The faces and places behind the SR 500 girders

Some of the many men and women who  make 
transportation  projects possible:
 members of the SR 500, St. Johns Blvd. project 
team stand with two of the project’s steel girders.
by guest blogger Heidi Sause

Coming soon to a worksite in Vancouver – cool, gray steel girders will stand 10 feet in the air and dramatically change the landscape that drivers are used to seeing along SR 500 in Vancouver.

Crews working on the SR 500, St. Johns Blvd Interchange project are completing final prep work to ready the project site for a large-scale girder installation. In the next few weeks, crews will install four massive steel girders on either side of SR 500. The girders will form the backbone of two new interchange ramps that are part of a project to reduce collisions and improve traffic flow for 60,000 daily drivers.

By 2013, the ramps will be open to drivers traveling through the Clark County intersection. But the girders have already made a trek of their own – a journey ranging from the steel mills of Delaware to a family-owned fabrication plant on the banks of the Columbia River. The girders’ journey tells a story of how construction projects don’t just build roads for Washington drivers; they build jobs for American workers.

And that’s a story worth telling.

Eight months ago, we awarded local contractor Tapani Underground Inc., of Battle Ground, the $27.2 million contract for project construction. Tapani broke ground in May, and, at that point, the girder production process started rolling.

Purchased under the Buy America Act, the steel for this project is 100 percent American-made. Claymont Steel, of Claymont Del., rolled out the raw material for the girders and shipped the steel cross-country by train to the Thompson Metal Fab, Inc. (TMF) plant on the banks of the Columbia River. Dozens of workers went to work inside the Vancouver fabrication plant, assembling the steel into large girders that will form the internal structure of two new ramps at SR 500 and St. Johns Blvd.

“We kept our entire bridge team in work through the winter because of this project,” said TMF President and Owner John Rudi. “We have a skilled workforce known for producing quality work, and 25 of those people are taking home a paycheck right now thanks to this contract.”

The TMF crew worked the steel into the skeleton of a ramp towering more than 10 feet tall and measuring 240 feet long. The girders were bolted together for inspection, then disassembled and are now waiting to be trucked five miles down the road to the project site where sub-contractor Zemek Construction of Maple Valley will secure the girders in place along the highway.

The girders may be cold and gray, but behind every inch of metal are the stories of men and women who have worked together to make this project possible.

You’ll find similar stories behind transportation projects across the state – even simple paving projects! For every mile of new asphalt, there are crew members operating paving equipment, truckers delivering the raw materials and workers assembling the asphalt mix at a plant. There are hard-working people behind every bridge, guardrail, rock bolt and dowel bar.

From the steel mills in Delaware to the TMF warehouse in Vancouver and the roadside construction work site, hundreds of employees earning a paycheck on this project agree that it’s not just the end result that matters – but the process it takes to get us there.