Bridge Over Troubled Waters
Janicki Logging uses Rapid-Span
By Kurt Glaeseman
Need to bridge a gap but also need
to balance a cost-effective budget, a shrunken calendar, a site-specific
purpose, and a volume of environmental rules and regulations? Take heart. Bridge
building technology is changing, and there may be an option tailor-made for you.
It wasn’t too long ago that the
logging company simply came up with the necessary bridge — a rudimentary log
structure or an installed culvert or even a decommissioned railroad flat car
decked as a bridge. In some cases the bridge never got beyond theory — if the
roadbed was solid enough, loggers could simply ford a stream and avoid the
The new bridge
Things have changed radically in the past two decades. As Paul Clements pointed
out in his seminar on Road Maintenance and Drainage at the Oregon Logging
Conference, mixed land usage has created some real challenges. A road, and the
bridges thereon, may start as a logging road, then be considered a farming road,
and eventually be an access road for hunters and fishermen or even a hiking
trail. But the first guy in is often a logger, and a big responsibility rests on
his shoulders. He usually does the building, even though his duration may be
relatively short, and the roads and bridges remain an essential element of a
One of the big issues facing a bridge builder today is the environmental concern
for fish passage where roads cross streams. Jim Paul, a Forest Hydrologist from
Salem, Ore., lists six possible options for logging traffic that must cross a
• Remove or abandon the stream crossing and find an alternate route. • Ford the
stream if traffic is infrequent and there is a solid bedrock as a base.
• Simulate a streambed with an embedded culvert.
• Install a bare culvert.
• Develop a hydraulic design of weirs and baffles.
• Span the channel with long or short span bridges and open bottom arches.
In some cases these options are
not options at all. A logging company usually has a reason for a certain route,
and a secondary detour is simply out of the question. Conditions for repeated
fording of a stream are rarely ideal. Hydraulic designs using weirs and baffles
are technically challenging and often require more expertise than is readily
available. Surface and shrunken culverts have usually been the bridge of choice,
but fish biologists have observed three basic problems with this: Fish must cope
with high water current velocities or sudden velocity changes, with significant
jumps to the culvert inlet or outlet, and with unpredicted shallow water. Often
the only viable option left is the installation of a channel-spanning structure.
The Wallace Creek challenge
Rob Janicki, co-owner of Janicki Logging, found the ideal solution for his
bridge-building project over Wallace Creek, north of Sedro-Woolley, Wash.
Janicki got the bid from the Forest Service to replace an existing bridge in the
summer of 2002. First he had to dismantle the old bridge — 90- foot logs and
some obsolete decking. Janicki worked closely with Peter Wagner, a Forest
Service Engineer, and with Paul King, an Engineering Manager from Rapid-Span, a
B.C.-based firm. The new bridge project presented some interesting challenges.
The bridge would ultimately be
used for hikers headed up to several remote lakes, but first it would be a
working passage, wide enough and sturdy enough to support standard timber
practice logging. They needed a 95-foot span over Wallace Creek. It was 40 feet
down to the water, with steep cliffs on both sides. Workers could get in from
only one side, and there was no room for a crane. Originally the Forest Service
wanted to repaint some existing old riveted steel girders over a 50-foot deep
chasm and place a wooden deck on top.
Janicki, Wagner and King came up
with a modified solution. Instead of refurbishing the old girders and coping
with potential danger from lead paint, they decided on the composite steel
girder system. A slightly longer bridge would keep the supports further away
from the edge of the creek. The new girders were much lighter than the riveted
originals, which made it possible for Janicki to use his innovative skyline
system to lift the girders to the other side of the creek. The Forest Service
was very happy with this alternative: they had a brand-new product that met all
the up-to-date codes of the industry.
Janicki made do with his logging equipment. He ran a skyline across and used a
John Deere 550 with winch as haulback in conjunction with a D7 CAT with winch on
the mainline. It took them four hours to yard the bridge in place, and according
to Janicki the whole operation went smoothly: "We used steel cages with guards
behind them to create a retaining wall and then set the bridge on top.
It went together fast; it looks
good; and I enjoyed working with Peter, who helped design the bridge, and with
the folks from Rapid-Span, who created a very nice product." The traditional log
stringer bridges were often high maintenance structures that lasted little more
than ten years. As large logs became more rare, and subsequently more valuable,
the option has been to use maintenance free steel girder bridges that can span
farther, be placed in less time, hold heavier loads, and last from 60 to 70
years. The speed of installation (rarely more than two days) has become a strong
selling point, but portability is becoming more and more of an issue.
Often a bridge must be
decommissioned when access to a particular site is no longer considered
appropriate. Rapid-Span does about 300 steel bridges a year and is a relatively
young company. Bob Malboeuf started out as a bridge installation contractor, but
he bought a shop and began to concentrate on actual bridge building. Malboeuf
died in 1996, but business was already booming, so local investors bought the
company, purchased more equipment, and enlarged the shop. Paul King remembers
the early mission statement: "to make a simple system for extremely remote
locations under the worst conditions imaginable."
Of course the company had to adapt
to the changing times. At first they used steel girders with timbered decks, but
for environmental reasons had to move away from creosoted timber. Pre-cast
concrete deck systems seemed practical. These pre-cast concrete decks became an
integral load-carrying part of the structural system, allowing for smaller steel
girders… and a smaller price. Peter Bellos, in charge of Special Projects and
Sales at Rapid-Span, points out that with two plants containing over 40,000 sq.
ft. of shop space, the company has plenty of space for automated machinery
dedicated to the fabrication of welded plate girders and the assembly of bridge
components using maintenance free weathering steel.
The pre-cast concrete facility can
produce bridges, decks, and abutments. Portable bridges with non-skid steel
decks, steel girder bridges with pre-cast concrete, or timber decks and pre-cast
slab bridges are all available. "What we can’t supply," laughs Bellos, "is a
resident troll to live under the bridges. At least not yet!"
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