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MO’s Smooth Road Plan Keeps Crews Rolling

Mon December 19, 2005 - Midwest Edition
Kathie Sutin

Missourians saw more road construction this year — in fact, more than ever before in the state’s history.

Crews are working to produce smoother roads in the state — approximately 2,200 mi. of them for starters. The flurry of work came after voters passed Amendment 3 in November 2004 giving the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) the green light for major road repairs.

The amendment’s passage led to the creation of the $400-million Smooth Road Initiative, a plan to create more than 2,000 mi. of smoother pavement and better roads on Missouri’s most heavily traveled highways –– many of them in the St. Louis area. The initiative is the first of a three-pronged plan to use Amendment 3 funds to improve the state’s highway system.

Delays from the road work has vexed some motorists but Chris Sutton, a spokesman of MoDOT, said the inconvenience will pay off with better roads in the future.

“Certainly with so much construction going on with the influx of Amendment 3 funding, there are a lot of overlapping work zones,” Sutton said. “There are more work zones in 2005 than there have ever been in the history of Missouri.

“Certainly that means more delays for drivers. We have heard from the public in terms of delays but we hear more compliments than we do complaints,” he continued. “The bottom line is there’s going to be a little bit of pain but there’s going to be a whole lot of progress for the state of Missouri. Yes, you may have to sit through a few work zones and they may be overlapping work zones, but you know what, this money is coming back to the transportation infrastructure in the state of Missouri to improve the roads the public has told us for many years, ’We want fixed.’”

Amendment 3 passed by an approximately four-to-one margin making it clear Missourians want better roads, he said. Officials then decided to focus first on the highways that benefit the most people. The 2,200 highway mi. in the Smooth Roads Initiative account for 60 percent of all traffic on the state system. Approximately 86 percent of Missouri’s population lives within 10 mi. of one of the roads in the plan, Sutton said.

Improvements will include better pavement, brighter stripes and signs, reflective pavement markers separating lanes, improved shoulders with rumble strips and safer guardrails. In addition to the Smooth Roads Initiative, MoDOT has accelerated projects already planned in its five-year construction program.

Among the road construction projects under way in recent months has been the rebuilding of Route 367 (Lewis and Clark Boulevard) from I-270 to New Jamestown Road.

“That’s a huge job,” Tom Hayes, vice president of construction for Fred Weber Inc., the contractor for the project, said. “We’ve got pretty much all of our construction equipment involved. There was dirt work, pipe work, bridge work so we would use all types of equipment — a lot of track hoes, a lot of rubber-tired backhoes, track cranes, hydraulic cranes, different dozers. Our dozers and other dirt work equipment are Caterpillar. Our cranes are Manitowoc and Grove — Manitowoc is our track cranes and Grove is our hydraulic cranes. Most of our big track backhoes are Komatsu and our rubber-tired backhoes are all John Deere.”

The road has two lanes in each direction, which Weber plans to maintain through the entire job.

“The biggest challenge is we have to build the whole thing under traffic while we keep traffic open,” Hayes said. “It’s pretty difficult. It makes it a little harder. It takes longer — it does anytime you have to deal with traffic.”

But, Hayes said, the crew has a traffic control plan in place to keep all of the lanes open. So far there haven’t been many construction slowdowns, he said.

“We’re going to try to avoid that as we go through the construction,” he said. “Right now it has been at minimal impact but that could change.”

The road currently has at-grade crossings. The project included elevating the roadway by constructing interchanges, Hayes said.

The project, started on July 1, has a “real tight time frame,” Hayes said. “They want it done in two years maximum and they’d like to see it done in a year and a half. If we finish it in a year and a half, there’s a bonus system for completing it early.”

Hayes noted that some heavy rain during the summer impacted the project. But he added, “Other than that, we’re doing fine.”

The construction of a by-pass around Hillsboro on Route 21 is another Weber project.

“The Route 21 job is just about complete,” Hayes said. “Actually, we will have it 100 percent complete in a few days. All the paving on 21 is done.”

The by-pass will allow drivers to avoid going through downtown Hillsboro.

“It involved a lot of dirt work and rock moving with some heavy construction — a lot of blasting,” Hayes said.

The scope of the work was to excavate the million yards of unclassified material, build bridges and construct asphalt and concrete pavement from Hayden Road to Route B in Jefferson County, Don McGraw, senior project manager for Weber on the Route 21 project, said.

“We are almost complete,” he said. “The concrete pavement on the main line of Route 21 is complete. The section of asphalt road from Hayden to Route A is complete.”

The section is basically a new bypass and entrance into Jefferson College off the north end of Hillsboro, McGraw said.

“The new four-lane concrete pavement from Route A to Route B is complete and we are in the process of grading and preparing to pave the new concrete pavement at Route B on the south end of the job,” McGraw said.

The project began in July 2003 and should be completed this month.

“The [original] completion date was October 2006 so we’re roughly a year ahead of schedule,” McGraw said. “We worked real hard and worked lots of hours. We worked quite a bit of overtime to get the dirt excavated. Roughly, there was 3 million yards of material [that crews moved]. We ran 12-hour shifts to drill and chew that rock and to move it.”

The soil didn’t present many surprises although the rock provided a few, he said.

“There was probably a little bit less dirt than we anticipated, which resulted in more drilling and shooting of rock than we had anticipated,” McGraw said. “All the rock fill base and the ditch rock and the two-foot rock fill base had to be quarried from the actual rock excavation as we were doing it. It was a little bit more rock than anticipated.”

The soil was “nothing interesting — just a combination of dirt — a lot of boulders,” McGraw said. “It wasn’t real good limestone. It was more of a gravely material than good, solid limestone.”

The weather didn’t really impact the project because “it was basically a rock job,” he said.

“So even after it rained, we didn’t deal with mud or anything because of the rock that provided good stable haul roads. They were constructed out of the rock that we were quarrying there so it provided a good, stable road for us to haul the material.”

The company had its own concrete batch plant on the job site on the south end of the job, he said.

“So our haul distance for the concrete material was right on site,” he added.

The farthest haul we had was from the south end to the north which was approximately 3 mi., which made it very convenient.

“We were able to haul the sand and the concrete stone for the concrete from our local facilities over in Festus,” said McGraw. “The quarry furnished the concrete paving stone, which was approximately 12 miles from the job site and we had a sand plant at Crystal City that was approximately 12 miles off the job site so the material for the concrete was fairly local and we mixed the concrete right on site. It worked well.”

Any job of that magnitude with residents fairly close to the drilling and shooting involved is a challenge, he said.

“We monitored the vibration from the shots. We designed the blasting operation to minimize the effect on any of the neighbors on that project, and each of the shots were monitored by seismographic equipment to document the vibration was offset by the blast.”

Because the project is in the foothills of the Ozarks and the terrain is very hilly, crews had to monitor the water runoff which was done “through an intricate erosion control plan that we followed very closely to make sure any erosion or water runoff was minimized by the erosion control plans we had in place.”

The project involved constructing a section of road that will replace the old Route 21 that was two-lane and very curvy. That section was nicknamed “Blood Alley” by the media because of the high number of fatalities that have occurred on that stretch of highway.

“It straightened out that section of the highway and provided new, safer access for the high volume of traffic that goes into Jefferson College which was accessed only by turn lanes right in the middle of a two-lane highway and there was a high incidence of accidents at the entrance there,” he said. “This provided a bypass that really enhanced the safety of the students attending the college by providing new access into that facility.”

The project involved a total relocation of that stretch of road so there was a minimal impact on traffic which continued on the old section during construction, McGraw said.

For the project, the company purchased a new Caterpillar 992 front-end loader for the project and two caterpillar D10 dozers.

“We had also purchased five new 773 50-ton end dumps for the project,” McGraw said. “We had a fleet of 627 earthmovers, which belong to Bloomsdale Excavating, one of our subcontractors. They did the actual dirt removal and we did the drilling and shooting of the rock excavation.

“They did about 900,000 yards of dirt and we did a little over 2 million of the rock excavation. We had support equipment of D-8 dozers and small, finish dozers. We had Komatsu PC-400 track excavators. It was a very big job.

“All the concrete paving was done with CMI concrete paving equipment. We actually had some asphalt paving operation that was part of the project also so it was a variety of different types of pavements — asphalt and concrete.”

There’s a variety of other asphalt pavement jobs and concrete jobs going on through the Smooth Roads Initiative.

Weber worked on Route 30 from the city of St. Louis limits to I-270 and from I-270 to near Cedar Hill and worked on Route 61 in the Festus/Imperial area finishing early on both of them.

“The biggest thing is the speed, which the state wants these projects done,” David Rogers, vice president of estimating of Weber, said.

To ensure the work will be completed quickly, MoDOT sometimes provides incentives for getting the work done early and disincentives for not meeting construction deadlines, he said.

“That’s your incentive to get it done on time — if not ahead of time,” he said. “They want smoother roads and they want them done as soon as possible — that’s the speed part — and then safely — the three S’s.

“This is not the typical way they’ve done things in the past but Amendment 3 freed up a lot of dollars and their main thing is [satisfying] the voters,” he said. Getting the roads done quickly is a way of building good PR for MoDOT, he said. “It’s sort of, ’You passed this and this is what you’re getting for it.’ So it’s a good thing for everybody.”

The Smooth Roads Initiative has meant extra hours to get the projects done on time or early.

“We’ve been putting in a lot of hours,” Rogers said. “Most of the work was done at night because we have restrictions on what lanes we can and cannot close down and there are certain hours you can’t close any lanes down because of rush hour in and out of the city.

“We actually worked most of it on night work. There were a few times where we were probably working day and night on a few of those jobs where you could do some of the miscellaneous concrete work during the days out of traffic but the majority of it was done at night. The major part which was the milling — the cutting up of the asphalt and the laying down of the new asphalt — that was done at night.”

Crews used rotomills, mostly CMI and Wirtgen, to take the old asphalt up and grind it up, Rogers said. Blaw-Knox asphalt pavers were used to put down the new surface, he said.

“Pretty much all of the asphalt companies have been fairly busy because that’s what the main portion of work has been,” he said.

Justin Brooks, project manager of Weber, has the tough assignment of bridge reconstruction over I-70 for Route 94. The project involves “MSE walls under the bridges and a Route 94 bypass to get that done because the bridge was in staged construction,” Brooks said.

“There will be another phase coming up that will redo the outer roads and ramps and really redo the whole intersection,” he said. “This is a preliminary project for that.”

The completion has been pushed back to May 2006, Brooks said.

“There was a lot of design problems we had to revisit and that delayed us quite a bit. There were also problems with the site with differing ground conditions.”

Soil problems under the MSE wall required crews to dig out the unsuitable soil and replace it with rock fill base, he said.

Work along the interstate highway is a challenge, Brooks said.

“Space is a big challenge because we’re trying to hinder I-70 traffic as little as possible while still getting the job done is tougher — definitely.”

Lane closures also are called for on the busy interstate, much to the dismay of motorists.

“We have to have lane closures,” Brooks said. “MoDOT tells us when we can have them and when we can’t. We cannot be on the road during rush hour. Certain operations have to be done at night — anytime we have to close two lanes of I-70, that work has to be done at night.”

Paul Corr is senior project manager of Weber for a 30-mi. section of Route 30 from St. Louis to Cedar Hill.

The project was started in early March and slated to be completed this month.

The work has been mostly concrete pavement repair and diamond grinding “which basically goes in and smooths out the existing pavement and makes it quieter and ride better and expands the life of the pavement without having to overlay it,” he said.

“The majority of the project is milling and asphalt overlay and striping and electrical loops and video detection cameras,” Corr said.

The cameras will not be used for ticketing violators but will shoot a beam when cars are on the road and tells the traffic lights to go to green to free up the traffic.

“They’re doing this quite a bit around town but like everything you have to have money. It works out very well,” he said.

“The 30 job is going very well. It rides good, it looks nice and the state has been wonderful to work with,” he said.

Equipment involved was “basically roto-mills, asphalt pavers and rollers,” he said. “It’s a function of running tons through the pavers and making sure you hit densities according to specifications so it will stay in place for the life expectancy of the pavement. This is all superpaved with the modified oils in there to extend the life of the pavement.”

The project called for approximately 160,000 tons of mix installed in the project.

“That’s quite a bit of asphalt,” Corr said. CEG

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