Alongside of busy two-lane U.S. 17 in Chesapeake, VA, is a sign alerting motorists that 25 people have died since 1988 on the traffic-heavy commuter route between North Carolina and South Hampton Roads. For years, the road has been synonymous with deadly accidents and near misses.
Almost 20 years ago, North Carolina widened its portion of U.S. 17 to meet the demand of travelers, many of whom are coming to and from the Outer Banks. Since then, many Virginia residents have been awaiting a similar project.
But it wasn’t until recently that the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) awarded a $41 million contract to Barnhill Contracting Company, Tarboro, NC, for the widening of the deadly route. Running parallel to the Dismal Swamp Canal, the road will be widened from two to four lanes from the North Carolina state line to the intersection of Route 104 (Dominion Blvd.). The project also includes the construction of two parallel bridges, which will be built by Virginia Beach-based Waterfront Marine Construction Inc. The nearly 12 mi. (19.2 km) of road work is expected to improve safety for motorists and to better serve the increased traffic volume heading to and from North Carolina and the Outer Banks.
Beginning at the North Carolina border, the first 1.3 mi. (2.1 km) of the project will add two lanes first to the east side of the road, and the existing two lanes will be widened. The remaining 10.3 mi. (16.6 km) will be constructed on new location approximately 1,000 yds. (914 m) east of the current road location in order to limit disturbance to the Great Dismal Swamp Wildlife Refuge and the surrounding forests and wetlands.
As part of this project, VDOT donated approximately 758 acres (306 ha) of existing wetlands to the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries as wetland preservation. In addition to the wetlands donation, VDOT procured roughly 16 acres (6.5 ha) of mineral soil wetlands and is creating approximately 9.6 acres (3.9 ha) of forested, organic soil wetlands within the project corridor.
Wildlife passages also are included throughout the project. A benefit of the passages is that they will allow animals, namely brown bears, to go under the new highway along the Northwest River as opposed to going directly through the traffic.
“It is a very environmentally sensitive project because of the Dismal Swamp Canal,” noted Michael Taylor, project engineer and estimator of Barnhill Contracting. “You have to make sure that the erosion controls are installed and maintained properly and that top soiling of slopes and permanent seeding are placed concurrently with placing your fill.”
The U.S. Route 17 widening project includes 1.7 million cu. yds. (1.3 million cu m) of borrow material and approximately 650,000 cu. yds. (494,000 c m) of excavation. Barnhill owns a Cat 345 trackhoe excavator that will perform the loading.
The contractor also will use 14 articulated trucks for hauling borrow. The company will be using eight Cat 730s, four Cat 350s and two Hitachi 35-ton (31.8 t) trucks. The off-road trucks are being used on either a rent-to-own or lease-to-own basis, with a number of trucks supplied by Carter Machinery, Richmond, VA.
Other equipment used on the project includes four Cat D-6 dozers, three Cat 330 trackhoes, one Cat 14 motorgrader, a Cat Challenger and a Cat water wagon used to minimize dust on the job site.
Although Barnhill Contracting is the prime contractor, the company is only doing roughly 35 to 40 percent of the work. The rest is being subbed out, said Taylor. He noted that even though VDOT awarded the contract to an out-of- state contractor, “a lot of the work is subbed out to Virginia companies. We’ve gotten a lot of help, and it has worked out well.”
The bridge subcontractor, Waterfront Marine Construction, just began work on the project’s two bridges, both of which will measure 986 ft. (300 m). Running parallel to each other, the bridges will both have two southbound lanes and two northbound lanes and will include 14 pile-bents, concrete caps, and two abutments.
According to Chuck Fullerton, project manager of Waterfront Marine Construction, the building of the bridges was delayed six months due to permitting issues, which arose because the work site is in an environmentally sensitive area.
“This is a unique project because it is not typical wetlands. It is non-tidal wetlands,” explained Fullerton. In other words, instead of the typical marsh grasses, what’s being protected is more of a soil-type bottom as well as the usual flora and fauna.
The bridges are being built over a swamp that feeds into the Dismal Swamp Canal. This will require the company to erect a temporary trestle in the middle of the permanent bridges, instead of a temporary roadway, minimizing disturbances to the environment. The temporary trestle will be made of recycled girders, recycled beams and timber deck, and the cranes will be maneuvered on timber mats.
Waterfront Marine owns the cranes that will be used in the construction of the bridge. The company will primarily use a 150-ton (136 t)Link-Belt LS518 crane and an 80-ton (72.6 t) Terex American HC80 crane. The cranes will be used to move and set the prestressed concrete beams, or Bulb-Tees, which have a rare geometric configuration when compared to typical beams, and measure 63 ft. (19.2 m) in length and weigh 25 tons (22.7 t) apiece.
The transporting of these beams will be a time-consuming process because only one beam at a time can be moved per truck. Once the beams arrive, they must be individually rolled down the trestle and picked up with the crane and set in place. Once complete, cranes will have moved 105 of these beams in total. Fullerton said there is an 18-month timeline for both bridges.
Bayshore Concrete Products Corporation, Cape Charles, VA, will be supplying all of the beams and all of the piles. The job will require 196 of the 20-sq. in. (130 sq cm) concrete piles and 88 of the 12-sq. in. (78 sq cm) concrete piles.
“We are looking forward to [this job] because there isn’t any traffic. It is nice and quiet,” said Fullerton.
Other subcontractors hired by Barnhill Contracting, include Toler Contracting Co. Inc., Carrollton, VA, performing work on drainage and pipes, masonry drainage structures and box culverts. Williamsburg, VA-based, Branscome Inc. will be performing work on cement-treated aggregate and asphalt. Womack Contractors Inc., Chesapeake, is the subcontractor for dirt work at the north end of the project, which consists of 500,000 cu. yds. (382,000 cu m) of borrow.
Another notable subcontractor is West Point, VA-based Curtis Contracting, which is certified as a Woman’s Business Enterprise. The company has been contracted for the soil stabilization fabric undertaking, which will require undercutting the job approximately 1 to 1.5 ft (.3 to .5 m) and placing a layer of soil stabilization fabric prior to placing the roadway fill.
Taylor described the venture as “one of the largest fabric jobs in the state of Virginia with 919,200 sq. yds. (767,000 sq m) of fabric.”
The project, which is 10 percent complete, is expected to be complete in fall 2005.