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MoDOT’s Most Expensive Project Wraps Up Under Budget, Early

Thu March 04, 2010 - Midwest Edition
Kathie Sutin

On Jan. 6, Gov. Jay Nixon (sixth from L) and MoDOT Director Pete Rahn (seventh from R) cut the ribbon for the improved I-64.
On Jan. 6, Gov. Jay Nixon (sixth from L) and MoDOT Director Pete Rahn (seventh from R) cut the ribbon for the improved I-64.
On Jan. 6, Gov. Jay Nixon (sixth from L) and MoDOT Director Pete Rahn (seventh from R) cut the ribbon for the improved I-64. A Cat excavator digs up dirt by the side of the freeway. Gateway Constructors smoothes out the concrete on “Highway 40.” The “Fun on the Freeway” event, which MoDOT billed as a “once in a lifetime opportunity” to walk on the highway before traffic took over, began with cycling time trials and a 5K run on the new pavement. All afternoon, individuals could stroll, run or bike the almost 5-mi. eastern segment of the reconstructed road at the “Fun on the Freeway” event. Crews poured 261,235 cu. yds. (199,728 cu m) of concrete pavement for the project.

St. Louis area drivers are still celebrating what turned out to be an early holiday gift last month—the long-awaited reopening of I-64, known locally as “Highway 40.”

Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) officials are still celebrating the fact that the project—the largest and most expensive in MoDOT history—came in under budget as well as early. Projected at $535 million, the cost is expected to be $524 million.

The reopening came Dec. 7, three and a half weeks earlier than the Dec. 31 deadline in the contract. Gateway Constructors, the general contractor, will receive $5 million in bonuses — $2 million each for meeting the deadlines for completion of the east and west sections and $1 million for ensuring “regional mobility during the project.”

The 10-mi. (16 km), project also marked a first in the annals of Missouri highway construction. It was MoDOT’s first design-build project. Design-build projects can be built faster because the design and construction phases are overlapped. Its success is being studied for possible use in future projects.

Gateway Constructors is a partnership of Granite Construction Co. of Watsonville, Calif.; Fred Weber Inc. of St. Louis, Mo., and Millstone Bangert Inc. of St. Charles, Mo. The lead designer was Parsons of Pasadena, Calif. K. Bates was the ironwork subcontractor with a lot work on the I-170 interchange. Gerstner, the electrical contractor, did the electrical work, traffic signals and lighting.

The Carmageddon

That Never Happened

The project drew heavy criticism early on when MoDOT and Gateway Constructors announced a total shutdown of the road, the area’s main east-west artery, for two years. The local press had a field day with the anticipated closure predicting “Carmageddon” with total gridlock on the area’s streets.

But MoDOT forged ahead with a campaign to inform motorists of the closings and urging them to be prepared with alternative routes before the closure. The western half of the project, from I-170 to Ballas Road, was closed for construction in January 2008 and was opened two weeks early in December 2008. The eastern portion from I-170 to Kingshighway was then closed for construction.

The predicted “Carmageddon” didn’t happen.

“While closing the highway seemed like a really drastic measure — and it was — we had the engineering behind us to show it really could work,” said Lesley Hoffarth, project director.

Missouri Department of Transportation Director Pete Rahn echoed Hoffarth’s words at a press conference in December announcing the reopening date.

Rahn said that the I-64 reconstruction and its closure for such a long time is a project many said couldn’t be done. But, it was done and it can serve as a model for similar projects in other cities, he added.

Ultimately, many motorists commended MoDOT with getting the massive project over with so quickly.

Nuts, Bolts and

Bridge Deck Panels

Thirteen interchanges and eight major bridges and overpasses were rebuilt in the project. Crews recycled 456,156 tons (413,818 t) of material, put down 261,235 cu. yd. (199,728 cu m) of concrete pavement and installed 157,381 linear ft. (47,970 m) of barrier. They installed 413,000 sq. yd. (3,717,000 sq m) of retaining walls and 238,000 sq. ft. (22,111 sq m) of bridge deck panels. Some 5 million lbs. (2.3 million kg) of structural steel, 11.5 million lbs. (5,216,312 million kg) of reinforcing steel and 60,000 cu. yd. (45,873 cu m) of structural concrete went into the project. Crews installed 456 concrete beams, moved 1.5 million cu. yd. (1.1 million cu m) of dirt, excavated 38,000 cu. yd. (29,053 cu m) of rock and put down 95,000 linear ft. (28,956 m) of pipe.

Smooth Relations, Smooth Sailing

On this project, MoDOT did some things that are “cutting edge for DOTs,” Hoffarth said in an interview.

For one, it was flexible in its standards and specs. While contractors had to meet all federal standards, they could choose whichever state standards and specs they wanted to use.

“We wanted to give the contractor teams the flexibility to use their innovations to get the most project we could for the money available. MoDOT also wanted them to see other states are doing things differently that could benefit the agency.”

MoDOT also used less oversight—and a different type of oversight than usual—on the project.

Gateway was responsible for checking its own work, Hoffarth said. Then MoDOT worked with Gateway’s quality control staff to make sure the work was done right the first time. Any that wasn’t would be documented and fixed.

The project also showed how MoDOT could work together with the contractor.

“We don’t have to be adversaries — MoDOT and our contractors,” she said. “Working together actually gives you a much better product in the end.”

Other states with “way more needs than dollars to pay for them” have picked up on MoDOT’s success with the project, Hoffarth said.

“We get calls from other states all the time asking questions ranging from the innovative contracting method we used to how did we make a highway closure work so well to how are you getting along so well with your contractor and you’re on schedule and on budget.”

Fighting the Clock

Dan Galvin, Gateway Constructors’ spokesman, said the project didn’t involve any particular construction challenges — beyond fighting the clock.

“Just getting all that work done in two years was the main challenge but taking the approach to the construction through a full closure of the highway is what really made it possible,” he said, “just doing all the work in a protected work zone and [not] worrying about people driving past at 80 miles an hour. Having that level of safety was a major plus.”

Although the project involved a large number of bridge replacements, there was nothing too unusual about that either, Galvin said.

“Obviously the [Interstate] 170 interchange was a bit of a challenge just because of its scale—the size of the thing,” he said. “You’re working with huge, steel girders and things like that.”

Most of the equipment used on the project was “pretty much routine,” Galvin said.

The only exception was a drill used for drilling foundations for the sound walls.

“That had sort of a low profile to keep it out of the trees that were overhanging there,” he said. “That might be the only thing that was a little bit different that we had to bring in.”

Fighting the Skies

Weather became an issue this fall and dashed hopes for an even earlier re-opening.

“This year was a lot better than last year — up until October,” Galvin said. “In October we had only 13 days when it didn’t rain, whereas with the [entire] first half [of the year] we lost [only] 45 days of work to weather.”

Fortunately, the grading and dirt work took place before the rain hit hard.

“We already had a lot of pavement down, so [rainfall] wasn’t nearly as crucial an impact [during this phase] as it was in Phase One.”

Still, it slowed the contractor down, because Gateway couldn’t do the final striping and grading until the bad weather had subsided.

The contractor has until July 31, 2010, for completion of the remaining landscaping, striping and slope work, but Galvin thinks it will be finished quite early.

“Next time it rains hard, I’m sure there’ll be some erosion problems that pop up,” he said. “There’s always a certain number of punch list items you have to address, but there’s not a whole lot.”

Fun on the Freeway

The DOT usually advises children not to play in the street, but on Jan. 6, the day before opening day, that all changed. MoDOT held a “Fun on the Freeway” event, which it billed as a once in a lifetime opportunity to walk on the highway before traffic took over.

St. Louisans turned out in droves for the event, which began with cycling time trials and a 5K run on the pavement. All afternoon, individuals could walk, jog or stroll the almost 5-mile eastern segment of the reconstructed road.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony featured Gov. Jay Nixon and regional politicians including U.S. Congressmen William Lacy Clay and Russ Carnahan.

The “Jack Buck Memorial Highway” sign was unveiled during the ceremony. MoDOT renamed the section of the highway that runs through St. Louis to honor the late Cardinals baseball broadcaster.

Opening I-64

After all that buildup, opening day took place on Jan. 7, and it was no small event either. The high volume of traffic during I-64’s opening week surprised MoDOT officials.

“We figured that people would eventually make their way back, but it seemed the very first day everybody was back,” Galvin said.

Ed Hassinger, MoDOT district engineer agreed.

“An interesting phenomenon happened on the first day,” he said. “The traffic volumes were double what they were before we started working on the road two and a half years ago. There were a huge number of people that were just trying out the new road. Of course, it caused some problems on Monday.”

Traffic counts on all the other roads showed a corresponding decline.

MoDOT doesn’t know whether the surge of traffic in the first week will be permanent.

“It was about 10,000 in 2007 and [during the first week] it was 18,000 — not quite double. We don’t know what’s going to happen with that as we go further down the road,” Hassinger said.

But, he said, the road is handling the increase in traffic efficiently.

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