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Making I-70 More Comfortable at Mt. Comfort

Fri July 24, 2009 - Midwest Edition
Lori Lovely

To improve current traffic flow from Mount Comfort Road to Interstate 70 and to handle expected future growth, the Indiana Department of Transportation initiated a $20.2 million project to upgrade the interchange. A Major Moves project, work is funded from the nearly $12 billion budgeted for new road construction, preservation, resurfacing and other projects from 2006 to 2015 by Gov. Mitch Daniels. The two-year project includes building new looping ramps and access roads and widening I-70.

The Mount Comfort area in Hancock County east of Indianapolis has experienced significant population increases. According to Ashley Hungate, INDOT spokesperson, more than 75,000 vehicles pass through the I-70 intersection daily and more than 15,500 vehicles travel on Mt. Comfort Road, which provides access to several businesses. The interchange and its two-lane bridge over I-70 are not adequate to handle the increased traffic volume.

Ramping Up

According to John Wischmeyer, project manager for Reith-Riley Construction, based in South Bend, Ind., general contractor on the project, ramp work comprises about 70 percent of total work to be performed on the interchange.

New ramps will convert the existing diamond into a half cloverleaf, explained Hungate, eliminating all left turns from Mt. Comfort Road onto the interstate. Ramps are being constructed in the northeast and southwest corners of the interchange, which will move traffic from southbound Mt. Comfort Road to eastbound I-70 and from northbound Mt. Comfort Road to westbound I-70. The new design is expected to improve flow and increase safety. “It gives more green time. Instead of two points [of merger], the ramps flow into one point before merging.”

Over the past few years, projects to improve existing ramps and widen Mount Comfort Road have been completed in preparation for this year’s upgrades. Environmental studies were also conducted.

Indianapolis-based Level 5 Engineering LLC designed the reconfiguration of the interchange for the second phase of the project. The firm provided engineering for the roadway and bridge work, including drainage, signals, signage and right-of-way design. Hungate indicated that INDOT already possessed adequate right of way, despite the abundance of businesses in the area.

In addition to the loop ramps, nearly 4 mi. (6.4 km) of ramps will be added, as well as travel lanes between County Road 200N and County Road 300N. Three bridges will be widened to accommodate the additional ramp lanes and wider travel lanes on Mt. Comfort Road. Interstate bridges will be widened with precast concrete I-beams; the Mt. Comfort Road bridges will be widened with reinforced concrete box beams.

Dirty Job

Preliminary dirt work for the new ramps began this summer under the direction of Central Engineering and Construction. According to Karen Horth Powers, CEO, the Greenfield, Ind.-based company “chased it hard” in part because the project is located in their “front yard” but also because since earning INDOT certification a couple years ago, they’ve been bidding more INDOT jobs.

Central Engineering has its roots in a family company founded by her grandfather in 1933, but is a separate entity she established, with the family’s blessing, in 1993. With expertise in earth moving, sanitary sewer systems, storm water drainage, waterline installation and soil stabilization, the Greenfield company is well suited for the Mt. Comfort project. In addition to building up dirt for the new ramps and loops, Central Engineering will perform storm sewer drainage work, earthwork for additional frontage roads and soil stabilization prior to pavement.

“We’re the first in, last out,” Powers chuckles. In all seriousness, however, it adds some pressure to maintain a fast-paced schedule. “It’s a two-phase, two-year project, but certain work needs to be completed by the end of October. It creates a higher sense of urgency.” The pressure’s on. The job was awarded to Central Engineering in February, but because, as Powers laments, “the weather was not kind this spring,” commencement of the physical work was delayed until May.

Describing it as a standard fill job, Powers said a crew of about 20 is cutting and moving soil during 10-hour shifts Monday through Friday, with some Saturdays as weather allows.

Because of the demands of this job and other work, Powers said they purchased a John Deere 872D motorgrader and some smaller pieces from Holt Equipment, headquartered in Louisville, Ky. Looking specifically for John Deere equipment, they “put the call out to our suppliers,” she said. Central Engineering maintains a variety of brands of earth-moving equipment in its fleet: scrapers, off-road haul trucks, excavators, dozers, compactors and graders.

Powers also likes the support provided by the local dealership. Bill Ettinger, Holt salesman, said they’ve enjoyed a long relationship with the contractor. “The I-70 job is the first job they used the 872 on; it’s a huge job.” He said they’re now using the motorgrader on a lime stabilization job. Lime stabilization provides integrity for the working platform of a project by increasing stability, impermeability and load-bearing capacity of the subgrade.

Powers feels “great” about the company’s performance so far and said they’ve handled challenges well. “Some, like utilities relocation, are out of our hands,” she explained. For others, such as the need to maintain sound drainage, they’ve made provisions by installing temporary measures. “You could call it a work-around.”

Beyond the Cloverleaf

Crews will be working around traffic this year because Hungate said INDOT wants as little traffic interruption in the area as possible. There will be no traffic shift until 2010, when crews will begin removing the old ramps. “They are trying to build the new ramps without restricting the current lanes.” New ramps will be connected and put into service as they are ready to use.

This year’s schedule also includes improvements to Mt. Comfort Road and the bridge over Buck Creek just south of the intersection. Wischmeyer reports that the bridge will be 11 ft. (3.3 m) wider on each side. Approaches to the interchange also will be widened. Improvements also are planned for Mt. Comfort Road north of the intersection.

Local businesses welcome the improvements. Hungate said a local truck stop attracts a lot of truck traffic and admits that the current intersection isn’t wide enough to easily accommodate the 1,200 to 1,800 semi-trailers that have to make a sharp turn into and out of the facility.

Crews are scheduled to complete the project next year, including some resurfacing work near the overpass. Hungate said they’re keeping things moving, despite persistent spring rains. “We’re on schedule; we had rain days built in.” CEG

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