Harlem River Drive is a limited-access, passenger-vehicle-only highway along the west side of the East River in Manhattan. Within this vital roadway was a 4500-ft-long. stretch over East 127th Street that experienced chronic congestion and a high rate of accidents. It was categorized as one of the most problematic sections of highway in the state and needed to be replaced.
In 2014, New York City Department of Transportation (NYCDOT) broke ground on a reconstruction project to replace the existing structure with two parallel bridges that would carry four lanes going southbound and two lanes going northbound.
The engineers for the project chose a precast concrete girder superstructure, making it the largest use of this design ever undertaken in New York. Prestressed concrete girders were preferred to a steel superstructure because the concrete design significantly reduced long-term life-cycle costs, reduced the need for future maintenance, and shortened construction time due to the elimination of on-site girder splices. The concrete structure also has an aesthetically pleasing appearance and architectural relevance to adjacent structures.
Fifteen-minute road closures
The southbound and northbound bridges consist of 9 and 10 spans, respectively, and each bridge is approximately 990 ft long. The southbound structure is 57 ft wide and consists of 76 prestressed concrete bulb tees, while the northbound bridge width varies between 39 and 46 ft and consists of 63 prestressed concrete bulb tees. Both bridges are supported on concrete piers and abutments founded on steel-cased concrete drilled shafts.
The precast concrete elements were cast off-site and then barged to the project site in stages, which dramatically reduced the project’s impact on local traffic, allowing erection to be completed during 15-minute closures of the roadways adjacent to and below the bridge.
Controlled modulus columns ground improvement methods were used to densify the compressible material and transfer the overburden pressure produced by embankment loads to a firm bearing stratum. This eliminated the need to preload the soil, which further reduced the construction duration.
The resulting structure provides a durable, attractive, and corrosion-resistant solution with a 75-year service life, and it will require minimum maintenance in the decades to come.