To help alleviate traffic in Columbus, Ohio, the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) has awarded a $75 million contract to a joint-venture (JV) bringing together The Ruhlin Company ($31.7 million) and George J. Igel & Co. Inc. ($43.3 million) to construct a trench express lane on U.S. Route 23.
The project, which began in Sept. 2013, will see the JV construct a 25 ft. (7.6 m) deep by 3,028 ft. (923 m) long by 40 ft. (12 m) wide trench that will carry two northbound express lanes to bypass the traffic lights at Campus View and Flint Road and bring vehicles out near North Woods Boulevard. This is the first highway project in central Ohio to include a trench.
The work, to be completed in Sept. 2016, is needed to deal with the congestion and safety issues created by an increase in population and development in Delaware County, which is causing the IR-270/U.S.-23 interchange to take on traffic beyond its capacity. Roughly 150,000 vehicles travel through the interchange daily.
“One of the major reasons for the failure was due to the local intersecting roads with traffic signals,” said Gregory S. Channel, ODOT’s District 6 project engineer. “The two options that were investigated were to either go over the intersections or to go under them. To avoid destroying the character of the area, it was opted to go under the signalized intersections.”
ODOT had long considered a solution to the problem, with traffic studies conducted around 2005, but “One of the more difficult aspects was obtaining proper soil identification to determine what wall strengths are needed,” said Channel. “This would then determine what type of walls would be constructed.”
Having a JV construct the trench is yielding positive results.
“I have been fortunate to work with this same joint-venture on a project five years ago,” said Channel. “It worked well then [rebuilding access to Columbus Airport], but this one has seen its challenges. The project area is very tight and on many occasions the contractors need the same locations to work.
“There are several benefits to all parties, but one of several benefits ODOT sees is the competition between contractors to have their work completed so the next phase of work can begin,” he added. “Nobody wants to be ’that guy’ who is holding up the next step of the project. We have a good relationship with both contractors, but it can be difficult at times dealing with several issues at the same time with multiple staffs.”
But the project encountered a major set-back early on — utility relocation, which disrupted the work schedule.
“The project experienced an eight-month delay with the relocating of a major communications system,” said Channel. “Our project is using CPM (Critical Path Method) as our scheduling guideline. It has been a challenge from day one due to the critical path being impacted immediately from the onset of the project. We have initiated winterization methods to try to gain some ground and we also authorized acceleration to maintain a completion date in the same calendar year as originally desired.”
The construction process will see: “crews drill holes every five or six feet along the perimeter of the trench and drop vertical steel beams anchored with concrete; excavators will remove earth and rock, and wood supports will be dropped between the vertical steel beams; once the trench is at the maximum depth, steel beams and wood supports will make up the framework for the trench walls; and anchors will be drilled into surrounding earth. The wood-and-steel wall also will receive a layer of reinforcing steel and a concrete fence.”
The lanes will be about 12 ft. (3.7 m) wide, with shoulders on both sides — 4 ft. (1.2 m) on the left and 10 ft. (3 m) on the right. A storm sewer will run beneath the trench. In addition, two new express lanes for U.S. 23 northbound traffic will be placed in the middle of the roadway. People traveling to Delaware County or points north of Northwoods Blvd. South, will be able to access the trench after exiting the I-270/U.S. 23 interchange.
Igel is responsible for excavating the trench and all the sub-surface utility work — the storm sewer, water lines, and other infrastructure elements. A subcontractor, McKinney Drilling, was brought in to perform the drill shaft portion of the trench.
“There were around 750 drill shafts [30 inches] to drill,” said Tim Cunningham, Igel’s superintendent. “and then we began excavating the trench. As we advance, Ruhlin crews face the sides with a cast-in-place reinforced concrete interface. Coordination is essential as everything is going on simultaneously. The excavation has us processing hardened shale and durable-type shale. We’re using a 336 Cat excavator and for what cannot be normally dug by means of hoeing, we’re employing a three-shank ripper-type rock processor with rock teeth. This allows for the shale to be broken up and rapidly loaded.
“As we are digging,” he added, “we have another subcontractor, Geobuild, at the end of the trench with soil nail rigs, drilling 30 foot, 1.5 inch diameter bars into the soil. After placing a wire mesh face, they put in a shotcrete — between 5,000 and 6,000 PSI concrete.”
Other subcontractors supporting Igel are: Asplundh for electrical, Kokosing for concrete/asphalt, Riley Boring for directional storm borings, and Paul Peterson Co. along with Griffin Striping for maintenance of traffic.
An interesting aspect of the work is that two bridges are being built by Ruhlin prior to the ground being dug up, which helps to minimize the traffic impact on local businesses and commuters.
“For this we are using a Volvo 305 excavator, a Komatsu 308 excavator and a Cat 963 trackloader, all of which have rock teeth,” said Cunnigham. “Pretty much every piece of equipment on this project, hoe-wise, requires a hardened-type rock tooth bucket to perform the application. For the surface preparation, we run a lot of Trimble integrated machine control with 140 Cat graders, Cat D5 dozers and John Deere 550 dozers. We are using many John Deere wheel loaders to navigate/traverse the job.”
With 150,000 plus vehicles using the traffic corridor daily, the second busiest intersection in central Ohio, access to the work can be difficult, especially to bring in some of the larger construction vehicles. And the difficulties will only increase when Phase C of the overall project is scheduled to begin in spring 2015.
Approximately 250,000 cu. yd. (191,138.7 cu m) of material spoils and materials will be removed via the excavation.
“Roughly 20,000 cubic yards of clay had to be excavated and stockpiled, and will later be spread over areas that we had to dig down to get to the shale,” said Cunningham. “The shale requires an 18 inch to two-foot cap of clay to allow for expansion and contraction of the concrete or asphalt material placed over it. We were also able to utilize an existing infield at the 71 and 271 interchange, a couple of miles east of the trench where there is a significant infield that was developed as part of another construction project built 10 years ago. This allowed us to build a mound and place some grass seed over the material from the trench.”
Excavated shale is being used on another ongoing Igel project in Columbus — a downtown revitalization project (Scioto Greenways) along the Scioto River that is restoring the shoreline.
On an average day, Igel has between 50 to 60 people on site, which is bolstered by another 15 to 30 subcontractor personnel.
With the company based in Columbus, there is no need for onsite mechanics. A mechanic is dedicated to intervene on various Igel projects and if additional help is needed, more mechanics will be dispatched from its headquarters, according to Cunningham. Prior to the start of any project, equipment is fully inspected and operators do daily checks.
“As part of our protocol,” he said, “the operators perform an inspection and we have a tabulated form that they fill out and keep a record on the machine through a book. If there is a problem, the operators speak to me or my project coordinator staff. If it is something major, we get it done within the hour and if it is just routine maintenance or a repair item, our night shift mechanic will take care of it, depending upon the severity of the issue.”
Igel has a “very stringent” equipment maintenance protocol and it is an equipment utilization company.
“Generally when we get between a 5,000 and 10,000 hour mark on a vehicle or piece of equipment, it is usually traded in and we purchase new equipment,” said Cunningham. “We’re heavy into equipment utilization and we prefer our equipment to be used whenever possible. This definitely forces us to be efficient and pay special attention to the schedule on a project such as this.”
For the trench project, Igel purchased the 336 Cat hoe from Caterpillar in Columbus.
“Igel is a fourth generation-owned company (founded in 1911) and we pride ourselves on buying local and operating locally,” said Cunningham. “Some of the unique equipment used on this project has been the soil nail rigs, a big drill on the excavator, and the use of a Watson 60-boom track drill rig drill the 35-foot deep shafts. We do a lot of unique construction projects, which includes a lot of shoring with lagging and beams and work on local reservoirs where we have excavators on barges.”
Jeremy Angel, Ruhlin’s project manager, said the importance of protecting the local character of the area and how important the bridges that cross the trench will be for businesses and commuters to get around the city and access highways.
“Igel has excavated probably 70 percent of the trench and we have started to form the abutment walls and retaining walls,” he said. “As the walls are formed, Igel will come behind us and construct the trench roadway. We’ve also began the second phase of demolishing U.S. 23 bridge over I-270.”
There are three bridges to be constructed on this project. The existing U.S. 23 over I-270 bridge will get demolished and reconstructed as a wider structure constructed on MSE abutments. There also are two new structures at Campus View Boulevard and Flint Road. These structures span the trench and will allow access to U.S. 23 and local roads and businesses.
“We poured the first bridge deck over the trench in mid-November and the second in early December,” said Angel. “The challenge with the utility conflicts has been the biggest in terms of the schedule. What is unique is that we will actually pour a bridge and Igel will then excavate under the bridges — it’s really reverse construction where you build from the ground down. For this we will have to close local roads and switch traffic and that will require considerable planning.”
Ruhlin is using several cranes — a 60 ton (54 t) Grove, a five ton Link-Belt, an 80 ton (72 t) Link-Belt, and a 165 ton (149 t) hydraulic crane — to assist in construction. As Igel completes a portion of the trench, Ruhlin then starts work on the walls for the trench. The ramps also allow Ruhlin to move equipment into the trench, such as 228 Komatsu excavators, 60 ton Grove cranes, Volvo 120 loaders, and large rakers that attach to the forms.
“We are working well with Igel to make sure that when they are done, we can come in and perform our work, and vice-versa,” said Angel. “This coordination also includes the subcontractors.”
In terms of subcontactors, Ruhlin has brought in J&b Steel for installation of rebar, Dot Diamond Core for concrete sawcutting, On Site Welding for installation of studs, Kokosing Construction for placement of asphalt, and Cosmos and Twin Rivers for painting and sealing.
“One of our bigger subcontractors are the rebar suppliers because all the walls are reinforced,” said Angel, who adds that he has between 35 to 45 people on site daily, along with 8 to 15 personnel from the subcontractors.
When Ruhlin completes the walls and bridges, it anticipates using 1,200 tons (1,089 t) of rebar, and 24,000 cu. yds. (18,349 cu m) of concrete.
Ruhlin does not have an onsite mechanic, but brings in mechanics from Sharon Center when needed for routine maintenance and emergency repairs.
“We routinely have our mechanics service our equipment and if something breaks down and needs to be repaired immediately, Igel has helped us out,” said Angel.
Commenting on the work schedule, Angel said “our base-line schedule had us working approximately seven months each season, with minimal work in the winter. However, because of the tremendous utility delays at the beginning, we are working with ODOT to open up winter calendars on our schedule and that has allowed us to bring the schedule back close to the original completion date. We will be working in every winter season.
“Working during the winter months has its challenges,” said Angel. “The most important thing is to work safely. The cold temperatures and increased chances of slips, trips and falls are areas of focus. Keeping the concrete above 50 degrees while it cures is also important. We use a combination of concrete blankets and ground thaw heaters to achieve this.
“Our superintendent monitors the weather conditions for the upcoming week of work,” he added. “If conditions are predicted to be too cold or icy, he will instruct his crews to sit at home. We also have a 10 degree rule for starting equipment. If it is not forecasted to rise above 10 degrees, then we will not start equipment.”
For the most part, Ruhlin crews operate on a daily single shift, but night shifts do occur to minimize traffic disruptions. A good example is when the crews are working with heavy and long steel beams, on the bridges, and paving.
Ruhlin and Igel —
Perfect Joint-Venture Partners
The Ruhlin Company and George J. Igel & Co. Inc. have partnered together for previous joint-ventures in Columbus, Ohio, and via those projects, developed a very strong affinity for each other and understanding of each other’s skills and assets.
Projects have included a two-phase roadway for the Port Columbus International Airport, which also called for the removal of an intersection and its replacement with an express lane that now takes motorists from Interstate 670 directly into the airport.
“There were three bridges associated with this project, which is similar to the Columbus Trench work that we are doing now,” said Tim Cunnigham, an Igel superintendent, “and that was a very successful operation.”
These shared experiences have led to the management personnel in each company getting to know each other well, including the management styles of each firm and for being very open to the sharing of equipment and mechanics to ensure that each firm can maximize its time on the work site and for overall schedules to be met.
“Ruhlin does a lot of work on bridges and walls and we do a lot of local infrastructure work,” said Cunnigham. “There was a 6,000-foot-long city of Columbus waterline to replace as part of the Columbus Trench project. We do a lot of excavation work and that is our forte. Working with Ruhlin is a good marriage and with their headquarters in Sharon Center [by Cleveland] — two hours away, if they have a piece of equipment breakdown or they need a piece of equipment for their operation, a dozer for example, that we are not using, it’s been convenient for us to trade back and fourth. This has been useful, especially with cranes, and allowed us to be efficient and productive.”
Jeremy Angel, Ruhlin’s project manager of the Columbus Trench project, said that this is the second JV for the two companies.
“They are a big and good partner that we team up well with,” he said. “We’ve done a lot of work in the Columbus area, which is two hours away from our office. If we’re in a jam, Igel mechanics will help us out, as well as lending equipment that they have on on site. We have a pretty good give and take because everybody is working together to ensure that the project succeeds.”
Angel added that both companies have attempted to establish joint-ventures in the past.
“The project staff gets along very well,” he said. “Both parties understand that everyone needs to pull its weight to succeed. Weekly meetings are held at the job site to discuss safety and schedule. The superintendents do a good job at scheduling crews in and out of work areas so as not affect each others.”
Cunningham has a similar appreciation, referring to a recent example of cooperation via the trench project.
“One such occasion that sticks out is we had to quickly figure out a plan to re-sequence the entire project CPM schedule,” he said. “This was necessary to accelerate the project due to all of the initial delays caused by the utilities in conflict with the construction. This involved combining phases and double shifting in order to allow the work to happen in the same amount of calendar time with no delay. When accelerating a project of this size is necessary it is invaluable to have partner[s] who understand the need to perform their work in off peak times to allow the proper progression of the schedule.”
Cunningham added that there are no immediate plans for another JV, which is “market dependent.”
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