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Crews Begin Second Phase of I-96 Project

Thu July 20, 2006 - Midwest Edition
Lori Lovely



Kent County, MI, has been waiting for a new interchange at Interstate 96 and 36th Street in Cascade Township since November 2003, when the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) began working on a design.

By October 2006, county residents should see the final results of the $30-million project that included concrete freeway reconstruction of 2.12 mi. of I-96 between Grand Rapids and Lansing, ramp extensions, five new structures, temporary median and ramp crossovers, ramp work drainage improvements and detention basins, retaining walls, a wetland mitigation bank, traffic signals, signing and pavement markings.

Interstate 96 spans Michigan, linking Muskegon, Grand Rapids, Lansing and Detroit.

The freeway replaced the original U.S. 16, which used to cross a ferry from Milwaukee to Muskegon, then ran southeast toward Detroit. It was decommissioned when I-96 was completed — standard practice in most parts of Michigan.

Originally, I-96 was to begin at the Michigan-Indiana state line with Interstate 94. At Benton Harbor, I-96 would split from I-94 to follow its current path to Grand Rapids. At Grand Rapids, I-96 would turn onto its existing alignment toward Lansing and Detroit.

The 1960 Rand McNally Road Atlas maps of Indiana and Michigan show how both Interstates 96 and 196 were initially routed, but it was altered later in the 1960s, when I-196 took over I-96 between I-94 at Benton Harbor and I-96 in Grand Rapids. I-96 was redefined to begin in Muskegon.

“MDOT is once again making a major investment in transportation in west Michigan,” said Grand Region Engineer Roger Safford. “This new interchange will provide improved access to the Gerald R. Ford International Airport and help alleviate traffic congestion on other state and local roads in the area.”

Designed to improve access to the Gerald R. Ford International Airport — Michigan’s second largest — as well as the surrounding urban area and commercial and industrial districts, the project should alleviate traffic and congestion on state and local roads. It also is creating jobs for west Michigan.

“The project will also serve to improve vehicular safety by reducing traffic volumes at both of the 28th Street ramps and the intersection of 28th Street and Patterson Avenue,” said MDOT’s Tom Tellier, project engineer.

URS Corporation was awarded the design contract. Along with URS, Williams and Works, Fishbeck, Thompson, Carr and Huber designed the bridges. Design challenges included working with an existing rugged median terrain where the maximum elevation difference was approximately 70 ft., wetland mitigation, protected plant species and the complicated alignment and structures. But by December 2004 the design was complete and the project was ready for the next phase.

MDOT let the job to bid in March 2005. Kamminga and Roodvoets and Ajax Paving Industries formed a joint venture, winning the contract.

Work was split into two phases: eastbound I-96 construction and two structures to be completed in 2005, and westbound I-96 and three structures to be completed in 2006.

Active construction of the first phase began in April 2005 with the erection of temporary crossovers and shoulder improvements on westbound I-96 to maintain traffic during the project.

“As with the design phase, the first year of construction was teeming with challenges,” reported Tellier. “The unique topography of the existing landscape and maintaining traffic through a heavily-traveled corridor west of Michigan were chief among them.”

Because the average daily traffic on this section of the interstate exceeds 50,000 vehicles, a lane rental package was incorporated into the contract. This means the contractor will be charged an hourly rental fee of $700 per lane for any lane closures on I-96 between 5 a.m. and 8 p.m. daily.

The original traffic configuration for the first phase included using median crossovers to shift eastbound traffic onto the westbound roadway. The plan would maintain one lane of eastbound traffic and two westbound lanes.

But before work began, the contractors submitted a request to implement an alternate traffic scheme to maintain two lanes in each direction, reducing both the impact on the motoring public and the lane rental charges. An added bonus was that it would allow two lanes in each direction to be maintained for the second phase in 2006.

The plan required the contractor to widen the existing westbound roadway and the proposed eastbound roadway. MDOT approved the idea, believing it would provide better traffic flow and decrease travel delays. Thus, four lanes of traffic were maintained through the first year of construction, and work was substantially complete within budget by October 2005, due to teamwork and innovative thinking.

New Year, New Phase

Phase two work is already disrupting traffic, but crews are making progress. One bridge deck was poured in early April.

While some crews were busy placing barriers on I-96 to shift traffic so entrance and exit ramps could be built on the westbound lanes, other workers were prepping those westbound lanes by filling holes because “that’s where we’re going to maintain traffic,” explained Tellier. “So, we’ll have all traffic on the westbound while they construct the eastbound. This prep work will allow us to maintain two lanes westbound, but again, one lane eastbound when we get started.” CEG