LANCASTER – The pace around Plant 2 at High Steel Structures is brisk these days, and with good reason.

High Steel is in the midst of completing an emergency replacement of the steel for a bridge that carries around 19,000 vehicles daily on a heavily traveled corridor located just north of the city of Harrisburg.

In the early morning hours of May 9, a tanker truck carrying fuel overturned on the elevated span connecting Route 81 North with Route 22/322 West and caught fire, torching the bridge above it and melting the steel in the highway, incinerating portions of the 22/322 bridge deck and causing it to sag.

Following an inspection that indicated the bridge was in danger of collapse, Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) officials turned to High Steel with a question: How long would it take to fabricate the 365 tons of structural steel needed to fix the bridge?

High Steel employees discuss a steel box they have fabricated for the emergency bridge replacement project they are completing in two months.
High Steel employees discuss a steel box they have fabricated for the emergency bridge replacement project they are completing in two months.

Steve Bussanmas, Senior Vice President Sales and Marketing, High Steel Structures Inc., said PennDOT approached the Lancaster-based company for two reasons. (The steel plate is being manufactured by two Arcelor Mittal plants located in Coatesville and Conshohocken.)

“We fabricated the steel that was used in the bridge when it was built in 1975,” Bussanmas said. “And, we are one of the largest, if not the largest, fabricators of bridge steel in North America who just happens to be located in the bridge’s backyard.”

After making modifications to the original blueprints so the two replacement steel boxes and 30 steel girders would meet today’s construction codes, High Steel employees set out on June 7 with a commitment to complete the job in two months – a remarkable goal that the company is well on its way to fulfilling.

Normally, a job of this scope would take between six or seven months, according to Bussanmas. But the project has to be done on time so that the rest of the work – the laying of the bridge deck and asphalt – can stay on schedule as well.

The enormity of meeting such a tight deadline is even more impressive given the tricky specifications of this particular project, Bussanmas added. The 25-ton boxes anchoring the entire assembly come with their own unique design challenges.

The boxes, Bussanmas explained, are hollow, four-wall constructions with interior baffles for rigidity. Joined by welding and hand-sized bolts, the mammoth boxes have to be constructed to precise angles and planes so the pieces have an exact fit.

“You can pretty much do anything you want with steel, it is a good, solid product,” Bussanmas said. “But making it into exactly the shape you want or need isn’t always as easy.”

Inside the 1,000-foot-long production facility, workers assigned to the project, which has become affectionately known as “81”, wear red and blue ‘Interstate 81: Git-R-Done’ stickers on their hard hats.

“It is a point of pride for our employees to work on this project because it is so close to home,” Bussanmas said. “Our employees drive under that bridge and I am sure they will show it to their wives and children and say, ‘I had a hand in making that happen’.”

Steel girders used in the emergency bridge project on Route 322/22 in Harrisburg await delivery.
Steel girders used in the emergency bridge project on Route 322/22 in Harrisburg await delivery.

This isn’t the first emergency bridge replacement project the company, which was founded in 1931, has worked to complete.

High Steel has done at least nine other projects, including fabricating 121 tons of steel for the I-95 project over Chester Creek near Philadelphia in 1998, as well as others in Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey and New York. Most of the emergency projects were related to damages caused by overturned trucks carrying fuel.

“High Steel’s sizable technical and production resources enable us to react quickly when emergency projects arise,” said company President Brian LaBorde. “We are pleased to support PennDOT and the project team as they work to get the new bridge in place.”

Bussanmas said High Steel’s 700-plus employees have fabricated more than 1 million tons of steel over the past 20 years at its four Pennsylvania facilities. The company constructs a wide variety of complex bridge components and heavy bridge girders, and the company also offers bridge steel erection, transportation, and emergency bridge repair services.

High Steel Structures is an affiliate of High Industries Inc., a Team Pennsylvania Foundation investor. Other affiliates include those dedicated to architecture, concrete, construction, hotels, investment, safety consulting and transit, among others.

Read more about High Industries.