Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A Bit of South Korea in Austin, Texas

In 1996, Austin, Texas became home to South Korea's Samsung Semiconductor Corporation, which is one of the largest private employers in Travis county. And, just as all things are bigger in Texas, the 1.6 million square foot building--as large as nine football fields is not only the largest building in Austin, it is one of the largest single semiconductor facilities in the United States.

Samsung Austin Semiconductor produces Dynamic Random Access Memory (DRAM) chips - most commonly used in personal computers, workstations, servers. The US-chartered company is owned by Samsung Electronics, the giant $60-billion Korean high tech company, and is Samsung’s only semiconductor manufacturing facility outside of Korea.

But many do not realize that almost 20 years before Samsung moved to Austin, we had already imported one of our most beautiful landmarks from South Korea.

The Pennybacker Bridge in Austin, Texas bridges Lake Austin to connect north and south Loop 360 highway, also known as the "Capital of Texas Highway." The road is widely considered one of the most scenic urban drives in central Texas, in large part due to this arched weathering steel bridge and the rolling hills that flank the road.

The contract for the bridge was let in late 1979 and major structural steelwork was finished by July 1982. The bridge was dedicated officially November 29, 1982.

The bridge is named for Percy V. Pennybacker Jr., who designed bridges for the Texas Highway Department and was a pioneer in the technology of welded structures.

Pennybacker worked for the Texas Highway Department in the early 1900s designing bridges. He earned his civil engineering degree from the University of Texas at Austin. He served as a captain in the Army Air Service during World War I. After the war, he worked in Kansas and Texas. During World War II, he became interested in welded construction as an alternative to rivets. By promoting the use of welding for heavy stress bridge design, he is credited with saving the state of Texas millions of dollars. When he retired from the Texas Highway Department, he worked another three years for the city of Austin as a civil engineer.

Like his father, Percy suffered from diabetes. After spending a year in the hospital, he became one of the first patients treated with insulin. The family moved from Tyler to Austin in 1900. He married Mary Alice. A life-long and faithful Episcopalian, he helped found St. George's Episcopal Church in Austin.

The steel bridge has a uniform weathered rust finish allowing the bridge to blend in with the surrounding hills and lake. The 600,000,000 pounds (272,000,000 kg) of steel for the bridge were produced in Japan.

The bridge structures were fabricated in Ulsan, Korea by Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI). Yes they are the same Hyundai that produces the Kia automobile (they are the fifth largest auto maker in the world, producing 1.6 million cars per year). The Hyundai logo, a slanted, stylized 'H', is said to be symbolic of two people (the company and customer) shaking hands. Hyundai means "modernity" in Korean.

Hyundai Heavy Industries is also the world's largest shipbuilder company, headquartered in Ulsan, South Korea. Chung Ju-Yung founded the Hyundai Engineering and Construction Company in 1947.

But, I digress…

The steel structures for the Pennybacker Bridge were shipped on the Jundale freighter to the Port of Houston and then trucked to the bridge site. The bridge was erected by Bristol Steel of Bristol, Virginia. The roadway surface is built from 3,400 short tons (3,000,000 kg) of concrete. The finish was sandblasted to ensure even weathering for an amber patina. The construction was coordinated by Clearwater Constructors of Denver, Colorado. The bridge cost US$10 million to build.

The bridge is constructed such that no part of the structure touches the water 100 feet (30 m) below. The bridge is 1,150 feet (351 m) long with a 600 feet (183 m) central arched span. This design keeps Lake Austin free from support columns because the recreational lake (really a dammed stretch of the Colorado River) is popular with boaters and waterskiers. The untied arch suspension span is suspended by 72 steel cables. At the time of its construction, it was only the second bridge of its design in the world.

The bridge has four lanes, two in each direction, separated by a middle barrier wall. The bridge also has a six foot wide bike and pedestrian lane. The bike access on the bridge is one reason for Loop 360's popularity with cyclists. The south approach provides a turnaround under the bridge along with lake access for public boating.

The bridge won first place in the 1984 Federal Highway Administration's Excellence in Highway Design competition. In 1992, the Austin members of the Consulting Engineers Council of Texas were surveyed and selected the bridge as the most innovative example of Austin architecture.

And there you have the rest of the story.