While the Southwest region is showing encouraging signs of recovery from the recession, and some companies are starting to increase staffing, it’s a poignant reminder that things are still not back to normal when a contractor with a major Arizona presence withdraws from the region.

That’s exactly what happened this week with Austin Bridge & Road, which announced it will close its Phoenix office this summer once existing contract work has been completed. “This is a downsizing move and is not an indication of Austin’s overall financial health, which is still very strong,” says Tim Muller, southwest regional manager for the Austin, Texas-headquartered company. “Our sister company, Austin Commercial, will remain here with its strong presence in the Southwest market.”

Austin Bridge & Road opened its Phoenix office in January 2006 and performed work in Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico. At peak, the company employed between 150 and 200 workers, with around 12 permanent salaried office personnel.

Most of the staff will stay on for the next four to five months, and some employees will be absorbed into the company’s other office locations and sister firms. “We are trying to keep them within the family,” Muller says, adding that he’s more concerned about finding positions for his team than what happens with his own position. “We’ve got some really talented folks,” he says.

crews are currently finishing up a $6-million design-build project for the FHWA on a control road between highways 87 and 260, and a $6- to $7-million roadway into the Twin Arrows Navajo Resort & Casino that is currently under construction in Flagstaff, Ariz. 

ENR Southwest presented Austin Bridge & Road with the Best Transportation Project award at the Best Projects 2011 in November for the Loop 303: Happy Valley Road to Lake Pleasant Parkway project in Peoria, Ariz. The engineer for the 5.35-mile roadway through virgin desert said it was a once-in-a-lifetime project. Construction required 8 million lb of reinforced steel, 341,300 cu yd of Portland cement concrete pavement and 20,306 tons of asphaltic concrete. Crews built three pairs of cast-in-place, post-tensioned, box girder concrete bridges, along with 12 precast, pre-stressed, AASHTO concrete girder bridges and nine box culverts.

Austin Bridge & Road’s team proposed an alternative value engineering idea for one of the bridge's bank protection structures, which ended up saving nearly $1 million. However, the difficult solution involved setting a 45-ft-long, 60,000-lb precast panel wall in 20 ft of water on a 56-degree slope, said Chance Raser, deputy project manager with Austin Bridge at the time of the award. "It required exceptional cooperation of Austin, ADOT and AZTEC to complete the concept from inception to completion,” he added.

Another Austin Bridge & Road project made headlines in Engineering News-Record last year. The firm built what is thought to be the only transit bridge in the world to cross over an active taxiway, a 740-ft-long cast-in-place bridge that is one of three bridges Austin built as part of a the SkyTrain project at Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix. Transportation editor Aileen Cho wrote:
"[The] original design called for the two 200-ft-long end spans to be built on falsework and post-tensioned; the falsework would be moved to build the 340-ft main span over the taxiway. Austin proposed building the entire bridge on falsework all at once. “We felt that it would be easier in terms of economies of scale,” says Tim Muller, Austin regional manager. “We could reduce some concrete quantities. … When you build the ends first, some temporary concrete sections would have had to be built.”
Working mostly at night within limited allowed periods of time, crews built 21 temporary bents as heavy as 100,000 lbs, towed them to the site by dollies, then erected them with the help of sand jacks, which are basically bags of sand that can be emptied or filled to adjust for height. The falsework then supported the box girders, which have depths of up to 17.5 in. The columns are supported on 8-ft-dia drilled shafts as deep as 90 ft, topped by 10-ft-thick pier caps."

Hopefully we’ll see the contractor make a return to the Southwest once the economy stabilizes. In the meantime, I'd like to wish the staff of Austin Bridge & Road–and the rest of the employees in our industry that have been impacted by the downturn–a soft and comfortable landing.

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