Lessons from the bridge project (part 2)

Part 2 of our bridge replacement project. Last time, I recounted how our bridge had cracked during a tree removal project and the year-long adventures we had navigating government regulations and trying to find a contractor to replace the bridge (Part 1). This time, we’ll cover the actual construction process.

We received a call that the construction crew wanted to begin work while we were on our way to the Lost Lake lodge on Mt. Hood for vacation. The crew was on a tight deadline and needed to finish by July 1st. That meant that they would begin the bridge replacement while we weren’t around. And, even though we had discussed what was going to be done and where equipment could be parked, I know how chaotic construction can be and I was worried about which parts of the garden might accidentally get destroyed. L encouraged me to try to chill out and enjoy our vacation. Still, there was a small (moderately large) part at the back of my mind that wondered what we would arrive home to. 

Mt Hood reflected in Lost Lake on June 21, 2022
View of Mt. Hood reflected in Lost Lake

Arriving home late on June 21st, we found our old bridge was gone and that excavation had started. They told us that we were very lucky that the bridge hadn’t collapsed already. The only thing that had been keeping the bridge up was those vertical support timbers.

This was the footbridge that they put in so we could cross to our house during construction. I had asked that they put it in off to the left, where I was going to remove some older plantings and renovate that part of the garden anyway. But, they saw those old garden plants and decided to put the footbridge here, where it didn’t look like there was anything important. In fact, I had just planted several new things here in April that I didn’t want disturbed. Oh well. It was very thoughtful and showed that the crew did care. And, I had already resigned myself that there would be at least some collateral damage. It’s just too hard to navigate everything with large equipment and I had already moved as many plants as possible away from the known staging areas. Assessing the new situation, I quickly moved what I could away from the the footbridge.

There was also this (shown below) – this probably freaked me out the most because they pulled the dump truck really far into this shrub bed and I couldn’t tell how much had perhaps gotten crushed under the tires. However, this spot was one of the few areas on our property that was available to park big equipment. I just wished they hadn’t pulled in so far!

Fortunately, very little in this garden was actually damaged. A few broken branches, some deep ruts, but nothing horrible. They did a great job keeping damage to a minimum. My anxiety about the construction project was actually far worse than the damage itself. I suspected that this would be the case beforehand and I made sure not to make any stupid passive aggressive comments. The crew was super nice. I could tell they took pride in their job, in listening to our (my) concerns, and in doing their best to meet our expectations. I think I only ran out once to ask them not to put something in a certain spot.

This excavator was huge! Maybe you can see L standing there with his arms outstretched in front of the machine.

The good thing was that our new bridge was going to big a major upgrade. The old bridge consisted only of a few large wooden beams laid across the creek bed with wood decking on top. The new bridge was going to have steel beams bolted onto concrete block abutments. A significant structural improvement.

The crew was a little surprised to see the amount of water that welled up in the excavated hole near the creek bed. This hadn’t been accounted for in the engineering design and there was some concern that the concrete blocks would settle unevenly over time into the saturated clay soil. After some back and forth with the engineer, a large concrete underlayment was put down to resolve the issue at no added cost.

The large black pipe temporarily diverted the creek away from the construction area and the small concrete blocks were some debris leftover from the old bridge.

The next day, they packed down a layer of gravel where the concrete abutment would go. The other side hasn’t been excavated yet.

This shows how big and heavy that excavator was. Large enough to crack the asphalt from the road. In the background you can see that one concrete abutment has been assembled. Yes, we got to drive underneath the excavator arm.

Both concrete abutments now in place. This bridge shouldn’t fail in our lifetimes.

A side view of the abutment. Total depth, including the bottom concrete pad (which is underneath the three sets of blocks you see here), is about 7.5 feet. Again, significantly more support than we had with the old bridge.

Progress shot from above.

After the abutments were in, the rest went very quickly. Suddenly we got home one evening and the new bridge was finished.

I was a little surprised when they backed the big excavator in here.

Of course there was some collateral damage. The loss of our maple tree, a few crushed plants where the footbridge landed (the plants there recovered just fine), and some branches and bark torn off of our screening arborvitae and Douglasfir trees. But, all told, damage was minimal. I need to remember this when we schedule our next big project (probably replacing the roof and attic insulation)…although, there are a lot more plants near the house.

But, really, the damage was very minor. The contractors did a fantastic job. After the bridge was finished, they cleaned everything up, ground out the maple tree stump, and put in new gravel in our driveway. As I said, they took immense pride in the project and it was a pleasure to work with them. It feels good to have confidence that this bridge will last. And, to know that emergency vehicles and other construction equipment will be able to cross in the future if needed.

L re-installed the automatic gate system, the lighting, and painted everything up. I wanted to replace the old maple tree with a tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera) seedling that I brought home, but L wants it to remain as a new parking spot. Now, I am plotting where to wedge the seedling in anyway. Potentially, there is enough room along the bank of the creek, but I worry the tree will get too big and end up growing into the bridge abutments. Not that we would see that happen in our lifetimes anyway.

The new bridge in March 2023
The new bridge in March 2023

Popping down underneath, the creek bed is less claustrophobic than it used to be. Nice strong galvanized steel beams overhead.

The sides of the creek have really dropped in the 15 years we have been here. Probably about 3-4 feet. There was a lot of erosion after one of the prior timber companies clearcut the plantation across the street. They cut right up to the creek itself even though they were supposed to leave a buffer. Just one example of being held to different standards than big business. For years afterward, brown water laden with top soil would barrel through here eroding down the creek bed. It’s only been in the last two years that the creek has started to run clear again during the winter.

The sound of the creek is soothing in March. Off to the right in the leaf duff is the Gunnera manicata that I planted last fall. I wonder if it made it? I haven’t been brave enough to poke around yet.

That’s it! That’s our construction adventure for 2022. Lessons learned during this stage include:

  1. The anxiety of trying to plan for an uncertain event is often worse than the actual event itself.
  2. Good workmanship and peace-of-mind is worth a lot.
  3. I’m glad we went the proper route, even though it was a pain.
  4. It’s a relief when a big project is over and you can look forward to redesigning plantings for the new space.
  5. Huh. I just realized that I could train evergreen vines up the bare tree trunks of the Douglasfir that screen our view somewhat from the road.

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Kris P

    You definitely made the right decision in getting true professionals in to do the job. Your new bridge looks MUCH more reliable than the old one and I can’t imagine you having future issues with it. No matter how much planning and preparation you do, there is always collateral damage. We renovated our house in 2019 and then replaced the water pipe from the street to the house in 2022 and even after we overthought every precaution, there were issues but both projects are behind us now and I can barely remember all my garden-related trauma ;)

    P.S. Good call to continue with your trip to Lost Lake. The photo at the top of your post is spectacular!

    1. Garden Curmudgeon

      Your observations about projects are right on – We just need to keep reminding ourselves that, once everything is all over, we will barely remember all those traumas and dramas.

  2. danger garden

    Wow. That’s a hefty bridge (with an equally hefty price I bet). The peace of mind to know that you and emergency vehicles can safely drive in though, that’s huge. I am a worrier too and know what you must have been going through as far as plant damage thoughts, so glad it wasn’t as bad as feared. Fingers crossed for the gunnera!

    1. Garden Curmudgeon

      Thanks! Looking forward to seeing what the Gunnera does this spring. After reading your blog this week, I don’t feel as bad about all of the losses we’ve experienced this winter.

  3. hb

    Very impressive! You said it was going to be expensive in part one and I can see why–those machines can’t be cheap to bring in and operate. I had to look and look before I could spot L. standing in front of the excavator–OMG the machine is huge!

    Looks like they did indeed do a good job with surprisingly small amounts of damage considering. The peace of mind knowing it was done properly counts for a lot. It’s better to assume there will be some damage no matter how careful workers are–the just don’t see what gardeners see when it comes to plants.

    Thanks for describing and sharing this interesting project!

    1. Garden Curmudgeon

      They did a fantastic job. Somehow that excavator seemed even larger in person. The picture doesn’t do it justice.

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