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Kansas’s Ongoing Gateway Project Moves Toward Phase 2

The $288 million project is the largest one to be awarded in the state’s history.

Fri July 31, 2015 - Midwest Edition
Irwin Rapoport

Planning for the construction of the Kansas Department of Transportation’s (KDOT) ongoing Johnson County Gateway Project (Phase 2) in Kansas City — the first design-build project to be initiated by the DOT —began in mid-2008 when a three-year concept study was launched.

The $288 million project is the largest one to be awarded in the state’s history.

“The project is needed to alleviate congestion problems both now and in the future in Johnson County,” said Burt Morey, KDOT’s Gateway project director. “This is the confluence of three major highways — Interstate 35, I-45, and K-10 — and about 230,000 vehicles a day pass through this area. It is expected to go to 360,000 vehicles by 2040.

“We didn’t have enough [funds] to do the entire project,” he added, “so there is going to be another phase. The project that we are doing today will handle about 80 percent of the problems and as we get more funding, it will be good through 2040.”

The work is being done by a joint-venture uniting the Clarkson Construction Co. and Kiewit Infrastructure Co. HNTB is managing the project for KDOT and the design was prepared by George Butler Associates Inc. and HDR Inc.

Construction began in January 2014 with the widening of College Boulevard between Ridgeview Road and Renner Boulevard to four lanes, which was opened to traffic on April 14.

“This road serves as a major thoroughfare for the region and the one-mile section between Ridgeview Road and Renner Boulevard is one of the last remaining portions to be improved,” said Morey. “The existing K-10 and Ridgeview Road diamond interchange is being upgraded to a diverging diamond interchange (DDI) and the existing bridge structure is being widened to accommodate the new DDI without the interchange being shut down for any long-periods of time. This is scheduled to be completed by July 1, 2015 and it improves safety and efficiency.”

Also started was the widening eastbound and westbound I-435 to four lanes in each direction, including the replacement of the existing pavement and the addition of auxiliary lanes from U.S. 69 to the K-10 split.

“These improvements continue the westerly progression of widening of I-435 from the east,” said Morey. “The reconstruction work on westbound I-435 has been ongoing since the early summer 2014 and will continue into 2015. This year the widening work will shift to the eastbound I-435 lanes and all should be ready by late 2015. The benefits are improved safety [new pavement] and efficiency —improved travel times/decreased congestion — on this stretch of I-435.”

The work for I-435 between Renner Boulevard and Lackman Road includes the clearing and grading in this area for a new detention basin and preparing the area for construction work on the new eastbound I-435 collector-distributor road and it will continue through 2015.

“In mid-2015 the work to put the pavement down for the collector distributor road will begin,” said Morey. “This shall improve safety by creating the collector-distributor road, which will reduce the weaving for people traveling through on I-435 or exiting on K-10 or Lackman Road. As well, a new two-lane flyover bridge is being built to connect eastbound K-10 to northbound I-435. By shifting the flyover bridge to the west, it allows for additional improvements to be made for the other I-435 and I-35 movements. The new two-lane flyovers for the EB K-10 to NB I-435 are anticipated to be complete and open to traffic this summer. The one-lane flyover bridges needed to be replaced with two-lane flyovers to handle the additional traffic in order to reduce congestion and improve safety.”

The preliminary design that KDOT provided to the J.V., which was awarded the contract in 2013, was nearly 30 percent complete.

“We gave them a preliminary concept that they could start with,” said Morey. “We also wanted to make sure that we purchased the right-of-ways, had the permitting done, and identified utility conflicts. We gave them the parameters and they own the design. As long as it meets American Association of State Highway and Transportation [AASHTO] and KDOT design requirements, that’s really all the approval they need from the department.”

This year saw the start of several elements of the work, including work on K-10 and Renner Boulevard which began with a 60-day closure of the southbound right lane of Renner Boulevard (on January 20) to relocate the large water main and begin construction on the bridge piers.

“By mid-fall 2015 the Renner Boulevard and K-10 interchange construction should be complete and fully open to traffic,” said Morey, “with Renner Boulevard with more efficient access to K-10. Pflumm Road at I-35 will close in the late spring/early summer months so that utilities can be moved. Pflumm will be reconstructed and widening work will begin on I-35. Lenexa Drive, southeast of Pflumm is expected to close for about a month in the summer during the I-35 widening in the area. This will result in the widening of Pflumm Road bridge to accommodate the additional lane on northbound I-35.

“Construction work will begin to add an additional lane to northbound I-35 from I-435 to 95th Street,” he added, “and will continue throughout 2015. This will provide an additional lane on northbound I-35, which continues the progression of adding capacity on I-35. Construction crews have also been working on the flyover ramp bridge piers for several months. This spring the westbound I-435 to southbound I-35 and eastbound I-435 to northbound I-35 flyover ramp bridge girders will be constructed and in early fall, crews will pour the bridge deck. The new flyover bridge ramps will be open to traffic in 2016. The one-lane flyover bridges need to be replaced with two-lane flyovers in order to handle the additional traffic to help reduce congestion and improve safety.”

In addition to HNTB helping KDOT review the highway designs to meet contract requirements, Morey has several KDOT personnel on hand to double-check the design requirements and the quality control folks to ensure that the work matches the designs.

“This is the biggest project we’ve ever done- twice as big as the last one — and it gives our folks an opportunity to work on something big,” said Morey. “We have field guys who have been here for 10 to 15 years and some for whom this is their first year with us. This lets us prepare for the future.”

KDOT sees this design-build project as a way to maximize “efficiencies because designers are working hand-in-hand with the contractors — they are not just working in a black box. They know what the contractors’ abilities are and can tailor the design to match his abilities to construct the thing. Because this is our first design-build project, it’s under a lot of scrutiny and will continue to be through the completion of the project. As soon as it is completed — we’re collecting data now, we’ll analyze it and see if it is a cost effective method to deliver projects. There is a place for design-build projects in the future.

“We’ve already had some lessons learned meetings with our designers — the design is 95 percent wrapped up,” he adds, “and we may even bring in some of the proposers that were not successful to speak with them about it so that we captured as much information as we could about the project.”

Bryan Wilkerson, Clarkson’s project manager, said that the work will be completed December 2016, pointing out that the design-build aspect is the primary challenge.

“It’s the meshing of the different cultures to work as one team to accomplish the goal set out in the contracts,” he said. “Most of the time owners will have a project management consultant and KDOT has HNTB on their side. You also have assurance and quality control to deal with. You come with different cultures and policies and procedures and you try to mesh those into one that everyone can accept.”

Utility relocation is another challenge, with the J.V. responsible for most of the relocation.

“Until your design is far enough along,” said Wilkerson, “it’s hard to identify which utilities have to be relocated and where and what your potential conflicts are. So that is another teammate you have to engage early on in the process. We are dealing with 14 utilities — gas, water, fibers, sanitary sewers, and power. If you don’t have a plan developed from day one, knowing exactly where these utilities have to be relocated, you’ll be in trouble.”

After being awarded the contract, the J.V. spent 14 months on the design and by working with the utilities, it has been able to make agreements with the utilities.

“We meet with them on an almost monthly basis as a group and everyone understands the big picture of how each one may be in conflict with another,” said Wilkerson, “and who has to go first. Some of the utilities do their own design and do the relocation themselves, but the majority [of them] rely on us for the design and work, which is assigned to subcontractors.”

Dealing with the heavy traffic is ongoing challenge.

“We find that if you are inconveniencing the public, which we try to minimize as much as we can, as long as they see activity in progress taking place, they can handle it,” said Wilkerson. “We need the cooperation of the public to keep our crews safe and bring in materials on time. One of the traffic challenges is when you’re only allowed to close certain roads at certain times and non-adjacent roads cannot be closed at the same time, so the challenge is producing a schedule to adhere to those road restrictions and keep the project flowing.”

The J.V. is working hand-in-hand with municipalities that are making their own improvements which tie-in with the Gateway project

The J.V. is reconstructing 27 bridges and building 22 new ones, including flyovers that currently only have one lane and will have two.

Clarkson (the local company) is the lead on the J.V. and is providing the majority of the construction crews and equipment, while Kiewit is providing the design-build experience and the coordination to unite the subcontractors and designer.

During peak construction days there are close to 250 J.V. personnel and 150 subcontractor personnel on site. Work consists mainly of day shifts, along with some night shifts (10 hours) and this summer the J.V. will be adding a second concrete paving shift.

When all is done, several tons of concrete will have been demolished and crushed for fill in other project areas. Many tons of asphalt also will be reused.

“Our asphalt subcontractor reclaims the millings and adds them to new mixes,” said Wilkerson, “and all the existing concrete paving is removed, hauled to a crushing site and recycled for a cement-treated base. All the reinforcing and structural steel is brought to a salvage plant.”

The construction season runs from mid-March to mid-December and the down time is used to help prepare the upcoming schedule.

“Pre-planning with design-build projects is challenging because you’re starting work and progressing in the early stages when you do not have the big picture because the design is not completed,” said Wilkerson. “This is such a big job that we’ve broken it up into 12 different segments and we’ve tried to identify those areas on the critical path of the schedule and focus on them first. The designers started to release packages that were design complete so that we can start construction three months after the design is finalized — we’re not waiting around until the final design is complete.”

In terms of equipment and vehicles, Clarkson is using mainly what it has in its fleet, but it has purchased and leased: truckhoe excavators, and off-road trucks. The company fleet includes Cat, Hitachi, and John Deere equipment.

For this project it has an unspecified number of excavators, bulldozers, loaders, backhoes, cranes, and generators.

Clarkson’s nearest shop is 20 minutes away in Kansas City, Mo. Most of the immediate repairs and scheduled maintenance of the vehicles is done on site by the four full-time mechanics, who have specific responsibilities — a mechanic with the paving units, another for the bridge equipment, and two who work with the grading equipment. Spare parts, fuel, and various oils are kept on site, along with some specific repair areas.

Equipment operators fill out a daily check list and the mechanics have work orders that they fill out, which gives them and Clarkson Equipment Manager, Bill West, a complete history of individual pieces of equipment and vehicles.

West, who has been with Clarkson for many years, keeps a sharp eye on how equipment is scheduled to specific projects. Wilkerson depends on the efforts of the mechanics and West to have a reliable fleet, and is taking nothing for granted on this project.

“We’re constantly looking for lessons learned,” he said. “We have brain storming sessions all the time, and we pose challenges to our folks and ask for feedback on how we can improve our work and employ new and different methods. You can become very complacent with the type of work that you do if you do not update your methods. If we have the buy-in from our foremen and superintendents, who come up with great ideas — they organize and push the work forward, we’ll get together in small groups of five to 15 people to discuss the ideas and work through challenges that have come up.”

Through the design-build process the J.V. has been able to provide suggestions on the project to KDOT.

“There’s not a lot of cost saving opportunities for the owner in a design-build,” said Wilkerson, “but the owner reaps the reward during the procurement phase. We can bring in ideas that regionally or nationally that they are not accustomed to seeing which can give top quality at a cheaper price. We engage those thoughts in changes during our proposal procurement in getting the job.”

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