How to Build an Air Bridge
It’s bound to happen to you eventually, if it hasn’t already. You’re getting geared up for a project when you learn a pipeline runs through a critical area of your jobsite that you will have to cross.
Chances are you won’t be able to drive anything other than an F150 or equivalent size truck over it. In other words, you need an air bridge. An air bridge is a temporary bridge made out of road mats, usually over a pipeline. This post lays out how to build one step-by-step.
Building an Air Bridge in 4 Steps
Step 1 – Call 811
You probably know to call 811 (Before You Dig) before you start digging a construction site. It’s a great resource for any job near a pipeline.
When you call, give the approximate location of your job. Afterward, Before You Dig will send a crew to come to mark lines for you. They will also let all companies with lines or assets underground know you are working.
Keep in mind that they will not mark private water lines. You will need to talk with the land owner to see if any of those exist.
Step 2 – Contact the Pipeline Company for More Info
Usually when you reach out to the pipeline company, you’ll need to put in a request. Once you do this, it’s their responsibility to reach out to you within a set number of days.
When the pipeline company reaches out to you, you should be ready to with the following questions:
- What size vehicles or equipment can cross the pipeline without mats?
- What type and/or size of mats are needed for an air bridge?
- Is a gap needed between the ground and the mats over the pipe? If so, how high?
- For mats touching the ground, how far do they need to be from the center of the pipe?
- Does there need to be an inspector onsite while the bridge is being built?
Step 3 – Order the Appropriate Construction Mats for Airbridge Pipeline
Now it’s time to call up a road mat company and order the necessary mats for delivery.
When no gap is needed on the bridge, our road mat of choice is composite mats to keep the smoothest drive over the pipe. If a gap is needed, we recommend the bottom mats to be 12” crane mats for safety.
At this point, you need to decide if you will install the air bridge or if you will hire a mat company to do it. Generally a road matting company will do it faster, safer, and quicker than you will.
Step 4 – Build the Airbridge
When building the bridge, check with the inspector to see if you can pass over the pipeline while building it. Many will say no.
In this situation you will need to use a backhoe with a grabber tool to pick up and place the mats. Generally you will have two parallel mats on the ground, parallel to the pipeline. The pipeline company will let you know how far away those need to be from the center of the pipe. You will need to set them however many feet apart as needed to fit the mats on top.
For example, if you have 20’ mats as the bridge, you will need to have them 12’ apart. Since each mat is 4’ wide, there will only be 12’ of gap.
For the parallel mats, we typically use at least 12’ long mats. You may want to use longer depending how wide of a bridge you want to build. We recommend having the top mats go to the far end of each parallel mat to give as much support as possible to the top mat.
Now set the top mats on top. Set as many road mats on top to equal the required width of the air bridge.
Make sure to keep in mind the width of the equipment that will be passing over the bridge. Also keep in mind that operators may be tired or driving in rain when crossing. To be on the safe side, use at least 3 mats to give you 12” of width.
Finally, build yourself a ramp on each side. Get a few more mats, stack them up on each end like a stair step, and then take a laminated mat or composite mat to place on top for the steps to create a ramp.
We like to do both of the above steps with composite mats to give you the smoothest, safest ride. A cheaper alternative is to do dirt ramps on both ends. However, this is more dangerous when it rains or as the dirt starts moving from vehicles passing over it.