Illinois Tollway Uses Giant Crane to Lift Massive Beams into Place on I-294 Bridge
It takes skill and specialized equipment to gently lift beams weighing up to 89 tons and measuring up to 145 feet long into place on a bridge the Illinois Tollway is building as part of its $4 billion reconstruction of the Central Tri-State Tollway (I-294).
To make the job even more complex, the beams had to be carefully raised into place over Union Pacific Railroad tracks and Metra tracks, while minimizing any interruptions to rail service on the train tracks.
That’s why the Tollway brought in the super-sized Liebherr LR 1500 crawler crane, which has a boom that can stretch more than 500 feet long to safely handle the heavy lifting needed to construct the bridge.
The long reach of the 600-ton crane—for this project its boom length was about 260 feet—was critical because it allowed the crane to be assembled on I-294 near the south bridge abutment, where it could still reach and safely lift the hefty beams needed to complete the northern and southern spans of the bridge.
Placing the crane up on the roadway and using its extended boom to do the heavy lifting, instead of on the ground below near the five UP railroad tracks, kept the bridge work moving without unduly slowing rail traffic.
The massive crane began working on the bridge earlier this year, raising 16 beams into place on the new bridge south of O’Hare International Airport before completing its work in mid-July.
The work is part of the project to widen and reconstruct 22 miles of I-294 between Balmoral Avenue in Rosemont and 95th Street in Oak Lawn, while also reconfiguring major interchanges with the Reagan Memorial Tollway (I-88) and I-290. Once completed, the project will ease traffic congestion, improve safety and increase access to local communities along I-294.
Transporting the machine to the work site was a complex job in itself, requiring about 35 semi-tractor trailers to haul the crane, boom, counterweights and the crawler tracks that allow it to propel itself into position to raise the beams.
But once it was assembled, the crane more than pulled its own weight: Even the heavy beams needed for the bridge were no match for the crane’s 550-ton lifting capacity.
While it was the first time the super-sized crane has been used by the Tollway during its 15-year Move Illinois capital program, it may not be the last time. With work still proceeding on the new I-490 Tollway and the $4 billion Central Tri-State Tollway Project, engineers may still bring the crane back for an encore.