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Las Vegas’ U.S. 95 Project Hits Final Phase

Tue October 16, 2007 - West Edition
Rebecca Ragain

Drivers commuting from northwestern Las Vegas Valley to the city’s downtown area are no doubt relieved that the final phases of an eight-year highway improvement project are nearly complete.

Started in 2000, the U.S. 95 widening project is improving approximately 9 mi. (14.5 km) of the highway, from West Craig Road to Martin Luther King Boulevard, where U.S. 95 intersects Interstate 15.

The Nevada Department of Transportation deemed the U.S. 95 widening project necessary due to an enormous increase in traffic. When U.S. 95 opened in 1971, the average daily traffic (ADT) at U.S. 95 and Rancho Drive was 25,000 vehicles. Three decades later, that number had increased eight-fold. By 2020, NDOT estimates that 300,000 cars per day will travel U.S. 95.

Eight phases of the U.S. 95 project have been completed to date, including several bridge replacements, construction of additional HOV lanes, and storm drain and sound wall installation. These phases ranged in cost from $3.6 million to $42 million, and were completed by a variety of construction contractors.

One of the most expensive phases is less than one month from completion: project 3C, which reconstructs the U.S. 95 bridge over Rancho Drive and the connector ramps to I-15, as well as adding on- and off-ramps at Martin Luther King Boulevard.

The design contract for project 3C went to New York-based firm Parsons, Brinckerhoff, Quade & Douglas, and was completed in May 2003.

Project 3C’s construction contract was awarded to Frehner Construction, a brand of Aggregate Industries, which operates in Nevada and Utah. (Aggregate Industries is a member of the Holcim Group, the Swiss cement company that employs nearly 90,000 people worldwide.) Frehner Construction’s bid was $61 million.

Frehner Construction, based out of North Las Vegas, is no new kid on the block when it comes to transportation projects. Approximately 90 percent of its business is public work; its bread and butter is bridge, road and underground construction projects.

In fact, Frehner Construction received the Large Project Contractor of the Year award from the Utah Department of Transportation in both 2004 and 2007.

The company had previously worked on two other portions of the U.S. 95 widening project. The larger, with a cost of $42 million, was the Summerlin Parkway/Rainbow Boulevard interchange. That project, dubbed 2C/2D, was under way from November 2003 to August 2005.

Frehner Construction also completed project 3B, installing a reinforced concrete box storm drain from east of Valley View Boulevard to east of Rancho Drive, and constructing sound walls on both sides of U.S. 95 between Rancho Drive and Valley View Boulevard.

Project 3B was finished in February 2005, for an investment of approximately $16 million.

Despite all of the company’s previous experience, at the time that Frehner Construction was awarded the contract for project 3C, it was the biggest job in company history.

Frehner Construction started work on project 3C in June 2005. As of August 2007, crews had installed 31,300 cu. yds. (24,000 cu m) of concrete, 95,900 tons (87,000 t) of asphalt base, and 24,200 tons (220,000 t) of Type 1 base.

But this wasn’t just a widening job, pointed out Frehner Construction project manager Ernesto Rivera, adding that there was a lot of “tearing out and putting in new stuff.”

For instance, California-based Case Pacific was subcontracted to drill more than 1,640 yds. (1,500 m) of shafts for CIDH piling.

Project 3C also called for 14,300 sq. ft. (12,000 sq m) of mechanically stabilized earth walls.

The MSC walls and five bridges were the most time-consuming aspects of the project, Rivera explained: “At least 18 months was devoted to bridges and walls, the rest is fill in with dirt work and underground.”

Four of the five bridges were brand-new concrete structures. Their construction was relatively straightforward.

The fifth bridge proved to be more problematic. It was a retrofit of a five-length, 100-ft. (30.5 m) section of bridge over Martin Luther King Boulevard; the concrete span needed to be upgraded with a steel girder deck.

What should have been an easy job, according to Rivera, was complicated by traffic considerations because the bridge was not closed to the public during the retrofit.

So it was a challenge switching traffic smoothly from one phase to another. Rivera said, “It was really an evolution of where traffic was going to go next.”

The flip side of that coin, Rivera added, is enjoying the rewarding feeling that comes from seeing drivers using the completed sections of newly improved roadway.

There were a few other unexpected developments. For instance, the bridge over Martin Luther King Boulevard had previously been expanded to the north, which Rivera said “threw a kink in some of the design.”

He continued: “If we would have found a way to divert traffic, a brand-new bridge would have been easier and less of a headache. There were just a lot of little unknowns.”

Aside from the retrofit, which put Frehner Construction approximately two months behind schedule, Rivera reported that “everything else was fairly easy and no hiccups at all.”

At the peak of the project, Frehner Construction had approximately 240 employees on the job, including approximately 15 subcontractors.

Because Frehner Construction does not own much heavy equipment, it rented about half the equipment needed for project 3C from dealers such as Ecco Equipment Corp, Cashman Equipment Company, and Ahern Rentals Inc.

For example, Frehner Construction leased machines such as a Cat 325 excavator with a 4,500-lb. (2,000 kg) breaker, Cat 277, 247 and 246 skid steer loaders, and Cat 14M and 14H motorgraders.

There also were a few other machines on-site, but Frehner Construction primarily relies on Caterpillars.

In fact, Max Lozeau from the rental section of Cashman Equipment Company, a Caterpillar dealer based in Henderson, Nev., said that Frehner Construction has “run it all, everything we have.” CEG

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