The $155 million 8.5 mi. (13.7 km), four-lane (two in each direction) U.S. Route 33 Nelsonville Bypass project was completed last October after breaking ground in 2007. The three-phase project, which was first proposed in the 1960s, represents the final leg of the corridor between Charleston, W. V., and Columbus, Ohio.
The bypass, commissioned by the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) with the contract awarded to Kokosing Construction Company Inc., replaced a section of U.S. 33 which passed through the middle of Nelsonville, Ohio. The new road cuts through the northern section of the Wayne National Forest (WNF), the only national forest in the state.
“At one point it was the largest dirt work project in the state and it was the largest stimulus project via the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA),” said Steve Williams, District 10 deputy director of ODOT in Marietta.
Close to 25 million cu. yd. (19 million cu m) of dirt was removed and about 21 million cu. yd. (16 million cu m) was recycled.
“Most of it was ballast,” said Williams. “Most of the cuts went into the fills. We had three dedicated waste areas where we placed the material that we didn't use for the fills.”
The bypass was built to eliminate the bottleneck and traffic delays that were encountered when the road passed through Nelsonville.
“The new highway saves an average of 10 to 15 minutes as opposed to when you had to travel through town,” says Williams, “and on Friday nights, it can save up to 45 minutes.
Because it cut through nearly 5 mi. (8 km) of forest land, the project raised a number of environmental concerns which required several environmental and biological assessments for ODOT.
“This meant we had to do a lot of things that we normally don't,” said William, “so there are numerous environmental and wildlife features on this project. There had been sightings of Eastern Timber Rattlesnakes and we built a snake crossing under the road and installed snake fencing to convey them. We also erected deer fencing along the entire bypass with deer jump-outs to funnel them off the highway and into the wildlife crossings.”
Minimizing the impact of road projects on wildlife is being taken more seriously by highway designers, which has led to greater dialogue between DOTs and environmental organizations.
“We consulted with other states on wildlife and environmental mitigation techniques, especially when it came to deer fencing and crossings,” said Williams. “We invested $10 million for all of the engineering and construction of these infrastructures.”
One of the bridges — there are four twin-span bridges up to 355 ft. (108 m) long and 42 ft. (12.8 m) wide — was built to protect the endangered Appalachian Grizzled Skipper butterfly.
“Research has shown that wildlife culverts and bridges are successful at keeping animals off the highway, as well as allowing them to move freely through their habitat,” said Williams. “We planted certain vegetation under the overpasses. This attracts the animals and helps facilitate the use of these wildlife culverts.”
He added that at this point, ODOT does not have any plans to install wildlife culverts or bridges along existing highways in the state.
The bypass does not cross any rivers and has had minimal impact on local streams and waterways. A 6 acre wetland was created to not only help improve the local aquifer, but also help promote ecological growth within the forest.
Although the project needed more than 600 acres of WNF land, ODOT helped offset the acreage loss by donating a total of 328 acres back to the forest.
“We had some parcels of land that we gave the forest and then we bought 248 acres that was adjacent to it,” said Williams. “We also gave them about 40 acres of old U.S. 33 that already runs through the forest — at the tail end, which they're going to use for parking and recreation.”
But the largest challenge for the project was dealing with very old abandoned coal mines under the roadway that operated in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The mines, which could not be accessed through their entrances as the shafts had collapsed, covered several mi. of the bypass.
“It was the largest mine mitigation project in the country at one point,” said Williams, “and on one phase of the project we spent $32 million to grout the mines. We had to drill down from anywhere between 20 and 120 feet as part of the operations.”
This project was instructive for ODOT, especially how important it is for cooperation when partnering with other agencies in terms of planning and getting all sides on board to secure approval, permissions, schedules and mitigation efforts.
“This bypass was talked about in 1965, so it took that long to get here,” he said. “Working with the WNF on this scale was new to us. It was definitely challenging at times, but we worked through it and in the end developed a very good partnership. Being a stimulus project, we had eight different government agencies with oversight on this project, so just partnering with them, getting the information that they needed was a major effort, but we had a pretty good system and no issues in that regard.”
The wildlife mitigation efforts and mining operations were monitored by other DOTS and are the subject of inquiries, including the Montana DOT in regards to the deer jump-outs.
“The WNF is taking this throughout the nation,” said Williams, “so every national forest authority will know what we've done at Nelsonville. It has been a great project for us and we had nothing but positive comments ever since.”
The efforts to ensure that the project was approved, he adds, were critical to the operations of the Kokosing Construction Company Inc., which won the contract to build the bypass.
Kokosing was awarded the contracts to build two of the three phases of the Nelsonville Bypass for a total contract amount of about $66 million. The dirt that was moved was utilized in the construction of the roadway embankments during the cut and fill operations. Approximately 7.8 million cu. yd. (5.96 million cu m) of rock was excavated and 5.5 million cu. yd. (4.2 million cu m) went into the embankments. The balance was distributed in designated areas adjacent to the projects.
For all three phases of the project, 207,215 sq. yds. (173,258 sq m) of concrete pavement and 150,230 sq. yds. (125,611 sq m) of asphalt pavement were used, as well as 1.1 million lbs. (521,054 kg) of reinforcing steel and 1.6 million lbs. (741,852 kg) of steel piling.
The asphalt was used primarily on the Kokosing phases.
“These were large earthwork projects,” said Andy Rhodes, Kokosing's project superintendent, who added that the company utilized two Komatsu PC 2000 hydraulic excavators. “There were some very large cut and fill areas and some stipulations on embankments, whether they had a select rock blanket at the bottom or stipulated fill-rates — only so many feet per-day and per-week to allow for the proper settlement of these large embankments.”
Kokosing installed settlement platforms and vibrating wire piezometers in some of the larger embankments to monitor the fills to determine the rate of settlement or pore pressure as required by ODOT.
“We have had other projects where we utilized the Komatsu PC2000,” said Rhodes, “but this was the first time where we had two of them on one project.
“It required a lot of pre-planning,” he added. “We had to plan where we were going with the excavation operations so the select embankment material was available at the right time to keep the construction sequence moving. We pride ourselves on our pre-planning and we did an effective job on that.”
Kokosing handled the blasting to clear the path which was based on knowing what type of rock was being encountered and the patterns of the rock.
“We do all that studying ahead of time to develop drilling and blasting patterns,” said Rhodes, “and it's challenging, but as long as you know where you are headed and able to stay in front of your excavation operations, things run smoothly.”
Maintenance issues were a priority and as the work proceeded 20 hours per-day (two shifts), the necessary staff was on hand to look after scheduled maintenance and unexpected breakdowns.
“We had one onsite full-time master mechanic, a night shift mechanic and a full-time lube and grease man,” said Rhodes. “We were running a lot of equipment and it required maintenance. We pride ourselves on our equipment tremendously. Just to keep up on normal routine maintenance and occasional wear and tear breakdowns took a staff of that size.”
Most repairs were done on the spot or when possible, taken to a lay-down area. Most of the equipment was not easy to transport, so taking it to one of Kokosing's permanent maintenance facilities was not an option. The onsite maintenance yard was set up with hose presses and other essential equipment to produce what was needed on site as much as possible. It also included a 15,000 gal. (56,781 L) fuel tank, storage sheds for spare parts, and an office trailer for the staff.
Rhodes added that each project is taken as an opportunity to hone the skills of all involved from top-to-bottom, which includes morning action plan meetings and in critical operations, operational hazard analysis where the full crew goes through the process so that we “all know what we are doing, where we are headed and in that way, they can identify all the known hazards. Safety of our employees is at the top of the list”
At peak construction there were about 65 Kokosing and subcontractors personnel on site.
“These were big projects,” said Rhodes, “but it didn't require a large workforce.”
About 20 subcontractors were brought in, including: Lyndco Inc. for traffic control; the M.P. Dory Co. for fencing and guardrails, signs and signal; Lake Erie Construction for seeding and fencing; Shelly & Sand Inc. for paving; Wampum Hardware for drilling and blasting; Vermilion Tree and Land Clearing Services for landscape planning; and Grout Systems Inc. for grouting and piling work.
“We always had a coordination meeting with our subcontractors as they came in,” said Rhodes. “We had quite a few contractors, but we primarily self-performed a lot of the work.”
Rhodes depended upon close cooperation between ODOT and the WNF to complete the project.
“There was extensive collaboration,” he said. “Environmental sensitivity was a big issue and we met that challenge head on and it's an experience that we are bringing to other projects that we are engaged in.”
Rhodes said that one of the most important lessons learned on this project was the need for understanding the relationship between the Wayne National Forest and Ohio Department of Transportation.
“It was the extensive teamwork and planning that led to a very successful project and coming up with win-win solutions that led us to deliver the project nine months ahead of schedule,” he said. “The road construction was not typical because of the abandoned mines, environmental sensitivities and the vast earthworks, but at the same time, it wasn't like working in a major metropolitan area where you have to worry about traffic issues and other obstacles.”
A third phase was awarded to Beaver Excavating Company to complete the new highway.
Scot McNabb, Southeast regional sales manager, Komatsu mining, and Ohio Komatsu dealer Columbus Equipment, dealt with Kokosing on the purchases and the use of the Komatsu Mining vehicles on the project.
“Kokosing has owned five PC2000s over the years and currently have three,” he said. “They have been a great repeat customer for us on the PC2000s and HD785-7 haul trucks. When a nationally recognized contracting firm such as Kokosing uses our products, it sends a very clear message to the industry that they see the quality of design and productivity we build into these machines.
“The PC2000-8 is a very productive performer for mining and construction projects when working in tandem with our HD785-7 100-ton trucks,” he said. “These two machines have the same basic engine configuration in our 12V140 engine, so the machines have many common filters that make stocking of parts/filters on the job much easier.”
McNabb stressed that PC2000 was designed for easy maintenance via its walk through maintenance corridor and easy access points.
“We couple the physical ease of access to all maintenance locations on the machine with what we call our KOMTRAX/VHMS system that totally monitors all functions on the machines at all times via satellite,” he said. “Kokosing is well versed with the system and they follow their fuel consumption, idle time, duty cycle and other critical machine functions from a computer via the Web. We have an alert for cautions that will pop up on the KOMTRAX system and send them an e-mail in real time, that allow owners' maintenance staffs to address an issue in advance before it could cause any unscheduled downtime for the machine.”
Komatsu also provides maintenance books and provides mechanics with factory sponsored training for repairs and regular maintenance, as well as update on parts and repair techniques.
“Updates to our parts, maintenance and service publications is an ongoing process through our service network,” said McNabb. “These are distributed to our dealers and customers alike electronically and also accessible on our site.”
After decades of planning, several years of construction and effective partnering, the U.S. 33 Nelsonville Bypass is open, providing motorists to southeast Ohio safer, faster and easier travel.