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Drones Aid Shirley Contracting, VDOT On Route 29 Project

Thu September 21, 2023 - Northeast Edition #20

VDOT is planning on untangling the bottlenecks on Route 29 by adding a lane in each direction over a 1.5- mi. stretch of road.
(Shirley Contracting photo)
VDOT is planning on untangling the bottlenecks on Route 29 by adding a lane in each direction over a 1.5- mi. stretch of road. (Shirley Contracting photo)
VDOT is planning on untangling the bottlenecks on Route 29 by adding a lane in each direction over a 1.5- mi. stretch of road.
(Shirley Contracting photo) Backhoes ready the area for additional lanes on Route 29.
(Shirley Contracting photo) Shirley Contracting Company will be the lead contractor for the Route 29 project.
(Shirley Contracting photo)

Motorists on Route 29 in northern Virginia face both challenges and inconveniences when traveling this busy four-lane highway. Interstate 66 lies less than one mile to the north, carrying people in a hurry to get to Fairfax County or Washington, D.C. But for people looking to navigate the busy community of Centreville, Route 29 is often the answer.

This route is the lifeline for people traveling to the community's network of subdivisions, shopping, schools, businesses and parks. The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) is planning on untangling the bottlenecks on this vital road by adding a lane in each direction over a 1.5- mi. stretch of road.

This added capacity should help with safety and traffic flow, especially at the busy intersection with Stringfellow/Clifton Roads (Route 645). Route 29 carries approximately 30,000 vehicles a day through this section. Construction of shared use paths along northbound and southbound Route 29 also will enhance bicycle and pedestrian accessibility. The project is in its early stages, approximately 20 percent complete.

The work on Route 29 also aims to improve the sightlines along the road by eliminating some of the hills and filling in the valleys that the road currently travels. These improvements will improve sight distance and reduce the likelihood of accidents.

Shirley Contracting Company, a subsidiary of Clark Construction, is the design-builder and lead contractor for the work, with Dewberry Engineers providing design services.

One of the key tools in mapping this transportation strategy has been the use of drones. Sanjeev Suri, VDOT design-build manager for the Route 29 Widening project has seen some excellent use of these tools.

"In the past, surveying the proposed construction area has required employing skilled people for months," said Suri. "The area is often uneven resulting in falls for the workers. The drones have eliminated that danger and quickly provide survey and progress results. They have saved time and given reports that are highly accurate."

Another piece of technology has proved valuable in the project.

"Stringlines and stakes have been used to mark positions in past projects. They have worked all right, but in this job, our contractors are using Trimble Universal Total Station [UTS] equipment," said Suri. "The UTS has enabled our contractors to do the fine grading and material placement with amazing accuracy. In many cases, this system makes it possible to place material within a few hundredths of an inch from the targeted location."

VDOT is allowing approximately 33 percent of the new lanes to be constructed using recycled asphalt pavements (RAP). This is a higher percentage than what is allowed in neighboring states. VDOT believes that using this amount of RAP saves energy, saves money and is good for the environment. The department has seen no drop-off in pavement performance in roads using RAP.

Another of the project's success stories has been VDOT's early acquisition of right-of-way and easements on 23 parcels of land needed for the work on the west end of the project. The early acquisition of land rights allows the project to get a jump start on construction and utility relocations in this area.

"We have been able to get the land on time, which should eliminate delays," said Suri. "We will need over 50 parcels by the time we are finished."

The work team has planned three major culvert improvements along the 1.5-mi. build. In particular, the construction team will install a triple-pipe culvert, consisting of three storm pipes that are 84 in. in diameter to manage the Willow Springs Branch stream where it runs under Route 29.

Project designers envision a road that will allow more cars to use Route 29 with less congestion. But what about residents whose homes are uncomfortably close to the rapidly moving traffic? Planners thought of that, too. Segments on the south side of the highway will have slower-moving service roads that residents and shoppers can use. These service roads will consolidate entrances and enable people to easily enter or leave the highway and still feel safe when entering neighborhoods.

In keeping with the design for the project, Shirley Contracting Company and subcontractors will place 12 in. of cement-treated aggregate and 11-in. asphalt at the eastern and western ends of the project. The middle portion of the project will receive slightly different treatment, with 12 in. of aggregate and 13.5 in. of asphalt on top.

"Transportation investments like this one removes barriers and creates connections," said Jeffrey McKay Fairfax County Board of Supervisors chairman. "This road widening project will reduce congestion for motorists and improve safety for pedestrians and bicyclists on both sides of Route 29."

The project will cost approximately $100 million and is scheduled to be completed by spring 2026. CEG

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