For a large construction company such as Buffalo New York’s Concrete Applied Technology Corporation, or CATCO, widening a road to accommodate a mandated center turning lane, and in preparation for an expected 3 percent annual increase in traffic volume, is a project that falls well within the range of “business as usual.”
In the case of a 8,530-ft. (2,600 m) section of Buffalo’s Niagara Falls Boulevard, there were a couple of additional challenges thrown in with the job. One was the fact that for the widening to take place, 4,921 ft. (1,500 m) of a creek needed to be relocated, and life needed to go on for the businesses and people living on both sides of the road and creek during the relocation.
Another added challenge was the environmental concerns involved in relocating the wildlife that inhabited Sawyer Creek. In addition, the weather posed a problem.
“We actually checked the records and we saw that the last time it had rained that much during the period between Labor Day and October had been 100 years ago,” said Mike Nassoiy, CATCO’s supervisor on the job.
The creek water levels were 8 to 9 ft. higher than normal and the soil turned too soft to work. The window of opportunity was getting pretty tight as certain stages of the project needed to be completed by the end of December to keep the job on schedule.
“The Army Corps of Engineers was very clear on the need to relocate the creek using a very specific process and to very specific parameters,” said Nassoiy.
“The terms on the permit spelled out that the wildlife in the creek was to be carefully removed, and in addition, we were asked to move two feet of sediment at the bottom of the ’old’ creek and use it to line the bed of the newly dug one so that the vegetation could take root and the fish and turtles would feel at home.”
“The fish were easy. We used nets to catch them and then we’d release them in the newly excavated, lined and flooded sections. What was more challenging were the turtles,” said Nassoiy.
Apparently the CATCO crew members were a bit intimidated by snapping turtles that were 3 ft. and larger and had to rely on their expertise operating the Cat wheel loaders to load the turtles into the bucket and gently but safely transport the creatures to their new home and release them, he explained.
Before any machinery hit the ground, a lot of work had already been done, planning the strategy for the job and making sure all the pieces were in place.
“The contract was awarded February 6 of 2006, and by the end of March we broke dirt and what followed was pretty intense,” said Nassoiy.
According to Nassoiy, the job was divided into three phases — the building of driveway structures (23 in total), creek relocation and paving a new lane — each of which involved many different steps and required the crews to push themselves, and their Cat equipment, achieving ambitious schedules.
“We knew if we needed anything as far as parts or a different worktool, whatever it was, the Milton CAT guys understood how tight things were and they never let us down,” said Mike Salvador, CATCO founder and owner.
The project was comprised of the following phases:
Phase One — June to September
The building of new driveway structures over the future creek location so businesses and homeowners would never lose access to Buffalo’s Niagara Falls Boulevard while the creek was being relocated.
• Build new driveway structures, including culverts, footers, beams and end walls.
• Backfill and “jog” creek at each new driveway location.
• Open new driveway structures one at a time.
• Remove the old structures.
According to Nassoiy steps one and four took four weeks, and the process was repeated 23 times.
Phase Two —
September to December
The relocation of the creek was done in 800-ft. (244 m) sections taking three to four days.
• Dig new creek bed between each new driveway structure.
• Line new bed with 2 ft. (.6 m) of sediment that had been removed from the bed to existing creek.
• Fill old creek bed to build a base for the fifth highway lane to be added. Six ft. (1.8 m) of stone and crushed remains of old driveway structures were used to accomplish this task.
• Open up the bulkhead dam to release the water into the new bed with the help of gravity.
The final preparation and paving of the added lane is scheduled for June after all utility poles have been moved and the service lines have been transferred.
Throughout the months of intense work, the CATCO project crew, equipment and support teams finished their work on time and to the satisfaction of all concerned.
“I will never forget the times that the excavator operators would come across turtles that had burrowed themselves into the creek mud, and how the operators, with a light touch, would pick the turtle up with the excavator bucket and place him on the bank,” said Tom Skummer, New York State Department of Transportation Engineer and Project Manager.
“CATCO relocated the creek in an efficient and timely manner, keeping a wary eye on the weather and the problems that it brought to the project, as well as being cognizant of the environmental guideline established by all the government agencies involved. They did a great job,” Skummer concluded.