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Massive Bridgework Creates Final Hurdle During Last Leg of I-4 Job

Wed June 14, 2000 - Southeast Edition
Cathy Hirko

A large conference room in Granite Construction Company’s Tampa, FL, office speaks volumes for one of the company’s latest projects. In black and white blueprints lined with yellow and blue marks, highly developed maps of Interstate-4 (I-4) are photocopied and taped to the wall. The project’s size snakes across practically every spare inch of wall in the room, showing the immense $78-million construction project to revamp just a portion of the highway in Hillsborough County.

This portion is nothing to sneeze at, noted Dan Peter, project manager for Granite Construction Company’s work on this particular section of I-4. It’s the last of six revamping and expansion sections on a stretch of highway connecting Tampa and Lakeland in West Central Florida — a heavily-traveled road for business commuters and vacationers alike.

More sections will undergo construction, but I-4 is entering the last leg of expansion for this stretch of highway. The entire highway construction began in 1995 and Peter’s crew is working on the last leg; the project should finish in August 2001. The original date for completion was slated for the end of March 2001.

Peter explained that this section, which stretches from 50th Street in Tampa to where I-4 meets Interstate 75, is laden with bridgework. The entire project employs roughly 30 subcontractors and is split into 14 phases, thus the need to visually extend the project from corner to corner in Granite’s office. That visual enables Peter and the Granite employees working on the project to better see, understand and track each phase.

In the 8.2 kilometers (5.1 mi.) of roadway, Granite Construction will be demolishing nine bridges and building 12 new ones, in addition to adding a lane both east and west to the existing four-lane highway and constructing nine retention ponds. The project also provides for future highway expansion, including a high-speed rail, however, the latter of that construction was batted down by Florida state government.

Peter estimated that subcontracting in particular ranges from $2,000 to $6.4 million per subcontract. Such subcontracting work includes asphalt paving, landscaping, erosion control, signalization, signing, lighting, trucking, and utilities.

Giving an example of some of the equipment used on the job, Peter said there are 20- to 45-metric-ton (22 to 49.5 ton) hydraulic excavators, 31.5- and 36-metric-ton (35 to 40 ton) articulated trucks, sectional barges, three rough terrain cranes, two crawler cranes and one truck crane that will be used for his construction. Granite Construction owns most of the equipment. “You are more competitive if you own your own equipment,” Peter said. “We are very equipment intensive. And with that equipment we have more control over our projects.”

The booming construction economy in the Tampa Bay area presents Granite both with opportunities and challenges. One such challenge is to not only find hard workers but to keep such workers — a problem not specific to Granite Construction. “It’s difficult to find qualified workers, especially in the heat,” Peter said. “I have a lot of empathy for the labor [during the summer].”

On a lighter note, Granite Construction noted that Florida — with its year-round work schedule — is an excellent market for construction. In the past, Granite was more western-intensive with construction and the eastern work helps to offset the company’s revenue when the west hits a low period.

High traffic volume (more than 100,000 vehicles pass through this stretch of I-4) and extensive bridgework in this section make for challenging construction. On the bridgework alone, Granite brings in barges for the heavy equipment, such as the cranes, to work on the bridge excavation, demolishing and construction. “It’s very difficult work,” Peter said.

When bidding on the work, the state and federal contract dictated that during the day, two lanes stay open on both east and westbound traffic at all times. Lane closures only occur during 11 p.m. and 5:30 a.m. “It’s a very short window at night,” Peter said.

Like other Granite Construction projects in I-4, the company will employ 100 to 110 hourly workers at the peak of the construction, as well as 13 salaried employees.

The specific construction aspects of Peter’s crew include having the interchange ramps modified with new bridges at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, Orient Road, Hillsborough Avenue, U.S. Highway 92, and U.S. Highway 301. Most of these bridges will remain open during construction. The Chelsea Road overpass has been removed and won’t be replaced. A new road (Sligh Avenue) has been built across from Breckenridge Office Park to connect U.S. Highway 301 to Maple Lane, providing access to the area north of I-4 and east of the Tampa Bypass Canal. Eureka Springs Road has been converted into a two-way road across the Tampa Bypass Canal to provide access to the Eureka Springs area and Vandenberg Airport. The existing a ccess to Eureka Springs Road from U.S. Highway 92 and I-4 eastbound (Exit 6C) has been removed.

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