Alaska Railroad contractor begins piledriving work on big Tanana River bridge

Sep 12, 2012

One year after the Alaska Railroad’s contractor began clearing land on the banks of the Tanana River in Salcha, the real work is about to begin on the state’s longest bridge. KUAC’s Tim Ellis reports.

A piledriver pounds the second of four pilings into the Tanana River bed that will form a pier of the Alaska Railroad bridge that will span the river near Salcha.
Credit Photo courtesy of the Alaska Railroad

Workers for Kiewit Pacific, the contractor for the Tanana River bridge project, move another 43-foot section of piling into position as a crane erects another section.
Credit Photo courtesy of the Alaska Railroad

While most projects are winding down about now, as the summer ends and winter nears, the work on the $188 million Tanana River bridge is just about ready to kick into high gear.
(audio of pounding piledriving, fades)
That’s the sound of a massive hammer apparatus pounding away at steel pilings that project contractor Kiewit Pacific began driving into the Tanana River bed last week.
Alaska Railroad Project Director Mark Peterburs says the piledriving marks the beginning of work on the base of the 3,300-foot bridge that will span the riverbed when the project is completed in 2014.
Peterburs says Kiewit began driving smaller pilings in the spring for a temporary bridge, called a causeway, that enables workers and equipment to get into the middle of the riverbed to begin work on the piers for the main bridge structure.
 “We had some smaller ones that we built out with temporary work, but this is a whole other world now,” he said. “This is a much bigger pile.”
The pilings look like huge steel pipe – three-quarter inch thick, 6 feet in diameter, 43 feet long. They’re hoisted into position by big cranes – there are five of them around the construction site.  The pilings will be driven as deep at 120 feet into the riverbed at each of the 19 piers on which the bridge will be built.
Peterburs says more than 300 sections of pilings have been trucked in from Valdez throughout the summer, and are now stockpiled at the construction site on the banks of the Tanana, along with stacks of steel plate, rebar, earthmovers and numerous other pieces of equipment.
The boneyard is part of a larger complex that includes a cluster of ATCO-like trailers where Peterburs and a hundred others work.
He says now that Kiewit has marshaled all that equipment and materials, and nearly completed work on a 2-mile-long levee to divert the Tanana away from the Salcha side of the river, the contractor can begin the work on the main project.
“This is the easy part, getting the levee built,” Peterburs said. “Now, getting out into the river is going to be the difficult part.”
Peterburs says Kiewit will keep working until the holidays, or until it gets too cold for an extended period. He says work will resume in February – unless circumstances require modifying that schedule.