Ahead of schedule: How Cleveland Bridge Group helped open the A14 improvement project early

For any huge infrastructure project, ensuring that construction is completed on time is a challenge in itself. To actually finish construction early? That can often feel an impossibility.

18th May 2020

Yet, at Cleveland Bridge Group, we believe in early stage collaboration, so for example we worked tirelessly with contractors and supply chains on the A14 Improvement Scheme – a project that, in fact, opened 8 months ahead of schedule.

As Ondrej Humplik, Construction Manager of the A14 Integrated Delivery Team (a joint venture of Skanska, Costain and Balfour Beatty), makes clear, “Opening the road early did not happen by accident. Everybody did what they were supposed to, sometimes even faster.”

For Cleveland Bridge Group, and the six new bridges we constructed for the project, this meant overcoming a series of engineering and construction challenges – each unique to their situation.

Continue reading, below, for more details on how our innovative solutions helped the A14 to secure its early grand re-opening.

Our six bridges

Great Ouse Viaduct

As the biggest bridge on the A14 project, some 750 metres long, the Great Ouse Viaduct posed a whole host of logistical issues.

The complexity of the construction sequence, for example, complicated our timeline. In particular, the joining of two separate lines from opposite sides of the bridge required meticulous accuracy. Not only did each steel girder need to be fabricated to very precise measurements, but offsets had to be made to account for any temperature fluctuations during erection (steel expands and contracts in hot and cold temperatures, respectively, which can affect accuracy).

However, even with all these external factors, Cleveland Bridge Group fabricated and erected the four gridlines, each with a bearing within 5mm of their theoretical position – an excellent achievement in accuracy.

The location of the bridge, over a body of water, also threatened to delay the project. That’s because the transportation of heavy materials and equipment across water (to work on both sides of the bridge) is a very time consuming process.

In response, we installed a temporary platform under the length of the bridge that could support cranes. On this platform, our 600-tonne crawler then lifted all components for both sides into place from a single position.

With no need to move crane positions during installation, site congestion was reduced, saving time and money on the project.

Brampton

While we constructed two bridges at Brampton, it was the A1 Interchange Bridge that posed the biggest engineering conundrum.

For starters, the bridge’s design incorporated curved girders, a feature that could only be manufactured with the help of our advanced modelling software, which granted the precise geometrical accuracy required. Furthermore, this complex geometry meant that the girders had to be shipped to site individually, where they would then be spliced and braced together. This potentially time-consuming method of installation could have caused major disruptions to the extremely busy A1 motorway.

To minimise our impact, installation was scheduled around ultra-precise traffic management, switching closures from one carriageway to the other as work progressed.

East Coast Mainline

Unlike other bridges on this project, Cleveland Bridge Group could only work on the East Coast Mainline in short possession periods.

However, the installation site was located on one of the UK’s busiest rail arteries. This meant that closing any surrounding railways would cause major disruptions that extend far beyond the local area. To surmount this issue, Cleveland Bridge Group worked closely with Network Rail to arrange when we could continue construction without causing disruption.

After much meticulous planning, we agreed on 2am to 6am possession windows over the course of five weekends. However, we completed construction of the five pairs of 40m long girders way ahead of schedule, taking just three weekends to install the bridge.

Bar Hill Junction

As Bar Hill Junction sits at an integral point of the A14, we wanted to ensure that our work on the twin bridges wouldn’t cause any long-term traffic problems.

It quickly became apparent that installing the bridges one component at a time by crane (our approach to the other A14 structures) would have led to longer traffic disruptions. Instead, both bridge decks were assembled off-site and then transported to Bar Hill Junction for installation.

As a result, the twin bridges were assembled and installed in little over 11 hours – resulting in just one weekend closure.

The impact

Prior to the completion of this project, the A14 was notorious amongst motorists for delays and heavy congestion. The improvement scheme will alleviate the brunt of these problems.

Baroness Vere of Norbiton, Roads Minister at the Department for Transport, lauded the project for its positive impact on the local area when speaking to ITV News, “I’m delighted that the A14 upgrade will open ahead of schedule, not only meaning drivers will benefit from quicker and safer journeys sooner, but also ensuring that key access between the region’s ports and the West Midlands will be boosted.”

At Cleveland Bridge Group, we are very proud to have played a vital role in such a progressive project. We look forward to seeing the benefits of our work on the A14 unfold in the future.

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