Georgia Department of Transportation planners expect widening and interchange reconstruction at I-20 and I-520 in Augusta to increase traffic capacity by more than 20 percent, a major arterial widening in a metro area expected to grow by more than 16 percent by 2025.
The project bid out to the Scott Bridge Company Inc./United Contractors Inc. joint venture in June is expected to stretch through July 2010, and encompasses two major surface road interchanges in addition to the meeting of interstate highways. Project Manager Sam Stutt said the gargantuan project’s size is its most unique attribute. The contractor expects to bring in 360,000 cu. yds. (275,200 cu m) of dirt and lay down 250,000 sq. yd. (209,000 sq m) of concrete.
“It’s an interchange reconstruction project in which we’re eliminating the old cloverleaf and putting in flyover bridges,” Stutt said. “It’s a main interchange there at I-20 and I-520, and on the north side we’re changing the interchange at I-520 and Scott Nixon Road from a signal interchange to a bridge interchange with ramps and on the south end at Wheeler Road we’re re-doing that interchange.”
In addition the joint venture project will widen the I-20 roadway between Bel Air Road and Warren Road from six lanes to eight.
“It’s like four projects in one,” Stutt laughed.
The project is, in fact, a record-setter, according to GDOT Augusta Area Engineer Mike Keene. It was the largest project by cost in the state’s history, though that distinction was short-lived when a more costly project was let just weeks later.
“It’s the largest interchange in the area,” Keene said. “I-20 runs from Augusta over through Atlanta and on in that direction and this project also includes I-520, which runs here in Augusta circling Augusta and tying in on the other side to State Route 104.”
Crews have begun diverting traffic in preparation for widening, Stutt said, and Phase I work, which includes rerouting traffic off Scott Nixon Road onto a new ramp and the building of one of five bridges, is scheduled to be complete by November 2008. The project also includes sound barrier walls to reduce noise in the heavily traveled area.
“We’re very early into it,” Stutt said, “doing all the preliminary work getting the barrier wall out and shifting traffic around.”
Managing all that traffic isn’t only a challenge for contractors, it’s largely the motivation for the interchange reconstruction.
“We do 20-year projections for our design projects, and we’re experiencing a very significant increase in traffic above what we already have,” Keene said. “We have some loop ramps and the loops are creating weaving problems where they exit.”
Stutt said more than 70,000 ft. (21,300 m) of temporary barrier wall has been placed, and that heavy traffic in the area is one of the challenges of the project.
“Well, I’d rather be working in the woods,” he said, “but that’s just the way it is. It’s not something terrible but it’s bad enough.”
GDOT said the design is new for the area, though not new to interstate design.
“It’s a flyover-type bridge design with two flyovers, I-20 westbound onto I-520 eastbound and I-520 west onto I-20 westbound. That’s unusual in that most of our interchanges around here are diamonds or cloverleafs, so flyovers are new here in the Augusta area.”
Working from within a joint venture for the first time, Stutt said, though also new, has proved to be a strength rather than a challenge.
“It’s the first time we’ve worked together, though we’ve known each other through reputation for a long time. It’s got its quirks but it’s been as smooth as it could go. I think we’re doing a good job of managing the entire job, that’s what falls to us being a joint venture project, but it’s a lot like working with subcontractors,” he said.
And subcontractors will fill out the bulk of the work on the project. Scott Bridges will handle four of the five bridges and United Contractors will build the fifth.
Team Excavating Company of Wrens, Ga., will handle earthmoving, Reeves Construction Company of Tifton, Ga., will take on asphalt paving and concrete subcontracting will be by McCarthy Improvement Co., of Davenport, Iowa. Approximately 30 subcontractors will work on the $191.9 million project, Stutt said.
Most of the heavy lifting will be done by two 75-ton (68 t) Link-Belt cranes and a 200-ton (181 t) Link-Belt crane now being assembled on-site. He estimates a dozen Cat excavators and bulldozers by Ingersoll Rand will handle earthmoving, and a Kobelco 200 crane will be on-site. The site will also see a soil reclaimer and articulated off-road trucks by Caterpillar.
All the Cat equipment comes from Yancey Bros. of Atlanta, Stutt said, and Hlavinka Equipment of Texas provides service and Case equipment. Roper Laser will handle GPS equipment needs.
More than 200 workers could be on-site during peak times, Stutt said, and that makes safety in the high-traffic area a top priority. Approximately 100 workers are currently at the job site, he said.
“We’re on top of it, but we haven’t had any incidents or anything come up that’s been a problem,” he said. “We’ve got safety professionals working for us and we’re on top of that and the environmental stuff. The job looks good as far as those two things are concerned.”
One part of the massive project in particular stands out to Stutt.
“The scope and size of the project is probably the biggest thing to this job, but at the Scott Nixon interchange we’ll be raising Bobby Jones Parkway 15 ft. and lowering Scott Nixon Road 10 ft. That’s probably something you don’t see every day.
“It’s so we can get the bridge over it, and that’ll be a little tricky but the rest of it is run-of-the-mill — there’s just a lot of it.”
The project has been on his company’s radar, Stutt said, and this was the second time DOT put the project out for bids.
“We keep track of what work’s coming up,” he said, “And particularly for this type of project that we’re particularly interested in. It’s more a timing thing as to when the DOT lets the job out and dependent on how much work we have under contract. We’re just plumb busy it may not be appropriate.”
GDOT’s Keene said the project is one that’s been on the department’s radar for a while, too.
“It’s been on the books for a while,” he said. “We’ve been trying to get it built and designed and work out all the details.”
That process took longer, he said, when the project’s design had to be reworked to accommodate revisions in Environmental Protection Division (EPD) regulations.
“We had some buffer issues with ponds and some walls when it was initially designed, we did not realize would really be as near the buffer areas as they are,” Keene said. “When the project was actually designed the rules the EPD is going under now were not in effect. The rules changed the definition of what actually is a stream and what actually makes an ephemeral stream, and that came about after the project had been designed, so we had to make some accommodations to meet the new environmental laws that are out now.”
GDOT also included incentives for the colossal project’s timely completion.
“We’ve put a time limit on them as far as closures on the project,” Keene said.
Stutt said the joint venture contractor isn’t daunted by the time frame or the scope of the project. The company isn’t a stranger in this neck of the woods, Stutt said, or to projects of this size — it also is working on a $137 million project just over the state line in South Carolina on Palmetto Parkway, an extension of Bobby Jones Parkway in the neighboring state.
“It’s not as big as this one,” he said, “but it’s close.”
And despite the disruption to the biggest artery in the region, Keene thinks Augustans will praise the improvements.
“I think they’ll be well pleased with it when we get through,” he said. “Right now I think they think we’re trying to kill them but once we’re done traffic will move so much better and so much safer I think they’ll be well pleased with this project.” CEG