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Lane Construction Deals With Challenge From Above

Wed September 26, 2007 - Southeast Edition
Jeff Brooks

Crews widening State Road 408 in Orlando face many of the same challenges found on other road construction projects such as heavy urban traffic, safety issues and weather concerns. Then there are the airplanes.

Working adjacent to a general aviation airport has added a new dimension to the $125 million project, covering 1.8 mi. (2.9 km) between Conway Road and Oxalis Drive.

“We’re working right next to an existing airport and we have air traffic considerations because we have cranes in the air building bridges,” said Reggie Sterns, consultant construction manager for PB (formerly Parsons Brinckerhoff).

“This is an executive airport with smaller planes and we’re trying to make sure we peacefully coexist with them and don’t interfere with their operations.”

According to Sterns, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has a significant number of rules and regulations when it comes to any kind of obstructions in the airspace in and around the airport facilities.

Because the job is located directly in the approach to the airport, Sterns is dealing with the FAA on a daily basis.

“The airspace is governed by the FAA,” Sterns said. “We have some clearance issues we have to get from the FAA. Daily, if not hourly, coordination efforts are ongoing with the control tower to coordinate what we’re doing to make sure it doesn’t interfere with any operations of the airport. Not only do we have vehicular traffic to deal with, we’ve got air traffic.

“It’s a challenge that’s been handled well by all parties.”

This project, which includes adding lanes to SR 408 and building a new toll plaza, is just one of several along the busy highway. The total project covers 16 mi. (25.7 km) with a $640 million price tag. Meriden, Conn.-based Lane Construction Corporation, which was founded in 1890 by railroad engineer John S. Lane, is the prime contractor. Lane Construction also is one of the top five contractors in the country specializing in transportation projects.

The company still maintains its headquarters at the original site of the first stone quarry operation of its founder. Today, Lane Construction completes more than $800 million of work each year in more than 20 states.

“In order to accommodate future growth and increased traffic, we’re widening the 408, which is the second most traveled road in Central Florida next to Interstate 4,” said Brian Hutchings, public information officer for the Orlando/Orange County Expressway Authority, which is responsible for SR 408. “Because of the cost and size of the project, what we’ve done is broken up the project into segments.”

Hutchings said one segment was completed earlier this year and a second phase was finished recently.

“We don’t have the entire 16 miles of roadway under construction all at once,” Hutchings said. “We don’t want to impact the public that much.”

Currently, the project, which started in October 2006 and has a fall 2009 completion date, is in the first phase, said Eric Pruemer, project engineer for Lane Construction.

“We’re building the new toll plazas and come the end of this year we’ll be switching traffic to go through the new toll plazas,” Pruemer said. “Then we’ll start the median work and reconstruction of SR 408. Basically, we’re adding a lane to 408 and adding a high-speed lane to the toll plaza. We’re demolishing the existing toll plaza and adding a high-speed toll plaza, both east and west bound.”

Sterns said the new toll plaza will be split, with east and west bound traffic having separate buildings instead of a single plaza.

“We’re building two half roadway toll plazas because there was not enough right-of-way,” Sterns said. “There’s a county road on one side and the airport on the other. It’s really a different concept.”

Hutchings said the new toll plaza features express lanes, allowing traffic to go through at posted highway speeds. He said the westbound plaza should be open by November.

At this point, the project is “ahead of schedule and doing well” Pruemer said, adding they haven’t encountered any obstacles yet.

Hutchings attributes the early success to Lane Construction.

“The contractor, Lane Construction, has been making some really great strides,” Hutchings said. “They’ve been taking a very aggressive approach to it. They’re ahead of the game.“

Hutchings said Lane Construction has been able to shift crews to this project from other completed projects, which has helped things progress smoothly. Plus, he said, there’s been pretty decent weather and no hurricanes.

As might be expected for a project that includes roadwork, bridges and toll plazas, there’s a whole catalog of equipment on-site.

Sterns said they’re using bulldozers, scrapers, backhoes, pavers, rollers, mixers for soil stabilization and a lot of trucks to bring in fill, approximately 200,000 cu. yd. (153,000 cu m) of it. They’re also using rotary drills as well as cranes, both crawler and hydraulic.

“We’ve got areas of the roadway outside traffic that affords the contractor places to position and park his equipment,” Sterns said. “We can’t store them in the roadway.”

Pruemer said Lane Construction uses Caterpillar and Volvo equipment.

They own approximately 25 percent and rent 75 percent from Orlando area companies, which have provided excellent service.

“We’ve got all the earthwork equipment,” Pruemer said. “Graders, dozers, loaders, excavators. It’s all out here.”

There also are several subcontractors, including Welbro Builders, toll plaza construction; Middlesex Company, asphalt; Florida Industrial Electric, lighting and signage; and JBD Construction, barrier wall construction.

Approximately 150 workers are on-site, mostly during the day.

They are doing the paving work at night to help ease traffic concerns.

“For the most part, 95 percent of this job has been done in existing expressway authority right of way,” Hutchings said. “That’s always helpful in minimizing the impact to the community. The other thing is, they’ve been building from the shoulders out, so the existing roadway has had very little impact.”

Another project aspect includes a new bridge on SR 408 that will go over SR 436.

“One of the busiest roads is SR 436,” Sterns said. “We have a bridge on the 408 that goes over 436. We’re removing that bridge and replacing it with a single span about 170 feet high. We’re using steel girders instead of concrete girders and we’re going to build the new bridge in three phases.”

When the bridge is complete, Sterns said, it will create two extra lanes on SR 436, which should help alleviate traffic backups. During bridge construction, there will be some road closures, but most will be during off-hours from 10 p.m. to 4 or 5 a.m.

They are able to add the extra lanes because the existing concrete bridge supports are being removed, creating extra space for new traffic lanes.

Once the project is complete, commuters should see better traffic flow and less delays. Sound walls, architectural treatments and landscaping provide the project’s finishing touches.

“It will be aesthetically pleasing,” Pruemer said. “Sound walls run the length of it and they’ll be painted with architectural treatments. We also have a micro-contract for landscaping that we’ll do in 2009.”

Hutchings said less noise will be another benefit for surrounding communities.

“Unlike some roads in the area, we use asphalt and asphalt is a noise minimizer as opposed to concrete,” Hutchings said. “You have a smoother ride, which translates into a quieter ride. It will have improved flow so you won’t have the backups on the 408, which will benefit air quality. There won’t be any idle traffic.”

Pruemer said they’ll remove the existing asphalt and replace it, using approximately 74,000 tons (67,000 t) total, including 66,000 tons (59,900 t) of asphalt and 8,000 tons (7,230 t) of friction course. They’ll also need about 28,000 cu. yd. (21,400 cu m) of concrete for the barrier walls and 27,000 ft. (8,200 m) of 18-in. (46 cm) and 60-in. (150 cm) storm pipe.

They’re also bringing in about 200,000 cu. yd. (153,000 cu m) of fill for the embankments.

“There’s about 100,000 yards of excavation and we need 300,000 worth of embankment,” Pruemer said.

As the project enters year two of a three-year contract, everyone involved has been pleased by how smoothly work has progressed.

“These guys at Lane are pretty seasoned,” Hutchings said. “They’ve worked on the other segments so there’s not too many problems they haven’t seen and dealt with.”

And that includes low-flying airplanes. CEG

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