PDCA project spotlight: new Cruise Pier 3, San Juan, Puerto Rico



Jennifer Raymond, Lester Publications, on behalf of the Pile Driving Contractors Association (PDCA), Gainesville, Florida, USA


Tourism revenue is very important to the Puerto Rican economy. A big part of that revenue is derived from the cruise ship industry. Competition between the various cruise lines is growing very intense as they continue to put more and larger ships into their fleets. These upgrades to the fleets often require upgrades to port facilities.

To meet the growing need, Cruise Pier 3 was commissioned by Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines and the Puerto Rico Ports Authority. The project involved the construction of a pilesupported pier in the bay at Old San Juan, Puerto Rico.

The design for the new pier utilised a curved deck to neatly accommodate two cruise ships simultaneously and a fabric canopy over 100' high that resembled the sails of a vintage sailing ship. The new structure would also allow Royal Caribbean to accommodate the largest ships they currently have under design and the Puerto Rico Ports Authority the opportunity to attract additional cruise ship traffic to San Juan. The new facility would also provide increased revenue for Royal Caribbean, the Ports Authority and the people of Puerto Rico.

The project owners contracted with QB Construction, S.E. of San Juan to construct the new pier. PDCA member Continental Construction Company, Inc of Memphis, Tennessee was awarded a subcontract to furnish and install the driven piles and construct the concrete deck.

Getting underway

The project started in March 2004 with the mobilisation of test piles from the US mainland for the on-site Test Pile Installation/ Testing Programme. By the end of the following month the test pile installations, PDA analyses, static compression, and tension tests were completed and production piles were ordered. The actual first load of production piles arrived and installation began the first of June 2004.

Over the next five months, the production piles were driven with one rig while a second barge-mounted crane constructed the concrete pier. Approximately 470, 18″x18″ prestressed concrete piles, 105' in length, were driven with a hydraulic impact hammer.



Obstacles had to be overcome early in the project. There was no supplier on the island capable of providing the project with the required prestressed concrete piles. The piles, weighing approximately 8,300 tonnes, had to be cast on the US mainland and shipped by barge to San Juan.


Rodney Waits, Vice President of Continental Construction stated, “The logistics of this operation were made even more difficult by the fact that almost all of the piles, which were cast in Tampa, FL and barged to San Juan, were produced and transported during the height of 2004’s very active hurricane season.” He also noted that in the end it was “good fortune” that allowed the project to stay on track and completed without any serious damage from the storms.


Almost all of the driven piles were installed on a batter to accommodate the lateral loads imposed by ships, wind and earthquakes. Water depths at the site ranged from 15' to 40' and mud depths ranged from 5' to 30'. Continental Construction constructed a two-tier template to position the piles and accommodate the various, required installation angles.

The new pier was constructed near the site of a previous pier. Based on their review of the geotechnical report, Continental Construction expected some interference problems. However, it turned out that the sea floor was littered with debris both at and below the mudline. Continental Construction worked closely with the construction manager, QB Construction SE and structural engineer, Ray Engineers PSC, to work through the conflicts by relocating piles, adding piles or redesigning portions of the pier.

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