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Bishop Ford Freeway Rehab Hits Round 3

Fri November 13, 2009 - Midwest Edition
Lori Lovely

For the third time in 20 years, Mike Myszkowski, Illinois Department of Transportation engineer, is resurfacing the Bishop Ford Freeway just outside of Chicago. In 1989, a “surface fix” was performed, putting down a 2-in. (5 cm) layer of asphalt. In 1998, the work needed to be repeated, due to wear caused by heavy traffic. Nearly 10 years later, the road once again needs repair.

The current rehabilitation project involves resurfacing all lanes and shoulders of the 9-mi. (14.5 km) stretch of freeway between Martin Luther King Drive and 159th Street, as well as pavement patching, bridge repairs, new guardrail installation and exit/entrance ramp resurfacing — including the Stony Island Feeder Ramp.

One of nearly 250 “shovel-ready” construction projects in Illinois, the $27.5 million job, funded by the Stimulus Plan — President Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, is a joint venture headed by Chicago area-based Gallagher Asphalt and K-Five Construction. Let in April, work got underway quickly, with crews starting work on May 11.

Holy Highway Work, Batman!

Formerly known as the Calumet Expressway, the Bishop Ford Freeway is named after Chicago religious activist Bishop Louis Henry Ford, who preached in Chicago for 40 years and presided over the Church of God in Christ. He died in 1995.

The southside roadway is a portion of Interstate 94 that runs from Interstate 57 south to the intersection with Interstates 80 and 294 (the Tri-State Tollway) and Illinois Route 394. It turns into the Dan Ryan Expressway to the north and the Kingery Expressway to the east of the Tri-State Tollway.

The Bishop Ford is the only toll-free freeway-grade road in the greater Chicago area with the designation of freeway. All the others – Dan Ryan, Kennedy, Edens, Stevenson, Eisenhower, Elgin-O’Hare, Kingery and Borman – are called expressways, a Chicago colloquialism.

As the main link between Chicago and northwest Indiana, it sees heavy traffic, the majority of which, according to IDOT’s Marisa Kollias, is truck traffic. Originally constructed in 1962, the Bishop Ford is one of many aging roadways in need of refurbishment.

On the Surface

Twenty years ago when Myszkowski first worked on the Bishop Ford, the asphalt mix was very different. It would “rut heavily under stress from truck traffic,” he said. Today, the stone matrix asphalt mix used on the project is designed to last longer, with no ruts. The new mix doesn’t separate. Therefore, there are no “pockets” in the new surface that lead to pot holes and ruts. Another improvement is the material’s skid resistance. “We’ve been using it on the expressways for about 10 years. It performs very well.”

One ironic twist in using the new mix, however, is that takes longer to apply. Although pavers used to go 40 to 50 ft. (12 to 15 m) per minute, crews on the Bishop Ford are going 20 ft. (6 m) per minute. “You can’t go as fast with this mix,” Myszkowski explained. “Quality comes first.”

The slower speed doesn’t mean work takes twice as long, though. Transfer devices — shuttle buggies — are used to haul the mix from the plant and dump it into the pavers. Because the pavers are moving more slowly, the shuttle buggies are able to keep up with them so they never have to stop.

In addition to the typical pavers and rollers on a road construction job, the Bishop Ford project requires a three-wheel roller. The older model was brought back, Myszkowski said, because the new asphalt mix demands static rolling rather than vibrating. The older roller’s 85-in. (215 cm) deck helps speed the process.

Approximately 90,000 tons (81,650 t) of the asphalt mix will be used on the 9-mi. roadway, with a different mix being concocted for the shoulders. Myszkowski explains that one 3-mi. (4.8 km) section south of the steel bridge at 142nd Street will get a 4-in. (10 cm) base, while the rest of the freeway will get a 2-in. (5 cm) base. Because that 3-mi. stretch is more deteriorated, he said crews had to strip all the old asphalt off down to the concrete. On the rest, crews are milling off 2 in. before repaving.

Scheduled Closings

When you remove asphalt, Myszkowski continues, you have to do it twice. “You can only take off two inches at a time because you don’t want too much difference between lanes. It’s a safety issue.” That’s why crews are doing all asphalt work at night. The road is open to traffic during the day, although some lanes remain closed during the day for center median construction and guardrails replacement. Bridge work also is being done in “staged construction,” while one lane is closed.

It’s a unique project, according to Myszkowski, because of the schedule, which calls for nighttime and weekend lane closures, with some single-lane configurations, since much of the work will be done in the overnight hours. He explains the reason: “We can’t put [three lanes of traffic] into one lane until late at night.” However, crews have to be completely off by 5 a.m. A 90-minute tear-down shortens the nighttime working hours.

During weekday rush hours, they’re trying to maintain three lanes of traffic in each direction. However, Myszkowski said they are allowed to close one lane. And, in fact, in some sections, traffic has been reduced to two lanes for months. Traffic along the Stony Island feeder ramp has been reduced to one lane in each direction intermittently, as have exit and entrance ramps at 111th, 115th, 130th, 147th and 159th streets, although ramps are not being closed concurrently.

The DOT has alerted travelers that long-term lane closures are necessary to complete bridge, patching and median work at various locations and times and to expect delays or seek alternate routes and public transportation.

All closures are weather-dependent, as is the schedule. Myszkowski explained that if it’s raining at 8 p.m., they aren’t allowed to put up lane closures for the entire night. “It’s a safety issue. We don’t take chances on an expressway.”

Weather also affects delivery of the asphalt mix, which requires a two-hour curing period at the plant. Approximately 400 tons (362 t) is mixed in each batch and sits in a silo, curing, for two hours before being hauled to the work site. It is replenished as paving progresses. But short hours on night jobs force Myszkowski to play weatherman. “We fight the battle: do we make the mix? We hate to make it if we have to cancel a pour because of weather. That hurts our budget.”

Weather permitting, the majority of the work this time around is expected to be completed in the fall of 2009. A mostly dry summer has helped keep them on schedule, so Myszkowski anticipates finishing on time. Additional nighttime lane closures will be necessary in the spring of 2010 to complete the project.

Continued Cooperation

Lane closures have increased congestion on this heavily traveled stretch of road. Kollias said the DOT has worked exhaustively to get the word out to impacted municipalities (Chicago, South Holland, Calumet City and Dolton) and travelers through message boards, press releases and various news outlets, issuing updates on traffic changes as work progresses.

“They’ve done a great job getting the word out,” Myszkowski said. “There’s been a positive response. People are aware of the work and taking alternate routes.” Even crewmembers have been forced to find alternate routes. More than 100 workers are onsite during the two shifts.

Myszkowski said he looked for side routes to get asphalt in quickly. He said it’s worked out well — the best he’s seen it of all the times he’s worked on the Bishop Ford. He expects this to be his last time resurfacing the freeway, noting that the 10-year design of the new matrix should last until he retires. “If you can get 10 years out of a bituminous job with the kind of weather and traffic we have up here, it’s outstanding.” CEG

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