I-80 Interchange Gets Facelift in IA

Wed November 23, 2005 - Midwest Edition
Lori Lovely

Work is wrapping up on a hot mix asphalt resurfacing project in Davenport, IA, at the Interstate 80-U.S. 67 interchange approaching the Mississippi River. The $5.2-million contract was let in April, and McCarthy Improvement Company, the winning bidder, started work in late May.

Founded in 1897 as the McCarthy Stone Company, the Davenport-based corporation put down its first asphalt paving in 1904. In the past 100 years, the family-owned business has repaved numerous air strips and interstates in the Midwest, southeast and southwest.

“We’re close to being done with the project. The asphalt work should be done by the end of August,” speculated Ron Sines, McCarthy executive vice president, who anticipates arrival of traffic signals currently on order by October to complete the project. “The surface of I-80 is done, and we’re already receiving positive feedback from commuters.”

He attributes the dry, albeit extremely hot, weather with keeping work on schedule.

The resurfacing is necessary due to the roadway’s age and heavy usage. According to Mark Brandle, Iowa Department of Transportation project manager, the Scott County roadway, one of the first sections laid in Iowa when I-80 was started in the 1960s, has never been totally reconstructed, and has been overlaid only once in the past. An estimated 33,500 vehicles use it each day, and he said 29 percent of that is truck traffic.

Adding the concrete base and the existing overlay, there’s approximately 13 to 14 in. of existing pavement. Sines called it “super elevation work,” using a wedge of dirt in the median to fill in around the new overlays.

“The problem with overlays,” Brandle said, “is that the slopes get steeper and no longer meet federal guidelines. You have to extend them, and to do that, you need more right of way. It’s more economical to remove and replace them instead of having to meet safety regulations when you extend them.”

He added that enough right of way was purchased to accommodate six lanes.

“We have extra right of way,” Brandle said.

The work on Interstate 80 from 4 mi. west of the river entails full-depth patching; pavement removal; milling a .5 inch off the existing surface for resurfacing with 4 to 6 in. of hot mix asphalt; grading; reconstruction of the Mississippi River concrete bridge approach pavement; guardrail upgrades and shoulder widening.

“We’re widening because Iowa likes to put two to four feet of full-depth paving into the shoulder, especially on interstates,” explained Brandle.

That’s thicker than they used to require, he said, because it helps prevent ruts when motorists go off the edge.

“Maintenance problems are eliminated with asphalt all the way out. It holds up better,” Brandle added.

U.S. 67 and the interchange also will undergo full-depth patching and hot mix asphalt resurfacing. Additional work includes construction of additional turning lanes, removal and modification of ramps and the addition of new traffic signals.

In addition to widening the ramps, Sines said the ramps and U.S. 67 intersection will be reconfigured.

“It’s a major re-do,” he said.

After tearing out deficient turning lanes and removing the “Y” configuration, crews will construction on/off loops adjacent to on/off ramps.

“It’s a huge improvement to the configuration” that Sines believes will increase safety.

Brandle thinks that by changing the traffic patterns and removing the high-speed on- and off-ramps, safety will be enhanced. Another safety improvement is the switch from stop and yield signs to signals.

“The intent behind the change is safety. There are a lot of collisions now,” Brandle said.

Traffic continues to be a challenge during construction. Despite 280 being offered as an alternate route, traffic remains high on this section of road, still officially considered rural, not urban.

“Traffic is our biggest problem at the bridge,” reflected Brandle, who added that it’s been difficult to predict rush-hour flow. “It’s a half-cloverleaf design. There was a problem with the eastbound on-ramp. Work went really fast. They used new techniques to make sure the concrete cured fast.”

Despite the implied urgency, Brandle said there’s been no shift work. Crews are on site 10 hours a day, five days a week.

“We weren’t anxious to do asphalt patching at night, and we’re not comfortable doing inspections at night,” said Brandle. Instead, he said it planned to expedite work during the day. Besides, he added, “We didn’t want to complicate the rental spec by doing night work.”

Because traffic had to be maintained at all times, the State implemented a relatively new lane rental specification. This developmental incentive/disincentive program is uniquely set up: A specified number of lane closure hours is allotted to the contractor, after which the State charges the contractor $100 per hour for lane closures. All lane closures are posted on the DOT’s Web site and distributed in weekly press releases to keep the traveling public updated.

Although the bridge was a factor in the desire to limit lane closures, Brandle said the program was politically motivated. Its intention is to “make the contractor recognize in a different way that we want to minimize lane closures. Aside from a few contract issues that needed clarification, it’s working well. It’s made them think; they opened up lanes to avoid charges.”

Sines is reserving judgment until the project is completed, but as work progresses, he continues to evaluate whether the new system puts the focus on what’s best for the company as well as the overall project. Unlike early-completion incentives, the lane rental spec offers the potential of earning only a small amount of money, according to Sines.

However, other incentives might offset that lack of bonus. McCarthy is on the “plus” side of smoothness incentives (common to most Iowa interstate and primary roads contracts, according to Sines).

“We’ve earned incentives so far,” he said proudly. “We’re the leader in the nation on this. It’s a quality issue, not a speed issue. It forces you to produce higher quality roads to get the incentives. It’s a good program.”

One aspect of this project that might have slowed progress is the fact that it involves a state border.

“We have to coordinate with Illinois because it’s a border bridge,” said Brandle. “There have been some issues with work across the river on a rest area and a bridge rehab project. They have lane closures in effect.”

Nevertheless, said Sines, it has successfully coordinated with the Illinois DOT to keep traffic flowing.

“It went very well. We had ideal cooperation,” he said.

He extended praise to the Iowa DOT, said “They’re top-notch people who know their business. The traveling public doesn’t realize what a good job they do maximizing tax dollars.”

Other top-notch people Sines credits with the success of the project include some of the subs on the job. Although he said there hasn’t been a “huge amount of dirt removal,” Sines applauded Foley Construction for the dirt work. G.M. Sipes completed the patching; General Contractors worked on the bridge approaches; All Iowa Contractors performed the striping; and Felco provided traffic control. In addition, Davenport Electric Company was responsible for electrical signalization work.

“They took down the old lights and wired them to keep some going, but their real work was with signalization,” said Sines. “There’s a future plan for tower lights.”

Finally, he paid tribute to the material itself as playing a significant role in the project. “Asphalt has been around forever,” said Sines, “but it’s an evolving technology. Research is ongoing and the mix design continues to change. Material selection is different. There’s more stringent testing of aggregates. Asphalt is designed with heavy truck traffic in mind now.”

Brandle’s glad to see that. He said the I-80/U.S. 67 project was designed to last 15 to 20 years, “unless there’s a big increase in traffic.”

For now, Sines promises commuters will notice a big difference once the ramp overlay work is completed.

“It’s a vast improvement to what was there before,” said Sines. CEG

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