Scott Stover delivered his load for Garrison Hauling Co. and sits on a concrete cap, waiting. Behind him, a hill leads down to the Black Warrior River in Tuscaloosa, Ala., and his Mack truck is poised on the hill’s steep slope.
Attached to Stover’s truck is a 129-foot, 120,000-pound concrete support beam. A bulldozer attached with a cable to the front of the truck helps prevent it from sliding down into the river. Stover has already climbed atop the beam and unhooked one end so that a crane could lift the beam. The lift failed, leaving Stover and the other crew members to wait while the bridge contractor analyzed the problem.
Asked when the beam would be lifted, Stover shrugs and grins. He explains that R.R. Dawson Bridge Co., of Bessemer, Ala., will move the crane to a different location on the hill hoping for better leverage. If the crane still can’t lift the beam, a larger crane will be brought in.
“Waiting is all in a day’s work,” Stover says. “Welcome to the life of a beam hauler. But it’s not Dawson’s fault. They’re top-of-the-line in bridge builders.”
Stover, of Clanton, Ala., has delivered beams for Garrison Hauling, of Thorsby, Ala., for nine years. He is one of six drivers who delivered the concrete beams that will be used to build a bridge across the Black Warrior River.
The company has six trucks, and eight beams were delivered on the first day. After two trucks were unloaded, the truckers drove back to Sherman Industries in Pelham, Ala., to bring two more beams to Tuscaloosa. The truckers estimated it would take a week to transport all the beams.
The beams were to be placed on caps atop pilings that rise out of the river. Twelve of the beams were going to be placed on one side of the bridge and 16 on the other side, Stover says. The concrete beams are placed cap-to-cap up to the water’s edge. At that point, steel beams will be used because steel doesn’t deteriorate as much as concrete when placed over water.
According to Dee Rowe, Alabama Department of Transportation’s engineer for the 5th Division, the bridge will be 3,800 feet long and will take an estimated two years to complete. Later, a bypass will connect with the bridge and run from I-20/59 on the east side of Tuscaloosa to U.S. Highway 82 on the west side. The bypass will be 21 miles long and could take more than 15 years to complete.
A crane is used to remove the 120,000-pound support beam.
According to published reports, the project will cost ALDOT $220 million and should relieve traffic on U.S. Highway 82. The support beams will complete the support columns under the bridge, and then the I-beams will be installed to complete the bridge. After the bridge is finished, the remaining sections of the bypass will be constructed.
Garrison puts two drivers in each truck and makes sure a seasoned driver is on each team. The drivers also have to unhook the beams from the trailer and help unload them, Stover says.
The trucks were brought in one-by-one. When they arrived at the entrance to the construction site, traffic was halted as the trucks backed onto the site. As one driver backed up the truck, the second driver walked beside the steerable axle at the rear of the beam to guide it. Brake air lines run to the rear axle. The front axle is called a “joe dog” and is attached to the tractor. There are 42 wheels on the unit, and the tractor has an 8-speed, double low gear.
Another problem the truckers ran into was Alabama state law. The state routes the truckers into town, and according to state law the truckers could not leave Pelham until daylight. They didn’t realize that according to Tuscaloosa city law they weren’t supposed to move the beams in the city limits between the hours of 7 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. or 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Also, a police escort was required in the city, but on the interstate they traveled with a paid escort.
Captain Cecil Lancaster of the Tuscaloosa Police Department helped officers direct traffic on Rice Mine Road while the beams were hauled in during the morning rush hour. Some early-morning commuters sat in traffic for 30 minutes.
“We all want new bridges and new roadways built, and unfortunately, we have to pay a price to get them,” Lancaster says.
The drivers for Garrison call themselves “The Camel Crew,” Stover says. They can’t pull off the road just anywhere, and have to go long distances before they are allowed to stop.
“We’re like a camel that way,” Stover says. “We just keep going and it may be a while before we can eat and refuel.”
Stover’s job is challenging. The largest beam he has hauled was 144 feet long. His company also transports concrete power poles, manholes, sand and gravel. He says his job is interesting, and he enjoys making friends with the bridge crews.
“The best part is taking my kids on a ride across a bridge after it’s built and saying, ‘I hauled that in.'”