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MoDOT ’Paves the Way’ for Highway 65 Expansion Through Ozark Mountains

Sat July 08, 2000 - Midwest Edition
Megan Nichols

The Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) is “paving the way” with a four-lane highway through the Ozark Mountains to the popular resort area of Branson, MO.

When complete in 2001, Highway 65, presently two lanes, will have four lanes all the way between Springfield and Branson — 24.3 kilometers (15.2 mi.) at a cost of $67.3 million.

The project involves clearing trees and brush, smoothing out hills, moving tons of Missouri limestone, grading the two new highway lanes and paving. The scope of the project merits a cooperative effort between two MoDOT offices. Burt Pitchford is MoDOT’s area engineer located in Springfield (northern corridor); he coordinates closely with Andy Mueller, the area engineer based in Branson (southern corridor). Harold Menzies and Gayle Davis are the resident engineers for the northern and southern corridors, respectively.

Northern Corridor

Freesen Inc., Bluffs, IL, is the prime contractor on phase one, which extends from Highway EE (Christian County) to Wood Fork Creek. The $5.7-million contract was let in April 1999.

Work at the site began in June, and the unusually mild winter of 1999-2000 has allowed crews to move forward without interruption. The project is on schedule to meet phase one’s target completion date of Aug. 1, 2000.

“We’re at the point in the project where the recent rain hasn’t hurt us. In fact, one rain even kept us from having to water to keep the dust down during a long haul we were doing,” said Scott Upschulte, site foreman, Freesen.

According to Pitchford, challenges of the project include building drainage items and getting fill built across deep hollows.

There are 1 million cubic meters (1.3 million cu. yds.) of excavating on the project. To date, crews have moved 980,000 cubic meters (1.28 million cu. yds.).

As many as 32 crew members have been on site operating 18 scrapers, nine dozers, three rollers, four blades, a tub grinder, four track hoes, two rock drills and six rock trucks. Currently, 18 crew members are involved in constructing two bridges, grading, and placing of rock fill base.

Recent MoDOT specifications require 120 centimeters (2 ft.) of rock fill on construction projects in areas of the state in which rocky terrain makes the fill economically available.

“If we can keep water away from the pavement, we can dramatically increase the life of the road. Since rock serves as a drain, we lay down two feet of fill once the grading is complete. We’ve always had the rock in this area; now we’re making good use of this material,” Pitchford said.

Rock also is being used to construct two sections of gabions. Trees and shrubs will be planted in front of the gabions to beautify the roadway. The plantings also will help replace native vegetation lost to make way for construction.

A commitment to the environment has characterized the Highway 65 project since its infancy. In response to public input during the planning phase, MoDOT made the decision not to burn trees that had to be removed before construction could commence. Instead of the traditional burning, loggers paid for all marketable timber, and remaining trees were turned into firewood. A tub grinder turned all smaller limbs into mulch. Both the firewood and the mulch were made available to the public and/or used on the project itself.

Communication between MoDOT and the public continues to be key to the success of the project. MoDOT public affairs officials advise motorists of delays due to blasting. When a day’s drilling is complete and a blast is set, traffic is stopped a safe distance from the blast site. The contract specifies the time limit for blasting, clearing the road, and reopening the road to traffic. The rock trucks move materials from the previous blast while drilling for the next blast is under way.

“I can’t say enough good things about Freesen. They’re really doing a good job, and they have been easy to work with,” Pitchford said. “There was not a formal partnering agreement on this project, but we’ve had a very good relationship and work together every day.”

Subcontractors working with Freesen on this part of Highway 65 include APAC-Missouri/Masters-Jackson; Tri State Traffic Control; Burk Bridge Company; Red Wing Construction Company; D & S Traffic Control; Schrimpf Landscaping Inc.; Road Runner Safety Services Inc.; and Asbestos Removal Service.

Plans call for the paving contract to be let in June; the area extends from route EE to the Taney County line.

Southern Corridor

APAC-Missouri/Masters-Jackson is the prime contractor for the paving of the Highway 65 southern corridor. W.A. Ellis Construction Company, Independence, MO, and Jones Brothers Inc., Mt. Juliet, TN, were the grading contractors for this part of the job.

During the first stage grading, crews moved about 2.5 million cubic meters (3.3 million cu. yds.) of rock, according to Gayle Davis. Crews also moved about 646,000 cubic meters (850,000 cu. yds.) of dirt during the grading part of the project.

Grading is now complete but bridge and paving work as well as guard rails and signage remain.

“The paving contract we let covers both of the earlier grading contracts,” Davis said. “We’re also building a fly over bridge with no ramps from 65 to take traffic on a county road over 65 to homes and businesses.”

Work in the southern corridor began in February 1997, and completion is targeted for the fall of this year. The contract allows for a set number of working days, so the exact completion date will be determined by the weather. The project is on schedule with the number of crew members at the site fluctuating from 25 to 50 people.

Even with the weather cooperating, the project has not been without its challenges.

“The rugged terrain and the close proximity of the heavy volume of tourist traffic to where the crews are working have both been challenges we’ve faced,” Mueller stated.

The deepest cut crews made was more than 51.9 meters (171 ft.) at Bear Mountain. The highest fill was about 45.5 meters (150 ft.) at the outer road at the 160 and 65 intersection.

“One of the most unusual parts of the job for us was the use of a lightweight fill to keep from eliminating part of the existing arches on the present road. We used elastizell; it’s a product as well as a St. Louis company. Basically, it’s a light weight concrete made of regular concrete mix with a chemical additive, a foaming agent, that makes it lighter weight,” Davis explained.

“We used as much of the existing road as we could, but we brought it up to today’s standards,” Davis added. “We had an old eight by eight box culvert, and we put a six by six precast culvert inside it and then pressure grouted around it to bring it up to today’s design requirements for load. One of the subs came up with the idea, and it was an excellent one.”

Joining the prime contractors are a number of Missouri subcontractors including Burk Bridge Company, Brookline; Explosive Contractors, Branson; Masters-Jackson Paving Company, Springfield; JLA Construction Company, Brookline; Redwing Construction Company, Marshall; A & K Electric, Springfield; Safe-T-Flare Rental Service Inc., Liberty; Thermo-Mark, Excello; D & S Fencing Inc., Desoto; and Schrimpf Landscaping Inc., Jefferson City.

The total cost of the Route 65 widening at Branson exceeds $67 million. The Bear Mountain contract for grading was $6.6 million; the price tag for grading at the 65 and 160 phase of the project was $16.8 million. The paving contract on the Bear Mountain and the 65/160 phase is $6.6 million. The estimated cost for the remainder of paving from Route F in Christian County to the Christian-Taney County line (north end of the Bear Mountain contract) is $7 million.

In addition, two contracts were let for turn-key projects that include grading, paving, and everything to make it drivable: 65 and F cost $16.8 million; the 65 and Bee Creek phase was $14.4 million.

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