Michael Ryan and the Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman team are building the Cayman Islands’ first engineered bridge.
Strange but true, it’s the only one on Grand Cayman that will have been designed to support four lanes of vehicular traffic over a body of water.
The reason for the scarcity of bridges is because there are so few watercourses that up until now, roads have been designed to go around, rather than over, them.
The Esterley Tibbetts Highway extension from the Hyatt Regency Hotel to the Courtyard Marriott Hotel requires a bridge to span a lagoon on the Ritz-Carlton property that connects the hotel to the North Sound. The bridge was part of the Ritz-Carlton development plans, and now the time has come for its construction.
‘I can say with confidence that it will be the most advanced road engineering project ever undertaken on the island,’ said Mr. Ryan, developer.
The design consists of a wide arch over the watercourse flanked by elliptical tunnels on either side to accommodate pedestrians and golf cart paths, allowing for a free flow of both marine and land traffic beneath the roadway between the golf course and golf course properties and the hotel.
The section of roadway that passes through the property will be shielded from view on both sides by embankments planted with lush vegetation and the section of roadway on the bridge itself will be screened with visual and noise barriers.
Mr. Ryan said lighting has also been taken into consideration and the stretch will use lower, more frequently spaced lighting that will be less intrusive on the Ritz-Carlton property while maintaining the safety of the roadway.
The site has been under preparation since March, and in response to increased pressure from the Cayman Islands Government, work has stepped up to complete the project by summer’s end.
‘I’ll have to say the Works Ministry has been very supportive of our work but also very clear in their expectations that we speed the process up to the extent that safety is not compromised,’ said Mr. Ryan.
They actually brought in a specialist, Mr. Michael Schnarr, who Mr. Ryan estimates has been working 16-hour days to make sure the job is done right.
‘We’ve made a lot of improvements thanks to him,’ said Mr. Ryan.
The bridge is a huge undertaking because of safety issues that must be addresses and construction considerations that require a complicated engineering process.
‘The quality of the soil is such that we need to drill down to the bedrock to install hundreds of concrete piles to support the bridge,’ said Project Director Lisa Sloley.
The piles are then capped with concrete slabs measuring about 90 feet in length and 40 feet in width on which the actual bridge will rest.
So far, the southern cap is two-thirds complete while the north cap’s piles are still being poured.
Once the caps are in, pieces of the arch will be set in place, bolted together at the apex and then backfilled with hundreds of tons of soil and gravel for strength.
‘The key then is that as the arch is set in place and backfilled, the more fill you put the stronger the structure gets, the more pressure you put on an arch the stronger it gets.’
The challenge will be to backfill evenly, so the pressure of the fill doesn’t distort the shape of the arch.
With about 60 workers on the site each day, the place is buzzing. But Mr. Ryan said there have been delays in construction.
Minister of Works Arden McLean cited on-Island resource challenges and global concrete shortages as the main contributing factors in slowing the bridge’s construction. Mr. Ryan wholeheartedly agrees.
‘The sheer volume of construction that’s going on here on Grand Cayman, makes things difficult,’ he says.
‘The thing that has been driving us crazy is that everyone on the island wants the same materials and equipment and we are all fighting to get it from the same sources on the island.’
Mr. Ryan cites delays in getting fill, delays in getting trucks to get to the fill, even competing with other projects over drill rigs.
Another key factor Mr. Ryan says is affecting the construction efforts is a worldwide challenge with concrete as a result of a global construction boom.
‘Unfortunately, the places you can buy it are limited, and the cement boat only comes to Grand Cayman every two weeks,’ he said.
‘The cement boat, I’m told, is only allowed to fill up at Cemex in a certain slot, and basically has no other slot, and everyone on the Island is at the mercy of this one boat.’
‘Camana Bay, the Island’s largest project is in the middle of its heavy concrete. We need it, government needs it to pour their channels for their services and all the other construction projects on the Island need it as well. You get the picture,’ he said.
Mr. Ryan also cited Island-specific problems, too.
‘The boat is late for five days, the drill breaks down, the guy’s on vacation who can fix it, the drill rig breaks and in the middle of it, we’re trying to push and push to meet the aggressive schedule set out by government.’
Mr. Ryan’s crew is doing everything possible to meet it, a challenge he admits he enjoys.
‘We are working at night, we have lights set up for that and early in the morning, the guys are out here at six, because as long as we can get concrete, we have to keep the guys out late. You never know when you’re going to get concrete.
‘Over the next two to three weeks, we’ll see huge movement,’ he said.
‘Once the piles are in place and the cement caps completed on the north section, we think it will take about 72 hours to put the bridge in,’ he said.