Member Profile - Hamilton Construction Alaska

Clearing the way in remote Alaska’s harsh conditions

By Carly Horton Stuart

AGC Winter Member Profile Hamilton Construction Alaska

Crucial to economic growth, infrastructure drives trade by moving people, goods and services. Roads, bridges, railroads — the U.S. economy relies on a world-class transportation system.

Every four years, the American Society of Civil Engineers releases a report card depicting the condition and performance of U.S. infrastructure, assigning letter grades based on the physical condition and investments needed for improvement. In 2013, the nation’s cumulative GPA was a D-plus.

“Since 1998, the grades have been near failing, averaging only D’s due to delayed maintenance and underinvestment across most categories,” the report stated.

ASCE estimates that an investment of $3.6 trillion would be needed by 2020 to close the infrastructure gap. “We have a significant backlog of overdue maintenance across our infrastructure systems, a pressing need for modernization and an immense opportunity to create reliable, long-term funding sources to avoid wiping out our recent gains,” the report explained.

Fortunately, companies like Hamilton Construction Alaska are moving the U.S. forward, building the infrastructure that will facilitate long-term economic growth, increased GDP, employment, household income and exports — one project at a time.

Hamilton began in 1939 in Oregon as a small company installing concrete road and irrigation systems. It grew from there, expanding throughout the Pacific Northwest and to Alaska in 1977.

“Our first projects in Alaska were 60-foot Hamilton-patented prefabricated bridges (EZ Bridges) in Ketchikan for the U.S. Forest Service,” said Hamilton project manager John Szymik. “We run into our EZ Bridges all over the state. We’ve actually bid a few projects that involved the replacement or retrofit of a Hamilton-supplied EZ Bridge.”

Hamilton heads up a variety of large heavy-civil construction projects, “but we have made a name for ourselves working on projects with limited and difficult access — bridges, railroad trestles, cofferdams, highway interchanges, transit projects, specialized foundation work, overlays and project management are part of Hamilton’s everyday work.”

The company employs about 250 people, with offices in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington.

In Alaska, the company frequently collaborates with the Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities on bridge and highway projects. Recent projects include the Parks Highway MP 237 Riley Creek Bridge replacement. The ADOT&PF deemed the Riley Creek Bridge, located near the entrance to Denali National Park, “structurally deficient and functionally obsolete.” Hamilton replaced the previous structure with a two-span deck bulb-tee girder bridge and made adjacent highway improvements as well.

The project was awarded as part of the ADOT&PF CMGC (Construction Manager/General Manager) process, a procurement method that involves the contractor providing input during the design phase before the start of construction. The CMGC delivery method gives the contractor the opportunity to offer new innovations, value engineering and early risk mitigation as a result of the contractor’s years of proven experience doing the actual work.

“Collaboration during the preconstruction phase helped identify risks and which permits were on the project’s critical path — a major contributing factor to the project completing a full season ahead of schedule,” Hamilton project manager Jesse Peterson said.

In addition to replacing the new 230-foot bridge over Riley Creek, the Hamilton team realigned the Parks Highway to upgrade a substandard curve and minimize traffic impacts during construction. The bridge was widened to accommodate left-turn access to the Park Road, and the shoulders were increased for pedestrian and bicycle traffic. Minor realignment of the adjacent pedestrian and bicycle path also improved travel for pedestrians and cyclists.

The contract was awarded in September 2014. In 2015, the project received AGC of Alaska’s Excellence in Construction Award for Transportation, Marine, Heavy, Earthmoving Between $5 million and $15 million. “This was a massive success not only for the owner but for the neighboring community and traveling public,” Szymik said.

Lauren Little, a Fairbanks-based project manager with the ADOT&PF, described Hamilton as a “great team partner” on the Riley Creek Bridge project. “We worked with (Hamilton Alaska project managers) John Szymik and Jesse Peterson on the design details and design optimization, then their guys went out and built it. We ended up with a really nice, high-quality product.”

Another notable project was the Glenn Highway Chickaloon Bridge replacement. Hamilton was the prime contractor on this three-span, precast bulb-tee girder-bridge. The 350-foot-long structure with a cast-in-place concrete deck required building a seven-span work bridge and driller slips.

“The schedule was extremely aggressive,” Szymik said. “Construction on the project started in mid-July 2015. From the start, it was a race with the weather to complete the shafts, pier columns and caps before the first winter shutdown. Our team set beams and poured the intermediate and end diaphragms in just a month of project time. This past construction season we placed the concrete bridge deck and completed all other major work items such as paving, striping, signs, guard rails, topsoil and seeding.”

Located about 20 miles east of Hamilton’s office in Sutton, the Chickaloon Bridge is a part of a strategy by the Federal Highway Administration to redesign portions of the Glenn Highway. It will be used by commuters, recreationalists and commercial truck drivers.

As any Alaska contractor can attest, working in the state isn’t always easy. Szymik and Peterson cite communication in remote areas, weather, lack of reliable services, limited transportation networks, distances between towns and barge schedules as common challenges. But a commitment to communication and autonomy has helped Hamilton maintain a track record of success in the 49th state.

“Our crews focus on the tasks of the day and understand expectations; they really take responsibility for their own safety and understand that help isn’t around the corner,” Szymik said. “We really have to be self-sufficient wherever we go and be prepared for all different types of scenarios.”

AGC of Alaska membership has played a role in Hamilton’s success as well. “It’s provided us an opportunity to network with other contractors, and AGC provides an avenue to address ‘global’ issues that affect all contractors such as permitting issues, specification changes and legislation,” Peterson said.

As for Hamilton’s future in Alaska, Szymik says it looks bright. “As Alaska grows and infrastructure ages — many bridges are nearing the end of their design life — larger, more complex projects will be advertised. We have been able to build great relationships with owners, other prime contractors and subcontractors in Alaska, and we look forward to growing those relationships.”

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