VASSAR, MI – The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) says the ongoing project to replace the M-15 bridge over the Cass River in downtown Vassar is still on track, despite the unique challenges of working in winter weather.
The bridge is being removed and replaced by Hardman Construction, Inc., of Ludington. This $6 million investment is expected to be completed by the end of October.
When Hardman’s crew began work to replace the bridge last October, they knew their work would be done in cold weather. What they didn’t count on was flooding after Christmas.
“It rained for two days straight and the overflow from the Cass River flooded the M-15 construction site,” said MDOT Bay Region Engineer Robert Ranck. “The river rose 5 feet above its normal level during the holiday, so when the crew resumed work in below-freezing temperatures, the work site was almost completely covered in ice. It was like a scene from the movie ‘Frozen.'”
In addition to removing and replacing the bridge, work includes improving the roadway along M-15 over the Cass River to enhance safety and increasing ride quality. During the project, bridge traffic is being maintained under temporary signals.
Although a crane that is moving large sections of concrete is clearly visible to motorists on the bridge, what they can’t see is all the activity under the bridge – and the workers braving the elements to get the job done.
“I’m dressed in triple layers with a heater running in the crane and it’s still cold,” said Steve Fanko, Hardman’s crane driver. “The cold isn’t just hard on us. When the temperature is below freezing, it takes longer to warm up construction equipment in the morning.”
“As if the bridge project itself wasn’t complicated enough, the crew had to figure out how to melt the frozen river covering their work zone,” added Chad Helsel, MDOT project manager. “Ice has to be broken up daily, and that cuts into a workday that’s already got less daylight to work in this time of year.”
Large heaters placed on the river bed are causing a continuous fissure of gushing water to break through the lake of ice, forming a massive waterfall. It was necessary to melt the ice slowly in order to help heat the steel on the bridge before concrete was poured last week (when temperatures were steadily above freezing).
“MDOT appreciates the tireless work of our independent contractors,” said Jack Hofweber, MDOT Bay City Transportation Service Center manager. “They get the job done, often in very tough conditions that most folks would not want to work in.”