Construction of the new Lt. Cmdr. John C. Waldron Memorial Bridge over the Missouri River is six months behind, project coordinator Denae Johnson told the Fort Pierre City Council on Monday.
Johnson told the Capital Journal the anticipated date for the new bridge to be open for traffic has been revised from December 2022 to mid-2023. That will push back removal of the existing Waldron Bridge to mid-to-late 2024, she said.
“We have geotech studies and we have to go off of those, but there are some subsurface variations that need to be accommodated,” Johnson said. “They have to drill to required depths. So with that being said, there’s been some site and soil challenges that they’ve run into, and then you accompany that with some equipment breakdowns, they’ve had to get in some new equipment, additional equipment and other replacement parts.”
Johnson said delivery of parts has been subject to delay, “like everywhere else in the country.”
“And then of course, just little setbacks too, of workforce shortages, they’ve all kind of come into play here on this (project),” Johnson said. “And with a construction project this large, I don’t think that’s something that’s not to be considered. It’s a big project and there’s a lot of things happening and there’s a lot of knowns and unknowns and things you run into.”
But not all of the news has been bad, Johnson said.
“They have been able to do a lot of work outside just the drilled shaft work that they’ve kind of put themselves in a good place,” Johnson said. “They have a lot of other materials that have been able to be delivered and are ready to go. As soon as they get (that) new equipment. They did order... an excavator-mounted drill rig that’s coming which will help with that drilled shaft work. They have another crane that they put together and they are putting together another barge, so this additional crane will also become another loading crane. So they should have three cranes floating in the water to kind of help bring all of that stuff back onto schedule.”
Johnson mentioned that hiring has been an issue for the project as well. Just as other businesses in Pierre and Fort Pierre have had trouble with staffing, so has the bridge project.
“Of course, labor’s been an issue, just like I’m sure every place in Pierre and Fort Pierre has gone through lately,” Johnson said. “Getting even basic labor hired, it’s been kind of a struggle, or they get people that they do hire and they don’t show up, just like every other place.”
Johnson said dry conditions in central South Dakota also play a part in construction. Though conditions have improved with recent rain showers, most of Hughes and Stanley counties are affected by “extreme” drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.
“Everybody’s experienced some dry conditions and when you do these studies, they’re done at a certain time period and looked at now, whatever time period later,” Johnson said. “But there has been some extreme dry conditions that I think are definitely coming into play with this project. These drilled shafts are drilled down to about 134 feet, so that’s a lot of subsurface material to get into.”
Johnson said she believes the construction crew has since figured out what’s worked and what hasn’t and what the next step will be to make sure drilling goes smoothly.
“As soon as this drill rig gets here and the other crane, then I think you’ll really see a lot of construction propel forward,” Johnson said.
In a Wednesday statement, Pierre City Administrator Kristi Honeywell said she sees little cause for concern in the expected delay.
“The project manager has done a really good job of keeping us informed about project progress,” Honeywell said. “We weren’t caught off guard by the news of the delay, nor are we terribly concerned by it. It’s a big complex project that will be a nice boost to the community whether it’s completed on time or later than originally planned.”
Fort Pierre Mayor Gloria Hanson echoed Honeywell, saying the delay didn’t come as much of a surprise.
“I thought that what was provided at Monday’s meeting was good information,” Hanson said. “It didn’t come to us as a surprise because we had been notified by DOT on Friday about the delay. It is what it is, it’s a big project, we know there are employment issues, employee shortages everywhere, we know there are supply chain issues everywhere.”