While the Hudson Valley was spared the worst of Winter Storm Juno on Jan. 26 and 27, the still-severe weather event underscored the challenges associated with building a major bridge over water.
No matter how much information is available from the latest forecasting technology, the weather can and does change quickly. No one knows this better than the men and women of the New NY Bridge project, who take extra precautions when preparing for harsh weather. Whatever the weather event, a healthy respect for the force of nature is always at the top of the list of preparations.
Worker safety is always the top priority. In the event of severe weather, construction is halted well before conditions approach dangerous levels and does not resume until conditions improve.
Tappan Zee Constructors, LLC (TZC) has already faced the full gamut of weather hazards that visit the Hudson River. Within just a few months, conditions have ranged from sub-zero cold snaps and white-out blizzards to furious thunderstorms and sweltering heat waves. TZC and the Thruway Authority constantly monitor local and regional conditions, enabling them to plan for significant events several days before they strike.
TZC categorizes weather hazards according to the following three threat levels:
- Level One events are considered normal and include wind speeds up to 30 mph. TZC secures loose items on barges and checks all moorings and barge lines to make sure they are secure. Typically, work continues and all equipment remains on the project site.
- Level Two events are more threatening, with higher wind speeds and precipitation. Construction barges and equipment are moved to shallower and more protected areas of the river. Crew members anchor equipment to heavy steel legs, called spuds, which are driven deep into the river bottom to ensure their stability.
- Level Three events are those that impact the entire region, such as hurricanes. To prepare for a storm of this magnitude, TZC would move much of its equipment offsite, to more securely protected harbors on the Hudson River.
Even with sophisticated forecasting, project officials must be prepared for sudden and unpredicted weather. To ensure worker safety in such events, TZC has numerous safe-haven locations directly on the project site. If workers find themselves caught in a rogue thunderstorm, for example, these areas provide an immediate and protected escape from the elements.
During the winter months, most of TZC’s weather-related protective efforts are focused on keeping personnel dry, warm and safe. River ice can be a major impediment to construction operations, making transportation to the project site very difficult. Harbors and shorelines tend to freeze first, and ice buildup can hinder crew boats from maneuvering.
But the most common risks associated with ice buildup are slipping hazards on surfaces traversed by workers, so specialized crews are regularly dispatched to prevent ice from accumulating where personnel access and perform their jobs.
Given the nature of their work, certain team members are at higher risk for weather exposure than others, so TZC provides such personnel with specialized equipment to ensure their safety. Tugboat deckhands, for example, must secure large construction barges and vessels on the open water and wear protective flotation suits, which also add an extra layer of warmth.
As they go about building the new bridge in all types of weather, TZC crews also rely on support from the U.S. Coast Guard, which keeps the Hudson River channel open and secure for local and commercial vessels throughout the year, and local first responders.