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Gulf Coast Pre-Stress: longer and stronger bridge components

Pass christian — Gulf Coast Pre-Stress Inc. (GCP) has won the Harrison County Economic Excellence Award for “Outstanding Industrial Business.” Again. The winner in 2004 has also received the award in several past years, reflecting a long list of civic, service and humanitarian involvement by its employees.

One of the things high on the list to achieve the award is community investment. And GCP is doing that by not only continuing to invest in their business, but also by having employees involved in volunteering for programs such as the Gulfport Exchange Club, the Gulf Coast Center for the Prevention of Child Abuse, the Long Beach Jaycees, the YMCA and the United Way.

The company got its start in 1969 working on the Jourdan River bridge. L&A Contractors of Hattiesburg created Gulf Coast Pre-Stress Inc. of Pass Christian to make bridge components that could be barged by water to the site.

“Harrison County had a new industrial park, and L&A set up a plant to make the pre-stress concrete right here,” said Max Williams, vice president of sales for GCP. “One of the top reasons for our success is our location. Our business is right on the water. We have our own tug boat, so we can deliver to just about anyplace with water access. Anytime there is water, there is a need for bridges, and big bridges need large piece of concrete.”

Milestones include in 1971 being awarded a contract to make all the concrete seats decks for the Superdome in New Orleans. Williams said that really helped spread the company’s name throughout Louisiana.

In the mid 1980s, GCP won the first in a series of contracts for the precast segmental bridge on the Interstate I-110 loop and elevated bridge in Biloxi, which led to a major expansion of the business.

In 1984, L&A sold the company to Raymond International, which did business all over the world. When that company went bankrupt in 1990, then general manager Q.D. Spruill formed a group of partners that purchased the company. The company has continued to grow from its original 18.4-acre site to 95 acres.

While access has been important, Williams also points to an experienced and dedicated workforce as a major force in the company’s success. All members of management from the president of the board down to the foremen in the yard have been with the company 30 years or more.

GCP also prides itself on research and innovation. In 2000, GCP invested $1 million in a new casting bed. Currently the company is one of only two in the U.S. that produces spun cast cylinder piles.

Because the company owns its own tow boat for delivery of products, it can ship pre-cast components far and wide. One of its biggest projects has been manufacturing components for the Millennium Bridge at the St. George Islands on Apalachicola Bay in Florida. The company provided all of the pilings, caps and girders at a cost of $18 million.

“Only a couple of other companies in the Gulf South could have done the St. George job,” said Mike Spruill, who took over as vice president and general manager of GCP when his father, Q.D. Spruill, retired. “We can pour as fast as any other company in the country because we have more forms than just about anybody else. Only a few can pour girders and piles as fast as we can. The Millennium Bridge is the largest cylinder pile job we have ever done and features some of the biggest products we’ve produced, including the most bulb-tee girder approach spans. It was a very successful job. A lot of new innovative things were done by us.”

Williams said over the years technology has improved so the products they make last longer.

“More and more highway departments, the Corps of Engineers and the Navy are expecting products to last 100 years,” Williams said. “They want to build 100-year bridges. The St. George Island Millennium Bridge had to be warranteed for 10 years when most bridges and roads are guaranteed for about a year, and that is it.”

The biggest research project the company has been involved in is working with what is called high performance concrete. In association with Tulane University and the Louisiana Department of Transportation, GCP produced concrete girders with strengths of 10,000 pounds per square inch (PSI), which is a very high strength ratio for pre-stress concrete.

“What that does is make bridges more economical because you can take some of the girders out,” Williams said. “You don’t need as many beams. Now instead of 50-foot spans, you can have a 100-foot clear span.”

Another innovation is post tension splice girders. A bridge over the Biloxi River in Gulfport uses these girders, which are valued because they are not steel, which tends to rust quickly in the marine environment.

“We wanted to replace the steel design, and see if we could save some money and time,” Williams said. “It worked well, and the popularity of spliced-girder bridges continues to grow.”

Current business for GCP is nowhere near the level of 2000 and 2001 level. Williams said things started going down in 2002 and 2003, and have been down for most of 2004.

“If you have read the news in Jackson, the highway department is singing the blues about the Legislature and governor taking away the highway money and putting it in the general fund to do something about the deficit,” Williams said. “The highway tax on gas is supposed to be for highways and bridges. They are robbing our business and the traveling public. In Louisiana, it is in their constitution that you can’t rob a dedicated fund like the highway fund. Mississippi has nothing like that. It is not against the law.

“Most of our work depends on the government: highways, bridges, ports and harbors. When there is less work, there is more competition resulting in cheap prices and little or no profit margin. But we think business is going to be picking up this quarter and in the first part of 2005.”

The company received a major contract recently to work on the Rigolettes bridge on U.S. 90 in Louisiana next to the Mississippi state line.

Currently, GCP maintains 22 multi-project casting beds over 400 feet long each, a large concrete slab area for match-cast and miscellaneous precast items and cylinder pile spinning and assembly areas. To supply concrete to all these beds, GCP also operates its own fully automated, computer-controlled, twin turbine central mix batch plant capable of delivering up to 600 cubic yards of concrete per day. Items cast may be steam cured to allow faster production and delivery. GCP’s location has access to 2,000 feet of bulkheaded dock area bordering on the Industrial Seaway, providing direct access to the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, which is eight miles south of the plant. A rail spur is adjacent to the plant, and Interstate 10 is approximately 15 minutes away. GCP uses its own tugboat, barges, and tractor trailers for land, sea and rail shipments to market points in every state in the Gulf South, plus South and Central America.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at bgillette@bellsouth.net.


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