Just past 5 a.m., I’m driving west on Route 128 beneath a brilliant orange sky on my way to South Boston. At this early hour, I feel like I’m traveling across an empty airport runway.
I meet Chris Blanchard, an engineer for J.F. White, outside the K St. field office for a tour of the suspended ceiling removal work ongoing in the I-90 Prudential Tunnel beneath the Hynes Convention Center. After weaving through a half dozen or more city streets, we enter the eastbound side of the tunnel, then park before putting on helmets, glasses and reflective vests.
As we head toward the work zone, I feel the cold wind whipping through the 420-foot-long tunnel. It’s just above freezing. Glad I layered up and brought my fingerless gloves. Chris introduces me to Cory Brett, the lanky project manager for Simpson Gumpertz & Heger, the lead design engineer, who like Chris has worked many long nights recently.
We walk toward the shiny red and blue Mack tractor trailers as crews prepare to remove another section of concrete ceiling slab using the customized frame lift-system, equipped with a steel ship container and four telescoping legs. I’ve already interviewed two sources about the lift system, including the designer and fabricator LM Heavy, but seeing it in operation sharpens my understanding of its design and just how it works.
While the team had planned to remove 110 concrete sections of approximately the same size, they were forced to make some adjustments. “It wasn’t safe to make cuts because of a drop ceiling—the escalator pit for the convention center is 18 inches above,” Chris says. “So crews had to remove one panel equivalent in size to three sections.”
“Last night at 3 a.m., three trucks slowly drove out of the tunnel in three lanes carrying a 33-foot-wide by 45-foot-long slab,” Cory says.
“How much did it weigh?”
Aside from truck-assisted ceiling removal, this project required much heavy labor to install support hangars before crews began saw-cutting the ceiling, Cory says, pointing up to a shiny steel beam. “The ironworkers had to drag 450-pound structural-steel beams across the ceiling—-above the train tracks—-through a 2-ft-wide, 3-ft-tall access door crawling on their hands and knees,” Cory says.
“With only 18 inches from the floor to the bottom beam of the convention center, they had to slide on their bellies on dollies pulling the heavy beams, then lift them up again to thread them like a needle below an electrical conduit and above a water line.”
While driving back to the North Shore, I thought about the strength, determination and sheer willpower it must have taken for those ironworkers to deliver those heavy beams. In many ways they are the unsung heroes of this project.