Drivers can breathe a sigh of relief — the $175 million reconstruction of Interstate 70 that put the east side of Indianapolis in turmoil through most of 2007 is now complete. Dubbed “Super 70” by the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT), it was the biggest single-season construction project ever undertaken by the state. It was also one of the biggest projects tackled by the general contractor, according to Delbert Collard Jr., Walsh Construction project manager.
“We have constructed several fast-track projects before with great success, but none of them were quite this large.”
Complicating the issue of size, the complex design-build project adopted an aggressive schedule that called for completion within a year. It’s no surprise that Chicago-based Walsh Construction won both contracts for the massive job.
Size and speed aside, the project was long overdue. The 6 mi. (9.7 km) of heavily traveled 40-year-old road carried 180,000 vehicles — many of them part of the city’s workforce – from Interstate 465 on the east side to the north split in downtown Indianapolis and back again every day. Having never undergone serious renovation (other than widening), the highway was worn and congested. On the fix-it list were deteriorating pavement and bridge decks, narrow shoulders, substandard sight distance and low vertical clearance for bridges.
As part of Gov. Mitch Daniels’ 10-year statewide Major Moves highway construction program, Super 70 was one of 200 fully funded major highway preservation projects. Also scheduled for completion by 2015 are more than 200 new construction projects.
Completed Super 70 improvements include 75 lane mi. (120.7 km) of new, smoother pavement on the 10-lane interstate, 28 new bridge decks with higher clearance, new signs, better lighting, wider inside shoulders from 7 to 14 ft. (2.1 to 4.3 m), and improved drainage and sight distance, thanks to an underpass at Sherman Drive that is now an overpass. Collard notes that Walsh built two completely new bridges in addition to rehabilitating 28 existing bridges with new, wider decks.
INDOT Commissioner Karl Browning told reporters he expects the improvements to facilitate traffic flow and reduce the number of serious accidents.
Safety was obviously on the minds of INDOT planners, who took precautions during construction by reducing the speed limit to 45 mph and restricting trucks more than 13 tons (11.8 t). Collard credits the decision to keep truck traffic out of the work zone with reducing the number of incidents and keeping remaining traffic moving.
“This was very successful and probably set the pace for future projects.”
Indiana State Police cited more than 32,000 drivers for various work zone violations — more than half of them for trucks over the 13-ton limit. The area was so heavily patrolled that the number of accidents during construction (168) was lower than during the same period in 2006 without construction (242).
The numbers are impressive, especially considering the “road rage” displayed by some local businesses and motorists. Work on the state’s busiest stretch of highway began March 6, as Collard recalls. Public frustration commenced almost immediately as motorists and businesses dealt with closed ramps, lane restrictions, a 45 mph speed limit and banning of heavy trucks.
Walsh performed work in two phases, improving one side of the highway at a time in order to keep traffic flowing in both directions. Phase 1 involved paving westbound lanes and pouring concrete for bridges while two-way traffic was maintained on the south side of I-70. Phase 2 included reconstruction of the south side, with two-way traffic diverted to the newly reconstructed north side.
To facilitate traffic flow, Walsh and INDOT used a movable barrier that was moved twice daily to accommodate changing rush hour patterns. In the morning, it was placed to allow three travel lanes inbound and two outbound; in the afternoon, that configuration was reversed. “Moving the wall twice a day to allow for more lanes in or out of the city during rush hour lessened the impact this project had on the traveling public,” Collard reports.
Although traffic did continue in both directions throughout the project — thanks in part to the movable wall — ramps at three key exits were closed for most of the duration of construction. Instituted as a safety measure for construction crews, the closures provided an added benefit of reducing traffic back-ups and delays. However, it angered some motorists who had difficulty getting to their destinations and some business owners who claimed it blocked customers. Local newspapers carried reports of businesses relocating or closing. Other business owners, however, benefited from the detours. Because drivers could exit onto Shadeland Avenue but not re-enter the highway there, some business owners reported higher sales due to more walk-in customers during construction.
But there’s a price to pay for the detours. One area of contention concerned alternate routes. An estimated 56,000 vehicles daily detoured from I-70 to local roads, incurring additional wear and tear that will cost INDOT an extra $4.8 million for resurfacing 20 roads as well as traffic signal improvements.
End in Sight
Although Walsh Construction will continue with finishing touches such as slope repairs, seeding and bridge painting through July 2008, Super 70 is essentially complete, with unrestricted traffic and all ramps open. That meets the early completion incentive, worth $900,000 — half the $1.8 million available — to Walsh. (There also was a disincentive clause that would have penalized Walsh $120,000 per day for every day they were overdue on the project’s deadline.)
Final projects outside the incentive-to-completion realm that have yet to be done include bridge beam painting, erosion control, grading and electrical work — meaning motorists may once again face, albeit limited, lane closures. Dry weather through the summer helped Walsh stay on schedule, although Collard believes that “proper planning and having all team members committed to completing these projects on time was the biggest asset.”
It took commitment. Crews worked around the clock on removals and dirt work. After that, a normal week consisted of 14- to 16-hour days six days a week, with Sundays reserved for catch-up on certain activities on-site. During peak times, there were approximately 400 workers on the project, including sub-contractors.
Huge quantities of materials were required for the super-sized job. Approximately 260,000 cu. yds. (19,900 cu m) of concrete was used for structural work and new pavement, which is 37 in. (94 cm) thick and features layers of recycled concrete and aggregate as well as new concrete. E&B Paving Inc., of Anderson, Ind., supplied much of the concrete and served as the paving sub-contractor. Irving Materials Inc. (IMI), of Indianapolis, supplied the rest of the concrete.
There was plenty of equipment on the ground, as well. During peak times, Collard estimates there could be up to 75 pieces of equipment working: 12 excavators (including a Caterpillar 325D hydraulic excavator), 12 dozers with GPS, four graders, three skid steers, 10 rollers, 15 manlifts, three backhoes, five hydraulic hoe rams, a GOMACO Commander III paver, a Cat D5G track-type tractor, 11 hydraulic cranes and two cable cranes.
“The only piece of equipment,” he said, that was “of the unusual nature was the zipper wall machine.”
Walsh beat the deadline, but there were challenges to the schedule. Collard said utilities were a problem at the start of the project, but “we were able to work around their schedules, other than the bridge over Massachusetts, which was delayed for two months.”
They had to deal with several city utilities that, although not in the way of construction, were close enough to cause concern. He also explained that some utilities were not relocated on time and some never appeared on initial drawings. Because of the design-build aspect of the project, he said getting drawings “pushed through as fast as you need them” also was an issue.
However, “the most challenging aspect of the project,” Collard contended, “was constructing the 55-foot-tall wire wall at the new Sherman overpass. I think this was the tallest wire wall ever constructed in Indiana.”
Before Super 70, the highway passed underneath Sherman Drive and the CSX Railroad bridge — a design that created congestion. By constructing a bridge to carry traffic over Sherman Drive, congestion was relieved and visibility and drainage were improved. Pilings help retain a dirt wall that is part of the new elevated road. He said the fill area and wire wall differentiated Super 70 from any other project he’s been involved with. Did he mention the size? CEG