Work Speeds Ahead on Replacing Century-Old Bridges With Tunnel

Major Interchange Work to Ease Traffic Flow Through Gainesville

Fri May 11, 2007 - Southeast Edition
Maura Bohart



Thousands of Georgia citizens sit in traffic on SR 53 everyday. The highway gets busier and busier as more and more people move into the area. The second-fastest growing metropolis in the nation, new growth has enhanced the Gainesville area, but it also has caused new congestion.

On June 27, 2006, E.R. Snell began a $74.6 million, 2.5 mi. (4 km) project that is expected to relieve some of that congestion.

“This project is interchange reconstruction,” said Teri Pope, GDOT communications officer. “What we’re doing is creating a collector/distributor. There’ll be one choice point [while driving on I-985] and from that decision point, you’ll choose to get off on either SR 13 or SR 53.”

The I-985 project also creates access to Gainesville State College and Lanier Technical College from SR 13, so college students will have an alternate route for getting to school, removing some drivers from SR 53.

The project also will include a new four-lane divided route called Thurman Tanner Parkway, and it will widen the Atlanta Highway Bridge.

“This is a huge project,” Pope explained. “On any given day, there are about 10 things happening on this project. You’ve got asphalt being laid in one place, GAB in another and traffic signals going up in a third place.”

E.R. Snell also is working on a project on a neighboring stretch of SR 53, in which is it widening the highway to four lanes. “The coordination between the two has gone very well,” Pope said.

Such a large-scale project requires excellent coordination. “People were hand-picked to work on this project,” Pope said.

One of those people was Toby Hammonds, GDOT’s project engineer. He was chosen because of his expertise in bridges and because of his skill in coordinating large projects.

“Toby is kind of like the conductor that keeps everyone on the same page of music,” Pope said.

“I’ve got a whole office full of people that I couldn’t get it done without,” Hammonds said. “They are great.”

At E.R. Snell, Devin Snell and Steven Murrel, the superintendents of the two SR 53 projects, have handled the coordination.

“They have done a great job managing the projects,” said Terry Hollis, E.R. Snell’s vice president of construction.

The I-985 project started with clearing and grubbing the land.

“The interchange already existed,” Pope explained, “but we’re almost doubling the area.”

Bulldozers and trackhoes were used to clear the land and remove the vegetation. Caterpillars, Komatsus and John Deeres could be seen moving dirt and pulling up trees.

The land had to be leveled and approximately 985,000 cu. yds. (753,000 cu m) of dirt was moved.

“There are a lot of hills and valleys,” Pope explained. “It’s not flat and straight. We wish it were.”

More dirt was added than taken away.

“We got the dirt from a local landowner,” Hollis said. “It worked out, because he wanted to get rid of the dirt and we needed it.”

Articulating trucks, which are good at maneuvering on hilly terrain, were used extensively.

“Articulating trucks are a good part of the project, but we have moved a lot of material on the job with Cat scrapers. We used them as well as Volvo and Komatsu articulating trucks,” Hollis said. “The excavators and articulating trucks on a job of that nature have been very handy.”

Utility Infestation

Hollis said the road project was “infested with utilities.” Pipes and other utilities were in the area where the road was going to be widened, and the utilities needed to be removed before the widening could take place.

“Derek Stancil was the utility coordinator for both projects and that made a big difference, because we’re widening the road and [the utilities are] out there so they have to move out and it takes someone to coordinate,” Hollis said. “Derek has played, and is still playing, a large part in coordinating that.”

Approximately 15 mi. (24 km) of storm drain pipe will be laid before the project is complete.

Major subcontractors for the project include J.A. Long, the concrete paving sub and R.J. Haynie, the signal sub, as well as F&W Construction. E.R. Snell is doing the bridge work itself.

“We’re building the bridges in-house. We have a bridge division and we’re building the reinforced earth walls ourselves,” Hollis said.

Reinforced earth walls often form the bases of bridges.

“[A reinforced earth wall] kind of looks like a big concrete puzzle, big concrete panels that are tied together with galvanized reinforcing strips,” Hollis explained.

Informing the Masses

Because the project involves working on busy stretches of highway, GDOT uses overhead message boards and an e-mail list to notify people of construction.

“We’re trying to tell them before they get stuck in it,” Pope said.

GDOT’s Web site also has information about current construction, including a 24-hour statewide construction report that keeps visitors up-to-date on which areas to avoid and at what times to avoid them.

Besides helping commuters, there’s another benefit to this. “It makes it safer in the work zone when fewer people are driving through the work zone,” Pope said.

It’s also important to GDOT that roadblocks, detours and traffic don’t affect the community more than necessary.

“There are two colleges, a high school and a middle school on the project, so we’ve worked closely with the community to let them know when we’re going to be where, because that impacts not only the people who attend the schools and work there, but the community events at those venues. I send our weekly updates to over 500 people and it goes out from there.”

The company is right on schedule, thanks in part to favorable weather. “We’re in a severe drought,” said Pope. “It’s bad in some ways, but it makes construction easier.”

The expected completion date is July 31, 2009. CEG