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IDOT Takes on Edens Expressway/I-94

Tue August 26, 2008 - Midwest Edition
Lori Lovely

The Edens Expressway/Interstate 94 in Illinois is hardly an idyllic retreat right now, but the Illinois Department of Transportation is working to make it a pleasant passage for the estimated 170,000 daily drivers along the nearly 14-mi. (22.5 km) highway that stretches between the Kennedy Expressway in Chicago north to the Edens Spur of the Tri-State Tollway in Northbrook.

Named for William G. Edens, a banker whose belief in paved roads led to his sponsorship of Illinois’ first highway bond issue in 1918, the Edens Parkway, later known as the Edens Expressway or the Edens Superhighway, opened in December 1951. It was the first and remains the main expressway north out of Chicago, carrying Interstate 94 on its three lanes in each direction.

Designed to last for 20 years, the pavement will be 30 years old in 2009. The Expressway was rehabilitated in 1978, but is again in need of resurfacing. Juris “George” Velkme, area construction supervisor of IDOT, believes the pavement is salvageable. Besides, he explained, a major reconstruction, in which the existing pavement would be removed and filled with new subgrade and concrete, is cost prohibitive at this time.

In a statement released by IDOT, chief of staff Clayton Harris III said the goal is “to extend the life of the Edens and to delay the need for a major reconstruction of the Expressway. The roadway was reconstructed in the late 1970s and this recent winter provided ample evidence that the roadway is deteriorating.” Numerous potholes and a major hole that required immediate patching were discovered in one of the bridge decks in February. IDOT elected to take immediate action, selecting the least disruptive and costly alternative.

“The options [include] to do nothing now,” Velkme elaborated. “But that will result in a total reconstruction in two to three years, at a cost of $600 million and will disrupt traffic for two to three years.”

Instead, for a reduced time frame of nine months (the road is open during winter months) and a reduced budget of $43 million, IDOT will patch and resurface the mainline, rehabilitate six bridges and improve drainage at four underpasses. Where necessary, crews will perform full-depth patching.

Paving the Way

In preparation for resurfacing all three lanes, grinding on the shoulders has been completed. Crews will return with a Cat paver after using a material transfer device to lay asphalt. Static three-wheel rollers and tandem rollers are in use, but Velkme said the most interesting piece of equipment on the job is a 35,000 psi hydro-blaster for removal of the top 0.5 in. (1.3 cm) of concrete on the bridges. Six bridges will undergo partial and full-depth patching: bridges over the Skokie River, the Union Pacific Railroad tracks, Golf Road, Forest Glen Avenue, the North Branch of the Chicago River and Cicero Avenue.

The hydro-blaster is being used because it doesn’t damage the concrete. Grinders and jack hammers would damage the layers underneath — layers IDOT intends to save. “It removes the half-inch of concrete and the loose stuff underneath — whatever has lost its bond.”

Next, crews will sound the deck to look for bad areas that will require full-depth patching. Velkme explained that crews will use chipping hammers, set forms from the bottom and pour, and then return to set up rails for the standard Bidwell finishing machine to do the overlay. In those areas, there will be a 4.25-in. (10.8 cm) asphalt overlay done in three separate lifts. The first is a 0.75-in. (1.9 cm) polymerized binder, followed by a 1.75-in. (4.4 cm) stone matrix asphalt binder. Finally, a 1.75-in. stone matrix asphalt surface course will be laid.

On the bridge decks, a 2.5-in. (6.4 cm) micro-silica overlay will be laid. Velkme said it’s more durable than concrete, noting that a typical bridge deck is 6 to 7 in. (15 to 18 cm), but this new concrete wearing surface will be thinner.

IDOT also will replace all the joints between the bridges and pavement, as determined necessary by examination of wear on the bearings.

“We’re using a new type of expansion joint,” Velkme said. Because the Golf Bridge is on a skew, its uphill curve is more complicated. The modular joints are expected to handle longitudinal, non-parallel movement better.

“There’s a lot of bridge work [on this project],” Velkme acknowledged. “The technology and high-end materials incorporated into the design are more expensive, but as the supervisor points out, the bridges — original to the 1950s — are old and in worse shape than the road.

Bridge work took a hit, literally, when a truck hit the Winnetka Bridge in an accident that completely destroyed one beam and damaged another. It wasn’t a bridge crews were working on, but they were forced to shore up the structure to inspect the damage. They decided to install a carrier beam to carry the load while engineers thought of a permanent design to replace the beams. Velkme said it’s been one of a very few surprises during the project.

Another aspect of the rehabilitation project involves drainage modifications at the Foster Avenue, Pratt Street, Willow Road and Winnetka Road underpasses. Crews will add two catch basins at those four locations, which currently have one basin each, but no new pipe will be laid. Velkme said IDOT will also clean the existing drain systems and run cameras through them to look for collapsed pipe.

Closed for the Season

One lane in each direction and the six bridges are closed during construction, Velkme reported. In May, crews were working on Lane 1, the inside lane closest to the barrier, so Lanes 1 and 2 were closed to traffic, which was diverted to Lane 3 and the outside shoulder. Once re-striping and patching are complete, traffic will be shifted to Lanes 1 and 2 as the work progresses on Lane 3.

Some grumbling from commuters has resulted. “The problem is,” Velkme explained, “there’s no good alternative route. Sheridan Road can’t handle all the diverted traffic and there’s no public transportation like there was for the Dan Ryan.”

To ease congestion, the traffic engineer adjusted the timing of traffic lights on north/south parallel roads. IDOT advises avoiding the Edens, carpooling, mass transit or, if all else fails, patience. The 45 mph work zone speed limit is being strictly enforced.

The only thing for IDOT to do is to power through the rehabilitation project. Crews are working a minimum of 12-hour days, including Saturdays and some Sundays. During the summer, a second shift will be added.

“That’s what it will take to get it done by September,” Velkme admitted. The project, which officially started Sept. 28, 2007, is scheduled for completion on Sept. 30. It’s currently on target.

Plote Inc. is the contractor for the two contracts making up the project. “We broke the project into two contracts to get it opened earlier,” Velkme explained, adding that dates are controlled by the bridges.

Both contracts have different opening and interim dates, although there are incentives to finish early. The North contract from Old Orchard Road to Lake Cook Road, is scheduled to be open during rush hour by August 1. The South contract, from Lawrence Avenue to Old Orchard Road, is scheduled to be open during rush hour by September 1. Velkme noted that striping will be done at night.

Deputy Director of Highways and Region 1 Engineer Diane O’Keefe asked the public to understand that full-length closure is required because of the number of bridge rehabs and the patching and resurfacing of the roadway between them.

“Instead of having a series of closures and bottlenecks, it is much safer for us to put a single configuration in place that drivers can be accustomed to.”

Bridge to the Future

Velkme explained that age and increased traffic are the primary causes of the degradation of the Edens. “It was more of a parkway when it opened. In the 1970s, it became an interstate, with a lot more traffic. The original surface was removed and replaced with 10 inches of continuously reinforced concrete when it re-opened in 1979.”

IDOT realizes the day will come when the Expressway requires another reconstruction. For now, the resurfacing has a pavement design life of about 10 years, and the bridges have a life expectancy of 15 to 20 years. At that time, Velkme said, options arise again.

“We can grind off and resurface at night. If the pavement has disintegrated, we can stage construction to patch and resurface. If it’s broken up, that will require total reconstruction.”

Whenever the pavement needs additional attention, Velkme doesn’t expect the scope of future work to include expansion. Due to budget constraints, IDOT focuses on pavement preservation and bridge rehabilitation.

“Of the 50 projects I’m working on, only one or two involve widening or reconstruction.” Even paradise has its boundaries. CEG

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