Q.: Do you have any tips on how to bring an excavating crane onto a site where the access is narrow and where it is important not to do anything that might antagonize the owner of the neighboring property?
A.: Perhaps the neighboring owner would be willing to accommodate you. If you were to have a thorough discussion with the owner some plan might emerge that would be advantageous to everyone. Such an effort recently produced unexpected benefits for Del E. Webb Corporation's Chicago construction group. They ended up with permission to use part of a homeowner's yard during relocation and replacement of a 50-year-old rapid transit bridge.
The bridge to be replaced had actually been designed and built as a temporary timber structure but no provision had been made for later access to the site to construct a permanent bridge, and there was now a home and garage right on the property line. From the property line, the land sloped upward to the existing railroad track. That left a 12- to 14-foot strip of access land which differed by 10 feet in elevation from one side to the other. Furthermore, the curve in the tracks was to be eliminated, bringing them 15 feet closer to the existing home.
It did not seem wise, from a public relations point of view, to try to buy the house and demolish it to provide more access because people in this area, one of the oldest in Chicago, had a strong sense of community. Consequently, the Del E. Webb Corporation simply asked the homeowner about encroaching on his property. (The company had designed the project to be built in stages. This was to require excavating the 10-foot slope to make it level, place the concrete by pumping, and move other equipment on and off of the site as needed instead of having it all there at once. Nevertheless it would be necessary to drive a crane over the homeowner's driveway, thereby demolishing it, but not to destroy the home.)
The homeowner's reaction to the proposal was unexpected: he was mainly concerned that the contractor might trample a large lilac bush. So the contractor moved it by hand under the homeowner's supervision. Later the contractor completely replaced the driveway.
It is reported that although neighbors had been concerned initially about replacing the rustic-looking bridge, they actually caught the homeowner's spirit of cooperation and joined in offering refreshments to the construction crew. Fortunately, the new bridge resulted in less train noise for the neighborhood, since the straightened tracks eliminated the usual shriek of grinding wheels. Steel pilings driven into the new concrete retaining wall reduced the amount of train vibration through the house even though the tracks were 15 feet closer.
The Del E. Webb Corporation reports that the new bridge is a beautiful flowing structure and that it has been painted chocolate brown to complement neighborhood buildings and wooded river banks. But the important thing is that everybody got together and talked.