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Highway Crews in Minnesota See End in Sight

Wed June 05, 2024 - Midwest Edition #12
Dick Rohland – CEG Correspondent

Crews built by-passes bringing four lanes of traffic down to two lanes to move vehicles through the work zone. This photo shows the 193rd bridge under construction during the summer of 2023.
Photo courtesy of Ames Construction
Crews built by-passes bringing four lanes of traffic down to two lanes to move vehicles through the work zone. This photo shows the 193rd bridge under construction during the summer of 2023.
Crews built by-passes bringing four lanes of traffic down to two lanes to move vehicles through the work zone. This photo shows the 193rd bridge under construction during the summer of 2023.   (Photo courtesy of Ames Construction ) By the end of construction, an estimated 1.1 million cu. yds. of earth will have been moved.   (Photo courtesy of Ames Construction) There was approximately 5 mi. of new utility construction and relocation on the TH 169 reconstruction.   (Photo courtesy of Ames Construction) An estimated 27,000 cu. yds. of concrete will go into the new highway.   (Photo courtesy of Ames Construction) Ames Construction mobilized more than two dozen pieces of heavy equipment including Caterpillar rollers, dozers, excavators, wheeled tractor scrapers, a pair of Manitowoc cranes and a pair of Terex cranes.   (Photo courtesy of Dick Rohland
) Construction for the third and final season of construction kicked off in early April this year to build the Main Street interchange.    (Photo courtesy of Dick Rohland) Every other intersection was a cut and the other a fill. “For balancing earthwork activities, that was a pretty significant win for us,” said Pat Edberg, Ames Construction manager. 
   (Photo courtesy of Dick Rohland)

After working through a brutal summer of four months of sweltering heat and humidity last year, road crews are ready to face whatever the weather brings them this year to complete the third and final construction phase on a much needed rebuild of TH 169 running through the city of Elk River, Minn.

A 3-mi. section of this highway is undergoing a complete removal and rebuild to convert the existing four lane highway to freeway standards.

Photo courtesy of Ames Construction

Ames Construction, with nation-wide offices, took on the $123 million contract. Ames is in partnership with the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT), the administrator of the project, and is rebuilding the highway on behalf of the city of Elk River. WSB and Associates Inc. is the design consultant for the project.

According to MnDOT, the four at-grade signalized intersections along this stretch of Highway 169 are over capacity, resulting in significant delays and safety issues on Highway 169 and all adjacent streets.

Located on the banks of the Mississippi River, TH 169 cuts through the heart of Elk River, a rapidly growing suburb of the Twin Cities with 26,000 residents. Continuing the corridor, which is an important north-south highway running through central Minnesota, helps keep the region connected.

When completed, the newly rebuilt interchanges will ease traffic back-ups on the highway through town and at the four street connections to the highway. This project was selected through the state of Minnesota's Corridors of Commerce grant program.

Equally important, it plays a key role in Minnesota's popular outdoor tourist and recreational industry by connecting the central lakes region of the state to the greater Twin Cities metropolitan area, just a two-hour drive away.

Details of the work include the reconstruction of all four lanes of the highway from its crossing of the Mississippi River on its south end to 197th Avenue on its north end. Along the way, the existing, at grade signal systems for the arterial street crossings will come out and be replaced with a combination of highway overpasses and underpasses to allow highway traffic to flow freely without stopping at these street crossings.

At the arterial street crossings, the existing signal control systems of two signal lights on each side of the highway will be replaced with a single point urban interchange (SPUI) system.

Though a design element that may seem unusual at first to motorists, this design streamlines traffic flow for the arterial streets that cross over or under the highway with one signal light standard instead of two.

This design was created to help move large volumes of traffic through limited areas of space safely and efficiently. The term "single point" refers to the fact that all through traffic on the arterial street, as well as traffic turning left onto or off the interchange, can be controlled from a single set of traffic signals, according to the city of Elk River's web site for this project.

A partial diamond interchange will replace the signalized intersection at the 197th Avenue location on the northern limits of the work.

And at the south end of the project where Trunk Highways' 169, 101 and 10 connect at a three highway interchange, a signal will be moved, and auxiliary lanes added to help alleviate existing back-ups on westbound 10 and allow for a safer transition from westbound 10 to southbound 101. The rebuild of the northbound TH 169 bridge carrying traffic over TH 10 is part of this work.

The project schedule has been intense since work started two years ago with work crews keeping up the pace by working up to 12 hours a day, six days a week.

During the 2022 construction season, crews completed the lane and signal improvements at the three way interchange at the south end of the project as well as completing the northbound TH 169 bridge rebuild over TH 10. At the north end of the project, the 197th Avenue partial diamond interchange was completed.

Photo courtesy of Dick Rohland

Last year, the at grade crossings at the School Street and 193rd locations were replaced with a bridge spanning TH 169 at School Street and a bridge carrying TH 169 traffic over 193rd Avenue.

This year, road crews are tackling the Main Street connection by building a bridge carrying TH 169 traffic over Main Street.

Working under the umbrella of ensuring safe working conditions for both workers and motorists, traffic control and sharp communication updates have played key roles in moving work forward while easing frustrations of motorists.

Keeping in mind that the highway needed to be open to all four lanes by Nov. 1 of each year given the fickle Minnesota climate and good possibility of early snowfall, crews have kept up with the intense work schedule.

"Construction is going very well with minimal contract changes and/or cost overruns," said Tim Paul, MnDOT construction project manager. "The project is on schedule to meet completion and milestone dates. Good communication between the owner and contractor through monthly schedule reviews, pre-activity meetings and weekly construction meetings with stakeholders has kept everyone on the same page throughout the multi-stage, multi-year project. If a project is to be a success a solid relationship between the owner and contractor, with a set of common goals, is mandatory. This is what we have on the Highway 169 Redefine project and we are seeing good results,"

Ames Construction manager Pat Edberg echoed Paul's comments.

"Construction is going extremely well on the project. A lot of our success can be attributed to the thorough planning early on, pre-construction through the construction manager general contractor [CMGC] process as well as in the development of our yearly and five-week schedule process, involving our highly skilled field staff who build the work, the owner and key subcontractors early on with pre-activity meetings to be able to communicate areas of concern, hold points for testing, as well as discussion of opportunities. The project planning and construction are only possible with collaborative efforts from all our trades as well as sub-contractors and the owner. We find the project throughout has been successful because we approach it as a one team mentality. It is a legacy that we are all involved in and need to communicate and help each other out where and when it is possible to do so. Through this thought process we have seen very little issues arise and when they do, we are able to come up with a solution quickly, as is necessary with such a fast paced schedule."

The project was not without its challenges.

"One of the primary challenges was maintaining traffic through the project site during construction. This was a large undertaking due to existing traffic volumes and cross-street traffic. The traffic configuration was taken down to single lane, head-to-head traffic through the project, utilizing temporary bypasses around the work zones," said Paul.

Earthwork has played a key role in maintaining the tight construction schedule. Driving the project forward through the final season this year, heavy equipment operators will have dug or moved an estimated total of 1.1 million cu. yds. of dirt.

Including deep sanitary and storm sewer cuts, "the excavation was a big part of the design. Every other intersection was a cut, and the other one was fill so it reduced the amount of material we hauled to waste. It's advantageous to use cut material on site. For balancing earthwork activities, that was a pretty significant win for us," Edberg said.

During peak construction, Ames Construction mobilized more than two dozen pieces of Caterpillar heavy equipment including six Cat 627G wheeled tractor scrapers; three Cat CS56 drum rollers; four Cat 299D3 skid loaders; and a variety of Cat excavators.

For lifting operations, Ames brought in two Terex HC 50 and HC 80 lattice boom cranes and two Manitowoc 11000 lattice boom crawler cranes.

Quantities of materials include 27,000 cu. yds. of concrete; one noise wall; two prefabricated modular block retaining walls; two cast in place retaining walls; and sixteen mechanically stabilized earth retaining walls.

MnDOT and Ames staff have been able to hold to the original design to date except for a change in the bridge piling supporting the northbound TH 169 bridge on the south end of the project.

"The planned ‘H' pile would not achieve required bearing due to the materials encountered near the Mississippi River. The decision was made to switch over to round CIP pile tubes with the result of the increased surface area locking up with the in-place material and achieving bearing," Paul said.

Utility coordination in advance and during construction can sometimes turn out to be a juggling match for contractors and cut into a project schedule. This has not been a problem on this project despite approximately 5 mi. of utility re-locations.

Photo courtesy of Dick Rohland

"The CMGC process is heavily front-end loaded during the project design phase with utility discussions and relocation plans being developed. Several meetings were held with utility owners prior to the project letting with follow-up field staking and relocation work taking place.

"Once the project began the project team took over the communication with the utility owners, which included at times, weekly/monthly update meetings ensuring relocates were staying on schedule to be completed prior to the proposed contract work.

The Highway 169 project had numerous utilities that required relocation due to conflicts with the proposed contract work, however, due to the above process we have not had utility related schedule delays that weren't recoverable," Paul noted.

With the November completion date in mind, crews will build the Main Street interchange to have the highway open to all four lanes with landscaping and punch list items to follow the following spring. CEG

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