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Montgomery Much-Needed Outer Loop Ahead of Schedule

Tue June 26, 2012 - Southeast Edition
Peter Hildebrandt

The new loop around Montgomery, Ala., will be an excellent way to speed traffic around the state’s capital city, smoothly and effortlessly. When all is done this new route will provide an excellent conduit for motorists driving from the busy Atlanta area down to Mobile, Ala..

This, too, will give both those driving around in downtown Montgomery and weary interstate travelers a break — by keeping them separate. Another section, to be built at a future date, should in turn be able to move motorists on the north side, from Atlanta to Auburn or Birmingham, Ala., without going through Montgomery. This work will effectively create a complete bypass for interstate travelers in the region.

The project previously designated and known as the Montgomery Outer Loop is now the first leg of the extension of Interstate 85. Work previously done now needs to be completed, and now the funds previously set aside by congress for the I-85 extension can be used — providing a logical point from which to begin the extension. The first projects will add lanes and ramps on I-85, and then complete the roadway from I-85 to SR-110 (Vaughn Road). The distance from I-85 to Vaughn road is approximately 3.4 mi. (5.47 km). An additional project, expected to begin at the conclusion of this project and take up to 24 months, will pave the roadway between I-85 and Vaughn Road before the route is opened to traffic.

The section that is the first portion of the project will cost approximately $150 million, consisting of 80 percent federal funding and 20 percent matching state funding. It will be necessary to add an auxiliary lane on I-85 between the new ramps and the Exit 16 (Waugh) interchange. The only changes to the Waugh interchange are slight re-alignments at the existing ramp locations.

Bessemer, Ala.,-based R.R. Dawson Bridge Co. will realign portions of U.S. Highway 80 and state Route 126, make ramp changes at the Waugh Exit on I-85, and build a series of overpasses and bridges. The total amount of the contract on this phase of the work is $66 million dollars.

Adam Patterson, Aecom Inc., project manager on the job, handled all inspections. This development is approximately 25 percent complete now, according to Patterson.

Construction began on this phase in September 2011. The estimated completion date is December 2014. The project actually got ahead of schedule. The weather stayed dry through early December, when they got a good jump on everything, according to Patterson.

“Then, when January and February came along we had some pretty rough conditions weather wise,” said Patterson. “I would say we’re a little ahead of schedule now, but not as much as we would have been had the weather held up. This has been a warm winter, but also extraordinarily wet.”

Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) has a goal of completion by 2022, but that goal must be tempered by uncertainty in the amount of federal funding that will be available. As proposed, the I-85 extension is approximately 126 mi. (202 km) from I-59 near the Mississippi state line to I-65. There is the potential for up to 27 interchanges.

The portion from SR-110 to Carter Hill Road is tentatively scheduled to bid the grading and bridge work sometime in fiscal year 2012 for approximately $66.5 million with the paving project to follow completion at an estimated cost of $17 million. For the section from Carter Hill Road to U.S.-231 the grading and bridge work is tentatively scheduled for bidding in fiscal year 2012 for approximately $22 million with the paving to follow completion.

One of the biggest challenges on the job involves the soil type at this location. Patterson terms the soil a “gumbo” or “fat” clay. It is relatively unique.

“I’m not a geologist, but from my understanding, seashore stood as the former environment here sometime in the ancient past,” explained Patterson. “The decomposed sea life from then left an area two miles wide in the Montgomery area and we are going right through it. This type of clay is actually unstable. We’re doing a lot of removal of this material and replacing it with better soil.”

Another challenge with this project — as with other projects that Aecom is involved with — is storm water management, trying to keep the water leaving the project in a clean condition.

“Even with normal rains, Alabama Department of Environmental Management requirements and an EPA requirement make it tough to build roads,” added Patterson. “Where before we’d just go and open everything up, not really worried about what kind of water we were discharging, now, as a project engineer, close to 50 percent of my energy is worried about water quality and storm water runoff.”

When the ground is opened up, the dirt is exposed, when it rains, that soil can get carried offsite and form new sediment somewhere else.

“It’s actually illegal now to let the soil runoff,” said Patterson. “It’s really just a matter of trying to manage your process so that as you are constructing the job you are stabilizing the soil at the same time to where if you reach the stone foundation it’s not going to hurt you.”

Newell Roadbuilders, Hope Hull, Ala., is doing all the grading and storm drainage on this project. They also are doing the road work.

Everything has been going fairly well so far according to Chris Newell, vice president, Newell Roadbuilders, but his crews face challenges similar to those mentioned by Patterson.

“It’s fairly low country out there and the weather has got us behind; it’s raining again today,” said Newell. “Other than keeping an eye on the weather and discharging some of the water that’s backing up on us — storm water discharge — those are the only real problems we’ve had so far.

“The soil in this area is the nature of the beast in the Montgomery area. It’s just the soil we have. This soil type has a very high plasticity and clay content; it doesn’t dry quite as easily. But we’ve been in business for 70 years and so we’re used to working with it,” Newell explained.

“Most of the time you can blade off the top, then get down, work on the soil up underneath and it doesn’t soak through and saturate the soil down below quite as much,” according to Newell. “In some instances lime stabilization must be used, but in this case that hasn’t been called for. Most of their excavation for this project has been offsite material. They are bringing in a sandy material so that they don’t have to deal with the gumbo clay quite as much. The sand source is adjacent to the job site.

“Right where this project ends, right on the edge of the gumbo material is the sandy material in some pits we’ve opened up,” Newell said. “We have all our own equipment with some 30 pieces of machinery out on the job. We are running four 621 Caterpillar scrapers, three 35-ton Cat articulated trucks and eight on-the-road 20-yard dump trucks — most of these are Mack trucks.”

They also have dozers and excavators, hauling units — support equipment — for the miscellaneous work involved onsite. Newell Roadbuilders has about 30 employees on this job and they will be involved on this project until the very end.

“We will be getting all the ramps up for the interchanges and then continue, in some capacity to work here as the job is completed. Our crews are also trying to help our fellow contractors, the bridge contractors, because they have the critical path which is the bridge work,” Newell said. “Newell is trying hard to keep them going and give them access to the project at all times.”

On the bridge construction of the project R.R. Dawson Bridge has eight cranes total. These are 300- to 500-ton (272 to 453 t) cranes. They also have several 180-ton (163 t) cranes onsite. The cranes are a mixture of brands. On the dirt work on this job site they are using seven pans or scrapers, including three or four articulating dump trucks.

This is going to be a really unique project once it’s all done, with all its flyover bridges, according to Patterson.

“There are some pretty tall bridges involved in this. For me, I’m used to building standard interstate bridges going over creeks and other things. This is about 15 miles outside of Montgomery and instead of I-85 running right into Montgomery, eventually, once this is completed and ties back into I-65 South, it will be re-designated as I-85.

“Once they complete this, which is several years away, we’re building the first section of it now, once it ties back into I-65, then I-85 will run from Atlanta to this location and then go south around Montgomery and hook back into I-65 south of Montgomery,” Patterson explained.

John Dowdell, risk control safety manager for R.R. Dawson Bridge, Lexington, Ky., explained, “The cranes on the job are those of Dawson Bridge, primarily Link-Belt and Kobelco cranes. They have onsite 75, 80, 100 and 200 ton Link-Belt cranes along with a 110- ton Kobelco, and a 35-ton Grove crane. Right now we are doing primarily all the footers and columns for the various bridges involved with this site. The Montgomery Loop job has been pretty cut- and-dry so far.

“I think on the safety side one of the biggest challenges we face will be fall protection. The highest elevation on one of the bridges is 90 feet. This will take a lot of planning to make sure that we have everything the way it should be.”

Dawson Bridge has had an office in Bessemer, Ala., since 1967. They do hire locally as well but their core management team travels from company office to job site(s) with additional support from headquarters in Kentucky. This contractor will be on this job for the duration of the project. Interestingly, the project was solely for bridge construction.

R.R. Dawson Bridge will put in the four bridges that connect Interstate 85 to the future loop around Montgomery, about 12 mi. outside the city. This is just the one interchange which will connect the loop to the interstate.

“The roadbed that is for the loop is already in place,” said Dowdell. We’re working hand in hand with the Alabama Department of Transportation, the field inspectors and the engineers; it’s a continual conversation.

“Whereas some companies like to set up weekly meetings and address things at those meetings, we find it’s much easier to get the decision-makers together out in the field to review the issue at hand, resolve it then press on versus waiting for a meeting. We’re always in communication with these guys.”

Four track hoes are currently operating for the grading work onsite. The four dozers at this job site range from a D-9 to those that are a somewhat smaller version of this equipment.

“One thing is with the south pulls we’re using, on both those dozers they’re using wide tracks,” explained Patterson.

“I’ve never worked with those very much before. But they’re actually very impressive with some of the places that they can go without breaking up,” Patterson continued. “Local contractors on the job include R.R. Dawson and Alabama Bridge Builder. They are using the pans onsite. I think they are renting some of this equipment too. Newell Road Builders owns all the dirt-moving equipment on site and is doing all the dirt work. Though the dirt-moving work is all being done by one contractor, it is actually split up in to three different projects.”

On one job they have 150,414 cu. yds. (115,000 cu m) of excavation taking place and 442,087 cu. yds. (338,000 cu m) of borrow, according to Patterson. Taking place on the other job is the moving of 540,183 cu. yds. (413,000 cu m) of borrow and 115,099 cu. yds. (88,000 cu m) of excavation. Between the two different projects there is about 1,046,360 cu. yds. (800,000 cu m) of borrow and more than 392,385 cu. yds. (300,000 cu m) of excavation.

“I don’t really know why they separated the dirt work into different projects or plan sets,” said Patterson. “If you look at the contract they have all the numbers together; but as far as us building it it’s separated out and it’s kind of a challenge for us on this job.

“There is no one place or set of plans I can go to in order to find out what happens. It’s roughly divided. One half is on one plan set and the other half of the job is on another plan set,” explained Patterson.

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