Review of the year, Josh Fletcher

We recently said goodbye to Josh Fletcher, who joined the Trust on secondment for a year as Assistant Supervisor to the Rochester Bridge Refurbishment Project. He was an invaluable member of the team, and here he looks back on some of the highlights from his year.

I joined the Rochester Bridge Trust as part of the site team, which is a huge change from my normal occupation as an office-based design engineer at Tony Gee and Partners. It was a fascinating challenge and a great opportunity to work collaboratively with the contractor on all elements of the works, including underdeck repairs, steel strengthening and the reconstruction of the Rochester Esplanade highway.

This included aiding with the supervision of the above deck works on the New Bridge. As this was a critical part of the programme, we were required to quickly react to evolving site conditions as elements of the crossing provided a few surprises – something that’s inevitable when working on older structures.

It meant we were continually reacting to site changes, having to respond in a limited timeframe while ensuring the safety and quality of the end product was not compromised. However it wasn’t as straightforward as focusing on one change at a time, as there were a number of project constraints that increased the complexity of the works.

In particular, the Trust was determined to cause as little disruption as possible, which meant everything was arranged around traffic management above and below deck to ensure foot, road and river traffic could keep moving. Whereas on another site the area would simply be closed, that was not an option here. It required a lot of co-ordination between all parties involved in the project.

Supervising work on such a complex project as three estuary bridges, one of them a heritage structure, meant we all also needed a good breadth of knowledge about the site and the programme: one day we could be responding to technical queries about concrete composition and waterproofing methodology, the next we could be reviewing street lighting arrangements. These were things we had to know a good deal about from the start, because there would be limited time to research each element once the work was under way.

One of the most satisfying elements of the project was the weekend resurfacing of the New Bridge, when it went from looking half complete to almost finished within the space of 48 hours. The relief at completing this constantly evolving section of works was palpable. That the end product was a continuously laid surface with no longitudinal joints meant the finished product looked impressive too.

Every engineering scheme offers its own lessons and the Rochester Bridge Refurbishment Project was no exception. Working on site in day-to-day contact with lead contractor FM Conway was a huge change from my normal occupation as an office-based design engineer as the site experience is very different. It was useful to approach a project from an alternative perspective, in particular seeing how contractual arrangements can impact on how a scheme is approached and completed.

In some ways my personal learning was actually about simple details: seeing the run of the drainage and witnessing the installation of kerbing and surfacing and how the different details interface with each other. These are simple things but they could create long-term issues if they were done incorrectly. Being out and about and engaging with the personnel responsible for the work was also a good experience.

I was one part in a large team which worked as a coherent unit to deliver this project in a challenging environment. This included the impact of Covid-19 and the additional distancing safety measures that were required, and it has been quite an achievement to see the project through to completion.

Now I’m back at Tony Gee I’m pleased to be able to put this experience to good use on future projects. My time with the Rochester Bridge Trust is complete, its impact on my work will be long-lasting.

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