With 1,938 illuminated panels spanning the length of three football fields, the recently completed south canopy of the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is a sight to behold. The brilliant spectacle, which soars 73 feet above the domestic terminal at its highest point, captivates 75,000 travelers who pass beneath it daily as well as astronauts who pass over it in space.
But the real story might be how little attention the massive canopy gained during construction, thanks largely to Bennett’s deft delivery of the 39 steel trusses—each in five pieces—without interrupting airport operations, which amazingly remained open throughout construction.
Threading traffic and travelers at the world’s busiest airport.
Satisfying the client’s main concerns was no easy task. Bennett had been hired by Beck Steel who had been hired by NSMS, the joint venture heading the project. NSMS was determined to avoid any project delays or interruptions to travelers. Toward that end, they used cutting-edge construction methods that were exacting. In an Engineering News-Record article, Dan Hobson, the project director for NSMS states, “The rigging and erection plan was all computer-generated. Each pick was mapped out, from location of the crane to the swing radius.”
All this meant Bennett had to be on its game on every run by meeting a narrow delivery window during off-peak airport hours and coordinating flawlessly with the construction team in charge of unloading and welding the pieces together.
In all, Bennett moved 1,750 tons of steel in an unusually complex operation. Hobson says,
“We joke that we don’t have a construction project with logistics, but a logistics project with construction.”
Coordination and communication were crucial for success.
Over the course of several months, the Bennett team hauled the steel loads to Atlanta from Beck Steel’s plant 1,150 miles away in Lubbock, Texas. Drivers would make the 4-5-day trek over secondary roads, and then have to nail the delivery to the airport during the specified non-busy time window. Lots of things could go wrong as drivers passed through Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia (and often did) which makes Bennett’s coordination with NSMS all the more impressive.
Bennett did it by establishing a routine whereby the drivers were in constant communication with the NSMS superintendent throughout the haul. Once the driver reached the Georgia-Alabama border 50 miles from the airport, they would pause for the night. That way, the final leg could be timed precisely for the waiting construction crew.
Experience helped in hauling these wide loads.
Even for veteran haulers of so-called “super-loads,” the 19’x60’ long steel trusses required some problem-solving to load and secure. According to Adrian Mumphrey, one of the two lead drivers on the project, loading each truss took four forklifts lifting simultaneously to place the truss into the rack on the trailer. For the job, Bennett used special flatbed stretch trailers that can extend to 80 feet.
In handling and hauling the unwieldy truss sections, Bennett applied years of expertise transporting oversized loads regionally and nationally. Robbie Stephens, Client Services Director for the project says, “We move large loads like this on a pretty regular basis—especially across the Southeast and into Texas. Our air and space businesses have some large stuff, similar to this that comes out of Decatur, Alabama. We run a lot of it out West to California. So there is a certain degree of knowledge and prior experience, and you try to work off of that knowledge.”
Transporting the trusses posed unusual challenges.
Because of the extreme width, the loads were not allowed on the interstates. That meant drivers had to use secondary roads for the most part. In some areas, they were only allowed to drive at night. Civilian escorts were required throughout the entire journey, and local police escorts were required in every state except for Texas. It was a good thing, too. Their assistance proved invaluable. Unexpected roadwork, downed trees and broken-down vehicles were often waiting for Bennett drivers on these hauls. Even though the routes had been surveyed prior to the drives, the team found themselves in situations where they had to reroute on the fly. In these instances, the escorts would scout ahead for alternates and then the team would work together to find solutions.
Mumphrey relays one story that took place during a night haul in Alabama. The team was met by a driver coming from the opposite direction who warned of a bridge that was out up ahead. The escorts rushed off to find an alternate route and identified one with a very narrow bridge. After measuring its width, they determined there would be only 3 inches of room to spare on each side of the cargo. In an all-hands operation that lasted an hour, the team inched the truck, trailer and load over the bridge without a scratch or incident.
A team victory through and through
Bennett relied on a duo of drivers, Bobby Liveoak and Adrian Mumphrey, for the bulk of the hauls. Both are qualified by Bennett’s grading system to haul “super loads” like this. Stephens says consistency worked in Bennett’s favor on the project. “I’m a believer in that you don’t want to slip different drivers in and out if you can keep the same guys on it because they’re going to know the nuances of routes and things like that,” he said.
The driver and escort teams remained intact on most hauls, which proved to be a benefit. Mumphrey says,
“The key to success was everyone pulling together and communicating…we all became like a family—the police officers, constables in Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia—we all became very close on a personal level.”
The secret to always getting to the airport on time.
Prior to the project, the Bennett team sat down with the superintendent for the job and established a protocol that met the timetable and kept blood pressures low. Robbie describes the way it worked, “The superintendent interfaced with our drivers and was very in touch with communicating with them. He insisted that they run to him directly, and that seemed to work for him. He liked the idea of knowing where they were at from day to day and the fact that they would be at the Alabama-Georgia line to start the day of delivery.”
Achieving success on every level.
In the end, the final score of this enormous undertaking was 0 claims, 0 accidents, 0 injuries and 2 happy clients. Of major importance to Bennett was that Beck Steel was able to count on the drivers to take care of their client, NSMS. Stephens says, “I think he (the superintendent) was happy with them. We didn’t have any need to replace any of them at any time. Repetition builds that relationship—you’re not seeing or hearing from a different driver every week. You get to really know the guy and it builds confidence.”
Trust is the ultimate measure of success, and as a result of the safe and timely transport of the trusses for the south canopy, the Bennett team deepened its bond with Beck Steel. After partnering with Bennett on the Atlanta Airport project and prior Mercedes-Benz Stadium project, the steel fabricator is in communication with Bennett for third job in Southern California.
Bennett relishes the rewards of a wide load, well-hauled.
Bennett’s role as the go-to carrier in two of Atlanta’s latest architectural achievements has instilled pride throughout the organization. Bennett driver and Atlanta resident Adrian Mumphrey puts it perfectly, “I’m honored to have played a part in that. When my child saw the canopy for the first time, I’m like, ‘That’s what daddy did!’”
Bennett brings the right equipment and the best know-how in the business to the heaviest and largest transports in the U.S. For more information on Bennett’s heavy haul and flatbed trucking services for everything from farm equipment and armored vehicles to the Atlanta Falcons statue at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, visit https://www.bennettig.com/transportation-services/heavy-haul-trucking/