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Increases in Traffic Call for Minot, N.D., Bypass

Fri December 21, 2012 - Midwest Edition
Dorinda Anderson

An increase in growth and traffic numbers in Minot, N.D., have made it necessary to create a bypass on the northeast corner of the city starting at County Road 12, just north of Highway 2, an east/west route, and continuing to U.S. Highway 83, a main thoroughfare and north/south route.

The project also includes the construction of an overpass over the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad tracks on Highway 55 between Highway 2 and County Road 12, on the south end of the project.

The project was developed five years ago with the intention to keep major traffic out of the downtown area, said Jeff McElwain, project engineer of Ackerman-Eastvold Engineering, the project coordinator.

The project is a coordinated effort between Ackerman-Eastvold, the North Dakota Department of Transportation, the city of Minot, Ward County and prime contractors Gladen Construction and Ames Construction.

The bypass and a railroad grade separation will improve traffic flow into and out of the city’s agricultural park, as well as the Great Plains Energy Park, Port of North Dakota Intermodal rail facility and BNSF Railway Company’s rail complex. The grade separation over Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad will provide a bridge structure to carry traffic over BNSF Railway Company’s complex.

Traffic, especially truck traffic, has increased due to the oil drilling in the Bakken Oil Play, the addition of intermodal loading activity near the project and BNSF moving its regional railroad car check location to Minot.

“The railroad cars used to have to be checked every 1,000 miles so the check point was in Fargo, N.D. The distance was increased to 1,500 miles, which pushed the location to Minot and lengthened vehicle wait times at the crossing from five minutes up to half an hour,” said McElwain.

The Bakken Oil Play occupies about 200,000 sq. mi. (517,997 sq km) of the subsurface of the Williston Basin, underlying parts of Montana, North Dakota and Saskatchewan. It is named after Henry Bakken, a farmer in Williston, N.D., who owned the land where the formation was first discovered.

There are significant producible reserves of oil within the Bakken formation. Oil was first discovered in 1951, but efforts to produce it have been difficult. An April 2008 USGS report estimated between 3 and 4.3 billion barrels. More recent estimates place the amount at 18 billion barrels.

New rock fracturing technology available in 2008 caused a recent boom in Bakken production. By the end of 2010 oil production rates had reached 458,000 barrels each day making it impossible to keep up with shipping the oil out of the Bakken.

The North Dakota Port Services intermodal facility in Minot, N.D., opened in late August of 2010 and is served by the BNSF Railway Co. North Dakota Port Services is located adjacent to BNSF’s main-line switch yard with daily service and access to four-lane U.S. Highway 2.

The terminal serves as a dual-purpose facility for loading and unloading intermodal containers and oil-related products ranging from crude oil to sand used in the oil drilling process. The facility also is expected to handle large volumes of grain and other agricultural products, since North Dakota is a huge agricultural state.

The new bypass will help direct the larger traffic volumes move more safely into and out of this area. McElwain said the new 7-mi. bypass route includes upgrading 46th Avenue N.E. and 55th Street N.E., on what used to be a township road, in order to create smoother traffic conditions and to prevent the backup of truck traffic.

On U.S. Highway 2, which runs east and west and intersects with the 55th Street just south of where the bypass project begins, traffic is expected to increase from about 7,000 vehicles each day in 2007, to 11,460 vehicles at full development of the project.

Work began on this $23 million project in September of 2011, once Transportation Investment Generating Economy Recovery (TIGER) funding was received. A stimulus grant was originally awarded for the project to complete the remaining $14 million in funding needed for the project.

However, when the city of Minot and Ward County delayed the project in an effort to make sure the limited funding was spent wisely, the U.S. House voted in 2011 to withdraw stimulus grants that had not yet been spent. City and county officials burned the midnight oil to bring the project to a point where funding couldn’t be rescinded by finishing and submitting the environmental study, the rights of way and the design work.

The final $14.1 million needed for the project was awarded during a second round of appropriations through the TIGER program.

The bypass portion of the project included adding road shoulders along 46th Avenue N.E. and 55th Street N.E. In conjunction with this project, in 2011, ND/DOT reconstructed the intersection of U.S. Highway 2 and 55th Street. Work on the bypass required the use of numerous pieces of equipment, including excavators such as Komatsu PC450LC-8 and Komatsu PC400LC-6, dozers from a John Deere 650J to a Komatsu D65EXLT.

Many side, belly, and end dump trucks, as well as graders, were needed to handle materials needed on the project. Throughout the course of the project, 166,242 cu. yds. (127,101 cu m) of common excavation was required. An additional 93,849 cu. yds. (71,752 cu m) of topsoil was moved and 60,778 cu. yds. (46,468 cu m) of borrow-excavation was hauled. An additional 106,530 tons (96,642.4 t) of aggregate base course also was required, according to ND/DOT.

In early August 2012, crews from Bechtold Paving in Minot paved a 2.5-mi. (4 km) stretch of 55th Street, from County Road 12 north to the new curve in the northeast corner of the bypass. Crews placed two separate 2.5-inch (6.4 cm) thick lifts of asphalt to form the paved road. This stretch of road was poured in two 14-ft. (4.3 m) lanes, McElwain said.

Final stripping along the road, placement of street signs and seeding took place at the end of September by prime contractor Gladen Construction of LaPorte, Minn. Gladen, a third generation family-owned company in north central Minnesota, is involved in all types of heavy and highway construction.

The project has progressed well due to dry weather conditions during the construction season. Construction of the bypass was completed and opened in early October but the bridge will be completed next summer. Ames Construction of Burnsville, Minn., prime contractor for the bridge portion of the project, began placing the piers to support the bridge last fall.

“The piling was driven about 100-feet deep before we reached bearing,” McElwain said. Ames finished pile driving using a Pilco D30 Pile Hammer and pouring columns and caps to support the 1,155-ft. (352 m) bridge by early July. In all, nine columns and two abutments were needed.

The bridge piers, which were formed in Menoken, N.D., were transported and placed on the columns using Manitowoc 222 and 10000 crawler cranes with a lifting capacity of 100 tons (90.7 t) and a 200-ft. (61 m) boom in July. Placement of the 70 beams began in mid-July. A fleet of trucks worked for 10 days to bring the beams, which also were formed in Menoken by Cretex, to the construction site. The largest beams are 134-ft. (40.8 m) long and weigh around 112,000 lbs. (50,802 kg) Crews at Cretex worked for three months to form the beams, according to information from ND/DOT.

Seven beams were placed each day for one bridge span at a time, until all 10 were completed. Placement of the beams was completed around the start of the North Dakota State Fair at the end of July.

Pouring the deck began in September and was done in three units, each 42.5-ft. (13 m) wide. The contractors weren’t sure the final unit could be poured this fall, fresh concrete takes two weeks to cure before the covers can be removed, but Mother Nature cooperated and the final pour took place Oct. 2. At the end of September crews were working on the approach embankments on both ends of the bridge.

“With geometrics the north embankments will have an asphalt finish while the south embankments will have concrete due to grades and traffic movement. Concrete was needed to withstand the heavy trucks so we didn’t end up with ruts in the road,” McElwain said.

The bridge, however, still won’t be completed until 2013. “We had a great summer for construction but there is no way we’ll have the bridge open this summer,” said McElwain. “But the more work we can complete this fall the smoother things will run in the spring.” Next spring, contractors will complete bridge barriers and approaches on each side of the bridge and connect roadways. The bridge is expected to be open by mid-June, 2013.

Mechanically Stabilized Earth (MSE) retaining wall is being built on the southeast side of the bridge by Ames Construction. When completed, the MSE wall will be 590-ft. (180 m) long and as high as 25 ft. (7.6 m) in some spots. The majority of the wall is four to 18 ft. (5.5 m) tall. Its purpose is to provide a stable earth-based foundation for the southern portion of the bridge in a limited space. “The unique design of this MSE retaining wall allows us to place the bridge closer to what will be the old 55th Street and not disrupt the homeowners on the east side of the bridge,” McElwain said.

Though the use of MSE retaining walls is not new and is used in North Dakota, it is new in Minot. The process was speeded up by using precast panels that were set in place like Lego’s and held in place with strapping that was placed 6 in. (15 cm) apart, while someone filled soil in behind the walls. The soil is then compacted in place to the specified density to ensure the panels stay in place, McElwain said. “It took a while but it was still half the time of pouring a retaining wall in place.”

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