NJ 47 Drivers Get Holiday Bonus

Wed December 15, 2004 - National Edition
James Van Horn

With highway construction following an accelerated schedule, both shoppers and merchants in a major South Jersey retail center are getting an early Christmas present.

A new, expanded New Jersey Route 47 in Vineland and Millville, NJ, is open to traffic in time for the holiday rush, as many as 17 months ahead of schedule.

Agate Construction Co. Inc., Ocean View, NJ, is rebuilding a 3-mi. (4.8 km) stretch of Route 47, also known as Delsea Drive, under a $16-million contract with the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT). The principal reason for upgrading and expanding the road is the growth of retail centers along the northern half of the road, around the spot where Route 47 intersects with the NJ Route 55 four-lane freeway.

Agate was awarded the contract in summer 2003 and began work in January 2004, but really got rolling this past spring. Originally the job was split into two parts, with completion of the south half of the job, below Route 55, scheduled for August 2004 and the north half for 2006.

However, Agate elected to do both halves at the same time, with the south half finishing ahead of the north half. As a result, according to James E. “Jim” Johnston III, president of Agate, the firm has essentially finished the job, with only some cleanup remaining, so that all lanes are open for traffic in time for the Christmas rush. (Parts of the Vineland section of the project are still in progress due to utility relocation.) The accelerated schedule was made possible in large part by the efforts of Tim Larson, project manager; Kevin Knuettel, project engineer, and Gary Petersen, project superintendent

Route 47 is mostly a two-lane road originally built to connect the Camden area with Wildwood and Cape May in South Jersey, passing through Glassboro, Vineland and Millville. The newer NJ 55 freeway runs alongside of it for much of the distance. But due to the retail growth — one major shopping center plus several “big box” stores — along Route 47, two lanes, plus some turning lanes added a few years ago, weren’t enough to handle traffic.

Agate’s contract calls for adding turning and travel lanes to make the road five lanes wide — four travel lanes and a center turning lane. There also is an improved interchange with NJ 55 plus additional lights, curbing and safety improvements.

Initially Agate excavated 71,500 cu. yds. (55,000 cu m) of material, hauling 39,000 cu. yds. (30,000 cu m) of it away. The firm placed 14,300 cu. yds. (11,000 cu m) of fill, plus 15,600 cu. yds. (12,000 cu m) of crushed, recycled concrete, for subbase and to rebuild the 47/55 interchange. The interchange required installing retaining walls, including two soil nail walls, each with around 150 soil nails.

A major part of the job was installing drainage systems plus installation and relocation of water and sewer. Telephone, electric and gas utilities were relocated by the individual utility companies under separate contract with the NJDOT. This included 19,700 linear ft. (6,000 m) of reinforced concrete pipe storm drain; 2,950 linear ft. (900 m) of sewer force main; 1,150 linear ft. (350 m) of water pipe, and 820 linear ft. (250 m) of inlets and manholes, plus 10,500 linear ft. (3,200 m) of multi-duct conduit for an intelligent transportation system.

For grading and utilities Agate used Komatsu models 400, 250 and 228 Low Tail Swing hydraulic excavators, Komatsu dozers, and Caterpillar 950 wheel loaders, one equipped with a quick-disconnect side dump bucket. From start to finish, the workhorses were Caterpillar backhoe loaders, which could fit in the often confined spaces.

“Our principal equipment dealers are Binder Machinery, Giles and Ransome, and Elliott and Frantz,” Johnston added.

Also a major task was traffic control — keeping traffic, already at heavy volume during certain times of the day, moving in the construction zone while equipment worked in several places at once. At the same time, Agate needed to keep access to the many large and small retailers along Route 47 open.

In fall, Agate and hotmix asphalt paving subcontractor South State Inc., Bridgeton, NJ, put down 38,600 tons (35,017 t) of Superpave intermediate/base course and 22,000 tons (19,958 t) of Superpave overlay. South State used a Caterpillar AP 1055B paver and a CMI profiler. Before paving, Agate used a Wirtgen milling machine to take two inches off the existing asphalt, making one or more passes as necessary.

Agate Construction was founded in 1981 by James E. Johnston Jr., a civil engineer and licensed professional engineer. After working for Chicago Bridge and Iron’s nuclear operation and a petrochemical design firm, Johnston Jr. gravitated to South Jersey to work for local construction firms before starting Agate. He currently serves as president of the Utility and Transportation Contractors Association of New Jersey. His son James III joined the company in 1992 and became president in 2004.

The firm, which averages $30 million in contracts a year, has carried out projects in New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania, including the company’s largest, a $22-million installation of 8,400 piles in the Philadelphia shipyards.

In addition to highway and marine construction, the firm also does treatment plants and site preparation. Agate received awards for rehabilitating two obsolete but historically important bridges, modernizing them but preserving the original character of the structures.

Agate broadened into materials supply in 1999, purchasing Tuckahoe (NJ) Sand and Gravel, which mines sand and gravel; Penn Jersey Building Materials, Pleasantville (NJ), a ready-mix concrete supplier, and Dial Block Co. Inc., Tuckahoe, makers of masonry block.