes of new pavement by Memorial Day. Here's a list of the specific bridges replaced in the section:

  • UPRR in Bellmead– Constructed a new southbound frontage road overpass over the railroad. The existing frontage road crossed the tracks at grade.
  • BUS 77 in Lacy Lakeview – Replaced two existing overpasses with two new overpasses.
  • FM 308 in Elm Mott – Replaced two existing overpasses with two new overpasses.
  • Hilltop Road – Replaced one existing underpass with two new overpasses (reversed the stack).
  • Ross Road in Ross – Replaced one existing underpass with two new overpasses (reversed the stack).
  • FM 3149/Tours Road – Replaced one existing underpass with two new overpasses (reversed the stack).
  • Wiggins Road – Replaced one existing underpass with two new overpasses (reversed the stack).
  • FM 1858/Tokio Road in West – Replaced one existing underpass with one new underpass.

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