Just three miles from the deep water of the Gulf of Mexico, Freeport is one of the most accessible ports on the Gulf Coast. Its location in southeast Texas offers efficient transportation via highway, railroad, or intercoastal waterway. The 100-year-old railline swing bridge that crossed Freeport’s Old Brazos River, however, was in very bad shape and required continual maintenance by its operator, the Union Pacific Railroad Company.
Over in Louisiana, Union Pacific had purchased a rail line that included a 258-foot, vertical lift-span bridge over the Houma River. Union Pacific never developed this line, and the bridge had sat unused since the mid-1980s. The Freeport and Houma bridges were similar in size, so Union Pacific decided to move the lift-span bridge structure to Texas, where it could be used.
The bridge in use at its new home over the
Freeport River in Texas.
The bridge being transported from Louisiana to Texas
via barge through the Gulf of Mexico.
That’s when they contacted PCL.
MOVING A BRIDGE THROUGH THE GULF OF MEXICO
Teams worked in Texas and Louisiana simultaneously.
The lift bridge in Houma was made operational and tested, and the bridge span and its towers dismantled and transported 650 miles, using seven barges and two tug boats. “At departure, we had nothing but clear skies and a friendly forecast,” said Brett Kermode, PCL’s project manager. A little while later, though, the fog banks rolled in, and the intercoastal waterway was shut down several times and most nights.”
In Freeport, meanwhile, tower piers were going up. The existing swing bridge was altered so that a train could continue to cross two days a week (and boats could pass the rest of the time). After placing the 700-ton counter weights, the team finally switched out the swing span for the lift span.
READY FOR THE TUESDAY TRAIN
A moveable bridge relocation is, in many ways, a leading-edge green project. Nearly everything from Houma—machinery, air buffers, drive shafts, motors, and structural steel components—was reused at Freeport. Before installing the refurbished bridge, the team removed the old swing bridge and recycled its structural steel. Broken concrete foundations and rubble now serve as rip rap, which protects the shoreline from erosion, lowered emissions on hauling, and has kept much material out of landfill.
Everything was in place, with time to spare, when the regular Tuesday train passed through.