The Point: Using girders manufactured off-site improves quality and safety, avoids riverbed habitat   

What’s as long as five school buses placed end-to-end and as heavy as 65 sport utility vehicles? (Hint: It’s really big and is made in the City of Perris). Were you going to guess a concrete girder? Maybe not, but crews for the Interstate 15 Express Lanes Project are using these monster girders to widen the Santa Ana River Bridge in Norco.

Weighing in at more than 132 tons (whoa!) and measuring 175 feet long, 4 feet wide and 7.5 feet tall, these super-sized girders are the heaviest ever to be made in California.

“Although a longer girder – 177 feet – has been manufactured in the past in California, we are using the heaviest girders ever made statewide for this bridge,” said Justin Wheaton of Skanska-Ames Joint Venture, the project’s design builder.

The Santa Ana River Bridge is 1,800 feet long and will be supported by 55 girders, all of which are making a three-hour trek from Oldcastle Infrastructure in Perris, where workers are fabricating the girders to exact specifications.

“It’s exciting that Oldcastle Infrastructure, which is based in the City of Perris, is playing an important role in the construction of this regional project,” said RCTC Commissioner and Perris Mayor Michael Vargas.

Located in south Perris, west of Interstate 215, Oldcastle has a nationwide network of nearly 80 manufacturing facilities, more than 4,000 employees, and 2,000 distributors.

Container lift

Using precast girders – those that are manufactured off-site – has several benefits, Project Manager David Thomas said, including a higher quality project from a controlled environment and safer working conditions. The off-site fabrication also reduces the effect on I-15 drivers, since crews don’t have to build and later remove bridge support structures, processes that usually require full closures of all lanes.

Thomas also noted, “This process reduces the time we are working in the Santa Ana Riverbed, which is a sensitive habitat that supports hundreds of plant and animal species. Once the girders are completed off-site, we transport them and use a specialized crane to place them directly onto the Santa Ana River Bridge from above.”

The girders have been making the journey from Perris using southbound Interstate 215, westbound Murrieta Hot Springs Road, and northbound Interstate 15 to Norco, a distance of about 61 miles.

Photo of girder being placed by crews

Because of the size of the trucks that carry the girders, the transport takes place during off-peak hours, typically starting at 1 a.m. Four CHP units accompany the trucks and conduct short traffic breaks to enter I-215 and I-15. Once the girders arrive in Norco, crews use massive cranes to move them into place. Trucks then follow the reverse route back to Perris. This process is being repeated until all 55 girders are delivered, likely in October.

The 14-foot wheel base of the transport trucks requires the use of two lanes, so early morning drivers should allow extra time, especially on northbound I-15, to accommodate these girders on the go.