New Tappan Zee Bridge: Barges hit the Hudson this week as work begins on new span

Darrell Waters, the president of Tappan Zee Constructors,

Darrell Waters, the president of Tappan Zee Constructors, speaks during a meeting in Nyack. (March 21, 2013)

The first six barges and tugboats in a flotilla of construction equipment will stream into the Hudson River this week as long-awaited work begins on a replacement for the Tappan Zee Bridge, the project's director said last week.

Darrell Waters, the president of Tappan Zee Constructors, told a meeting of Rockland business executives that the first six barges will be among 50-60 to be brought up from the Louisiana area of the Gulf of Mexico in coming months as construction on the $3.9 billion bridge project gets under way.

"We're starting the mobilization of our fleet of equipment," Waters said during a lunchtime talk at the Rockland Business Association's monthly meeting. "The first little bit of activity that you'll be able to see is that. You probably won't notice it."


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The barges will aid with soil sampling in the river, he said.

By the start of the summer, when crews begin sinking piles, Tappan Zee Constructors' presence will be clear, Waters said.

"By June, you'll probably notice us," he said.

At the peak of construction, Waters said there will be 100 barges on the job.

In August, he said, the construction team will begin dredging some 900,000 cubic yards of sediment from the river. By fall, one of the world's largest floating cranes, weighing 1,400 metric tons, will make its debut on the river, following a trip east from San Francisco Bay. There, the crane was used in building portions of the new Bay Bridge between San Francisco and Oakland.

"We call it the left coast lifter," Waters said.

20-HOUR WORKDAYS, THEN COCKTAILS

Waters gave the crowd a behind-the-scenes peek at the anxious months leading up to his team's selection by the New York State Thruway Authority to steer what has been billed as the nation's largest public works project.

A veteran of Texas-based Flour Enterprises, Waters said he has worked on large-scale projects on five continents. The Tappan Zee Constructors team also features American Bridge of Coraopolis, Pa.; Traylor Bros. Inc. of Indiana; and Granite Construction Northeast, a California-based company.

Waters related how, after the consortium was put on the short list of companies contending for the bridge contract in February 2012, a team holed up at a Rockland County hotel to ready its winning presentation.

"For the next six months, we spent seven days a week, 20 hours a day locked up in the Hilton in Pearl River with about 50 designers and contractors," Waters said before adding an aside that brought laughter.

"The other two or three hours were at the bar," he said.

In mid-October came unofficial word that Tappan Zee Constructors was the Thruway Authority's choice, Waters said.

"We took one night to celebrate and went back to work the next day," he said.

QUESTIONS FROM THE BOSS

Tappan Zee Constructors beat out two other consortiums with a bid that was some $800 million lower than any other bid -- a point that Waters said wasn't lost on his higher-ups.

"That's $800 million lower than the next bidder," Waters said, pausing for effect as he emphasized the chasm between the two bids. "Which causes you to pause. It caused the chairman of Fluor Corp. to pause. He had a few pointed questions for me. I'm here, so I didn't get killed."

The consortium also agreed to finish the project in a little more than five years, eight months faster than its closest competitor.

Tappan Zee Constructors is now working out of office space in White Plains where, at the height of the project, the management team will have 131 workers, Waters said.

Under the terms of the contract struck with the Thruway Authority, Tappan Zee Constructors will assume the risk for all cost overruns on the five-year project.

"To the extent they're not caused by somebody else, we've got it," Waters said. "That's our risk."

Waters politely declined to answer a question about how the bridge will be financed. Two weeks ago, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's administration said the Thruway Authority is in line for a $1.5 million federal loan that would kick-start funding of the bridge. Details of the full financial plan are still in the works.

"You're asking the wrong guy," Waters said. "I keep asking that question."

Waters also told the crowd that, in a recent online vote, the public overwhelmingly supported a slanted or chamfered design for the bridge's towers over Tappan Zee Constructors' preference for flat, squared-off towers rising 409 feet over the water.

The design, which came out of a recommendation from a visual quality panel, is expected to increase slightly the price of the bridge, Thruway Authority officials say. Online comments from 220 members of the public favored the slanted design by a 3-to-1 margin.

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