Design-Build Used in Jacksonville, Fla., HDD Project

Greg Goral and Jill Badzinksi — Feb 02, 2013

When performed at its highest level and under extreme conditions, construction management can drive a project to achieve an exceptional level of success. This was the case in Jacksonville, Fla., last summer when a technically challenging high-profile design-build river crossing project was performed.

Michels Directional Crossings successfully completed the horizontal directional drilling (HDD), reaming a 36-in. steel water main pipe pullback installation for the 6,575-ft project that included a crossing of the St. John’s River. Michels Pipeline Construction also played an integral role by performing HDD site preparation, steel pipe fabrication, X-Ray, ID/OD field joint coating, hydrostatic testing and HDD pullback pipe handling. The operations were all performed within a limited right of way along a major Florida expressway. Michels Directional Crossings and Michels Pipeline Construction are divisions of Michels Corp., a Brownsville, Wis.-based utility contractor.

The complete JEA Total Water Management Plan Pipeline Project included installation of 43,300 lf of piping, which ranged in diameter from 24 to 36 in. The water transmission pipeline was designed to connect JEA’s north grid with its south grid to alleviate reductions in consumptive use permits for wells in the south grid area.

JEA is the seventh largest community- owned electric utility in the United States and one of the largest water and sewer utilities in the nation providing electric, water and sewer service to residents and businesses in northeast Florida. The utility serves 305,000 water and 230,000 sewer customers.

The 6,575-ft long segment was the longest 36-in. drill ever attempted by Michels Directional Crossings. The monumental project was made even more challenging by its direct proximity to the Arlington Expressway, a major east/west artery to downtown Jacksonville, and EverBank Field, home of the Jacksonville Jaguars professional football team. The pipe and equipment remained highly visible throughout construction as it was staged in the grass median adjacent to the only opened eastbound lane of the expressway, giving daily commuters a chance to track progress during their descent over the Matthews Bridge as they left the city. Due to this high level of visibility, the project received substantial public scrutiny and media attention, being the subject of live news reports, daily blogs, forums and tweets that were soon silenced upon mysterious disappearance of the pipe and equipment from the side of the expressway when the pullback was successfully completed.

Work for the project started in early June and was completed by Aug. 15, more than a month ahead of the original projected schedule.

Michels Directional Crossings began HDD construction from the entry side football stadium parking lot (west side of the river) by driving down 160 ft of 60-in. diameter steel containment casing using a Grundo Ram pneumatic hammer. On the exit side (east side of the river) Michels’ installed 200 ft of 60-in. diameter steel casing from the ground surface using the pneumatic hammer. The casing was needed at the exit side so the HDD operation would not destabilize the soil supporting an existing 42- in. storm sewer running parallel to and eventually crossing above the proposed HDD alignment.
Due to the size, length and complicated soil formation present, pilot hole intersect was the method of choice for drilling. It also served to alleviate environmental concerns regarding the use of HDD construction under a major U.S. waterway.

While drilling operations proceeded from both sides of the river, Michels Pipeline Construction crews were in the process of manipulating multiple strings of 36-in. steel water main and configuring the pieces for pre-assembly, welding, X-ray and coating. The temporary strings were then staged in three grass medians along the expressway between highly congested on- and offramps. Traffic and emergency plans had to be developed and implemented as eight highly traveled ramps had to be closed during pipe pullback so that the multiple pipe sections could be welded together in one continuous string immediately prior to pullback. The closure of the ramps, movement of the pipe sections into place, the tie-in welds between the pipe sections and the internal/external joint coating all had to be scheduled weeks in advance and then expedited once the ramps were closed to meet FDOT requirements. On the HDD operations front, final reaming and hole preparation had to be coordinated as closely as possible with this same ramp closure date, adding yet another complex element to this project.

Along the colossal length of this HDD alignment, the crossing traversed through various geologically mixed-face transition areas consisting of sand, marl and limestone layers. These conditions and a particularly hard rock layer near the exit end of the HDD combined with several geometric design constraints also presented some unique challenges for the installation. The sum of these challenges caused a big enough concern that Michels’ new 300-ton Herrenknecht Pipe Thruster was mobilized and set up at the exit location as a contingency measure to assist with the pullback if necessary. In hindsight, it was an invaluable decision. After trying a couple of different pulling configurations and hole preparation techniques to get the pipe installation launched through the first and most difficult transition area near the exit end, ultimately the successful combination of equipment, HDD tooling and pipe buoyancy controls was quickly adopted to mitigate the challenges.

To complete the project with minimal expressway ramp closures, Michels Directional Crossings and Michels Pipeline Construction crews worked 24/7 to complete six tie-in welds and the HDD pipe installation. That effort allowed the project to be completed within 10 days of the initial road closures, well ahead of the start of the NFL regular season, which was a critical completion date.

“The teamwork, skills and dedication you have shown on this project is greatly appreciated,” said Colin Groff, JEA director of technical support services. “It’s great to see a plan ‘come together,’ but we know it takes hard work and skilled team members to make it happen.”

Michels Directional Crossings vice president Tim McGuire extended his praise to the crews.

“Every member of the team can take pride in the fact that you contributed to this great success and were part of something that will be long remembered as a significant milestone not only within our company but within the entire global HDD industry for years to come,” he said.

Michels performed this project as a member of a design-build project team that included The Haskell Co., Jacobs Engineering Group and Michels Corp. Successfully navigating and participating in the year-and-a-half long JEA design- build process was also a first for Michels Directional Crossing. The team had to overcome numerous design constraints, permitting issues, bid protests, and budget limits to ultimately convince JEA of the unique value of the Michels- anchored team and move forward with construction of this monumental crossing.

Greg Goral is design engineer with Michels Directional Crossings. Jill Badzinski is Michels Corp. corporate writer.

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