Term Paper: Project Management Successes at the Golden Gate Bridge

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¶ … narrow Bosphorus Strait or "Golden Horn" in Turkey by John Charles Fremont in 1846, the Golden Gate bay is more than a mile wide but engineers were convinced that a bridge was possible and plans proceeded to this effect during the early 20th century. Originally estimated to cost as much as $100 million to construct, the Golden Gate Bridge was completed for almost a third of that estimate ahead of schedule. In fact, although inclement weather conditions and other obstacles hampered construction, the Golden Gate Bridge was completed in less than 3-and-a-half years on May 27, 1937. The purpose of this paper is to deliver a review of the juried, scholarly and popular literature concerning the Golden Gate Bridge concerning the top management strategies and the cost estimation that were used in its construction. In addition, a discussion concerning the risk management strategies and duration of the project as well as engineering obstacles and barriers are also provided. Finally, an evaluation of the project's forecasting effectiveness is followed by a summary of the research and important findings about the Golden Gate Bridge project in the conclusion.

Project Management Challenges and Successes at the Golden Gate Bridge Project

In June 1846, the explorer and veteran of the Mexican-American War, John Charles Fremont, described the opening to "the great bay" in San Francisco and, drawing on his recollection of Turkey's narrow Bosphorus Strait or "Golden Horn" named the opening of the bay, Golden Gate (Fireman and Kale 9). On November 4, 1930, taxpayers approved a $35 million bond measure that was intended to fund the administration, engineering, and construction of the Golden Gate Bridge, but lawsuits over the financial arrangements of the project postponed the commencement of construction (Fireman and Kale 10). The Golden Gate Bridge was am ambitious project that was an important part of California's environmental reconfiguration through a series of major public work project that also included Shasta Dam, the Central valley Project, and a deep-water port at Stockton, all of which were widely regarded as being essential components for a modern infrastructure for the state (Fireman and Kale 10). This paper provides a review of the relevant peer-reviewed, scholarly and popular literature concerning the Golden Gate Bridge to identify the top management strategies that were used in its construction, its cost estimation, risk management strategies, the duration of the project and engineering obstacles and barriers. Finally, an assessment of the project's forecasting effectiveness is followed by a summary of the research and important findings about this major engineering project in the conclusion.

Top Management Strategies

In 1921, Joseph Strauss, the chief engineer of the Golden Gate Bridge project, recruited Charles Ellis to head the project team and subsequently assigned him to lead the bridge design and construction management for the project (Design and Construction 1). According to bridge historians, "In 1925, the newly constructed Board of Consultants examined Strauss' design and concluded that they were practical from an engineering standpoint and could be built" (Design and Construction 1). The original plans for the bridge conceptualized by Strauss in 1921 were subsequently replaced in 1925 with a design for the world's longest suspension bridge (Fireman and Kale 10).

The research that resulted in the new suspension design for the bridge was conducted by a group of consultants hired by Strauss, including the aforementioned Charles A. Ellis, who was design engineer for the Chicago-based Strauss Engineering Corporation; Leon S. Moisseiff, a prominent bridge theoretician; Othman Hermann Ammann, who was the designer of New York City's George Washington Bridge; and Charles Derleth, Jr., the dean of engineering at the University of California, Berkeley (Fireman and Kale 10). According to Fireman and Kale, "In 1929, the renowned Chicago-based theatre architect John Eberson (1875-1964) introduced Art Deco to the bridge's design, contributing to its final elegant form" (10). Besides being the longest suspension bridge in the world at the time, the Golden Gate Bridge also enjoyed other superlatives, including the world's tallest cable masts, highest and largest bridge towers, and greatest navigational clearance (Fireman and Kale 10).

Three main engineering strategies were used in the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge: (a) structural engineering, (b) construction engineering and Project Management and (c) geotechnical engineering which are described in Table 1 below.

Table 1

Engineering Strategies Used in the Construction of the Golden Gate Bridge



Structural Engineering

Structural engineering is a discipline of civil engineering that deals with the analysis and design phase of construction. The structural components of the Golden Gate Bridge required an immense amount of time. Everything from the overall design to the strength of the rivets had to be taken into account, resulting in an incredibly complicated structural analysis/calculations. As noted previously, there were no major calculators or design simulation programs. Everything had to be done by hand. The structural engineers had to account for the complicated external forces such as wind, ocean currents, weight loading and earthquakes that were inevitably coming. In such a project, the engineers in charge had to start by making sure a bridge across the strait was even structurally feasible.

Construction Engineering and Project Management

The complexity of the construction for the Golden Gate Bridge never ceases to amaze. The project was physically large, over water, and groundbreaking. This meant that the project was broken up into distinct larger stages that consisted of numerous smaller projects. The construction lasted roughly four years. Not all of the materials were made on site; therefore some project managers were required to be off-site, coordinating shipments. The north approach tower was constructed first because of earthquake concerns. Construction of the south tower followed, and then the roadway/span was built between the two towers.

Geotechnical Engineering

The geotechnical aspect of this project, while fairly minimal, plays an important role in function and design. Because of the region and proximity to a fault line, the Golden Gate Bridge had to be able to withstand earthquakes. To allow for these hazards, engineers needed to over-design to ensure a greater factor of safety. Because of this, the foundations in all areas needed to be stronger and deeper. The coastal connections were excavated to allow for deeper foundations and geotechnical engineering was very much a part of this.

Source: Adapted from Design and Construction 5

Cost Estimation

The costs of constructions the Golden Gate Bridge were originally estimated at around $100 million, but revised design and planning reduced the price to a more manageable $35 million which the Bridge and Highway District funded through a bond measure that was approved fully one year into the Great Depression (Design and Construction 5). According to Ruiz, "On November 4, 1930, voters within the recently designated Golden Gate Bridge and Highway District went to the polls and put up their homes, farms and business properties as collateral to support a $35 million bond issue to finance the bridge" (2). The construction surety bond for the bridge was underwritten by Fireman's Fund for the enormous amount of money (Ruiz 2). The bond was purchased in 1932 by a sole investor (Design and Construction 5). In this regard, the WGBH Educational Foundation reports that, "By the time Strauss had public support and a bridge design in hand, the nation was plunged into the Great Depression. With no bank or bond house willing to buy bonds for the bridge, Strauss's project faced ruin" (Golden Gate 7). The sole investor that saved the day was A.P. Giannini, a banker that recognized the importance of the project to the city's future growth. As WGBH points out, "In desperation, he turned to A.P. Giannini, founder of a small bank that would grow into the Bank of America. The civic-minded Giannini saw the need and bought the bonds" (Golden Gate 7). Some indication of the amount of money involved in this project can be discerned by extrapolating the more recent costs for such an enterprise, and if the Golden Gate Bridge had been built in the 21st century, the construction would have cost more than $1.2 billion (Design and Construction 6).

Risk Management

Having the construction bond that financed the Golden Gate Bridge project insured by the reputable Fireman's Fund served to promote public confidence in the project (Ruiz 5). In addition, during the era in which the Golden Gate Bridge was constructed, the industry standard indicated that that would be a loss of life for every million dollars spent; however, the project head, Strauss, took an unprecedented measure to help keep workers safe. In this regard, Stansen reports that, "Hard hats were required. And Strauss insisted on one feature that was at the time completely novel: A safety net" (4). As shown in Figure 1 below, at a cost of $130,000, the safety net was a major expenditure but Strauss was insistent on its deployment and succeeded in getting it approved by the bridge project's board of directors (Stansen 4). During the course of the bridge's construction, the safety net was responsible for saving 19 men's lives who referred… [END OF PREVIEW]

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