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Crews Invention Saves VDOT Money

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Last spring, VDOT engineers met to discuss how best to do the project. After discarding ideas involving barges and cranes, they decided to bring in heavy machinery to strip and repaint the 5,800 feet of railing. The bridge would have to be shut every weekend for seven months, beginning in April, and the whole job, they estimated, would cost $400,000.

VDOT work-crew superintendent Joe Echols doubted drivers would stand for seven months of closures, he says. "Man, somebody would skin us. I said, 'Boss, that's no good at all. … I'm sure we can do better than that.'"

Echols, a 28-year employee of VDOT, and his team invented a nursery cart that workers could trundle along the sidewalk on the bridge. It carried plastic sheeting hung on a PVC pipe frame to catch the paint flakes, a generator and two vacuum cleaners with special filters to dispose of the chips safely.

The jury-rigged contraption was scrutinized by traffic engineers, environmental engineers and safety engineers. All pronounced it good. Still, Echols admits, he wondered, "Suppose I blow this, you know?"

The cart worked fine. Echols hoped the stripping and repainting, all done by hand, would be completed by Halloween, but weeks of rain delayed the date to mid-December.

On Nov. 8, when Echols had just finished hunting with his buddy, a bridge worker called to report the job was done. The crew had worked overtime to complete the painting before the marathon that weekend, because "we thought ESPN might be there," they said, and wanted the site to look its best. The whole effort had cost $80,000.

Will this set a precedent for how VDOT plans its projects? Spokesman Jeff Caldwell says the agency always tries to find the most economical way of doing things. So no, Echols' crew won't become special budget consultants. But the cart idea may be reused. And they're proud of the job.

Crew members now wear "HBX" stickers on their hats, like the "OBX" (Outer Banks) stickers on cars. When Echols asked, "What's that?" they told him, "Aww, that's Huguenot Bridge Experience."

— M.S.S.

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