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No Horsing Around on I-64 in Ky.

Thu August 06, 2009 - Midwest Edition
Kathie Sutin

The announcement that the World Equestrian Games will be held in Kentucky in 2010 has helped spur a long-awaited project to widen a busy section of I-64 on the eastern end of Louisville. The segment of the Interstate has been plagued with congestion for years.

“We’ve always had problems with congestion there right outside the Gene Snyder Freeway, the loop on the outside of town,” said Jeremiah Littleton, transportation engineer of Kentucky’s Division of Construction. “They built that highway (I-64) many years ago. Ever since then, they’ve had a lot of problems with congestion because many people live outside of Louisville and come into town.

“According to people in Louisville, it’s the worst in the world,” he added.

Plans to widen the stretch of the Interstate have been a long time in the making Littleton said.

“Because of the congestion, it’s always been on the plan to widen it through there and even more so with the World Equestrian Games coming to Kentucky in 2010,” he said.

“There was a bigger push [after announcement that the games would be held there] because there are going to be a lot of games between Lexington and Louisville and Frankfort and in the central Kentucky area. Since it [the project] needed to be done anyway, we decided that now is a great time to do it.”

Work started in May on the 4.4-mi. (7 km), $34.2 million project that extends from the Gene Snyder Freeway in Jefferson County “all the way to the Shelby County line,” Littleton said. Completion is expected Nov. 1, 2010.

Gohmann Asphalt and Construction Inc. of Clarksville, Ind., is the contractor.

The highway is currently two lanes wide in each direction with a median in the middle. Crews will widen the highway to three lanes in each direction, take out the median and install a concrete barrier wall in its place.

Fortunately for Kentucky and for residents whose properties border the Interstate, the state owns the land needed for the road’s widening, Littleton said.

“We won’t have to buy any more right-of-way which helps us out a lot and makes a lot of people who don’t want to give up their back yard happy,” he said. “That also saves everybody money.”

The decision was made to install concrete barrier walls because they are the safest dividers for highways, making them a good choice for the strip of roadway in the project, Littleton said.

“If you notice around the Louisville area there’s a lot of that cable rail being put up,” he said. “Because of all the heavy flow of traffic in the middle of rush hour, median crossover accidents are, unfortunately, a problem in Louisville. The concrete barrier wall is just the best way to fix it. Since we’re widening the highway anyway, we might as well put up the concrete barrier wall. It’s the longest lasting, easiest way to maintain median safety device that we have.”

The major challenges facing the I-64 project are speed and speed — the speed of the project’s time frame and the speed of motorists using the highway as crews complete the work, Littleton said.

The schedule—a mere 18 months from start to finish—presents its own challenges.

“It’s such a fast-paced project. Just getting everything done is a challenge,” he said.

While the state and the contractor have some control over the schedule, they have less control over the motorists speeding through the work zone.

“A major problem is trying to get everyone to slow down,” he said. “That’s real hard because we’ve got a lot of guys out there—men and women—working very hard just trying to do their job and go home. There are very, very unsafe people driving 70 miles an hour. They’re late for work, talking on their cell phone, putting on makeup—I’m talking about guys, too. I’ve seen it happen. It’s very difficult to get your work done while you’re dodging cars.”

The work zone’s speed limit of 55 miles per hour will be strictly enforced for protection of the workers. “In other states they drop it as low as 45 but we try to be a commuter-friendly area,” Littleton said. “We want to kind of reduce user costs as much as possible. People need to get to work. We understand.

“We call it 55 but we mean it. Many times we’ll have law officers out there enforcing the 55-mile with double fines.”

While it would be best to take the traffic off the roadway during the work, that’s not practical, Littleton said. “Everybody wants to run 90 miles per hour. That’s not safe. It’s a compromise between providing the best road for our customers which is the drivers and the safest place to work for our contractors.”

In addition to concerns over schedules and speeding vehicles, planners and the contractor have another thing to worry about — the environment.

“Another big hurdle that we’re having is we care about the environment too,” Littleton said. “There are some nice waterways there, especially Floyd’s Fork.”

With all of the dirt work the project entails and the planting of grass seed in completed areas, erosion is a major concern, he said.

“We’re doing all we can to try to prevent as much erosion as we possibly can from getting into that stream,” he added. “That’s why it’s a challenge. Anyone can build a road but to build it correctly and environmentally sound, that takes a lot more money and a lot more time.”

To keep dirt out of the waterways, crews are using temporary erosion control measures including mounds of rock, silt fences and sandbags around drop box inlets.

“The first thing we do is slow the water down and after we slow the water down, we just want to basically impound it because once you make it stop [moving] and then start again, it will drop that sediment and dirt out,” Littleton said. “That’s where we can pick it up and take it and use it like we need to.

“What that will do is if and when water does hit the open dirt without seed and the dirt starts to wash away, is catch that dirt from going into streams and inlet pipes with those stops and checks. After the rain, we’ll scoop that stuff out and spread it back over the ground.”

To help keep the grass seed where they want it to be after the dirt has been moved into place, crews will install erosion control blankets.

“That’s an excellent product that works great,” Littleton said. “It provides stability for the ground during the time it takes the seed to grow.”

The seed’s germination time is a challenge to keeping erosion under control, Littleton said. “It just takes time. If you can get a seed to grow overnight, you’ll be a millionaire. We’d love to have some of it.”

Erosion threatened the project early on with storms that swept through the area. “Fortunately the devices we put in place took care of it,” he said. “That’s due to Gohmann, the contractor. Gohmann is doing an excellent job so far.”

For the first time the contractor on the project will hold the erosion control permit, Littleton said.

“Normally we get the erosion control permit and we’re responsible to monitor the erosion control. We’re still doing that on this project but the permit for the first time that I know of is in the contractor’s name. I give credit to Gohmann for being willing to do that.”

Gohmann is working 24-hour shifts to complete the project on time, Littleton said.

Because of the tight schedule and the fact that crews will keep the road open during construction, there will be frequent lane closures, but they will be at night, Littleton said.

Another factor in the lane closures is the high number of two-lane bridges on the project. “There are no shoulders on those bridges so there’s no way that we can possibly work on them without closing them down to one lane,” Littleton said.

“The lowest [amount of traffic] we have on [Interstate] 64 is at nighttime so we purposely designed it where we have limitations in the contracts saying you can only close it at these times,” he said.

A project this big involves a lot of roadway excavation. Littleton’s “ball park guess” is it will be around 213,000 cu. yds. (162,850 cu m).

Another ballpark guess is that crews will lay 100,000 tons (90,700 t) of asphalt base and 15,000 tons (13,600 t) of asphalt surface. “Under that is tons and tons and tons of rock,” Littleton said.

Crews also will install “lots of pipe to get it to drain properly,” he added.

Littleton said he is glad to see the project, with 80 percent of the cost coming from federal funds, underway. “It’s a project that needed done for a whole long time,” he said.

“There’s just not enough money to go around. I’m glad we’re finally getting it finished. With the budget constraints coming up we’re just trying to do the best with what we have.”

Like other states, Kentucky has faced cutbacks brought on by the faltering economy, Littleton said. Some positions, vacated when the employee retires, haven’t been filled, he said. “That includes our construction inspection forces. It’s been really, really, really hard — I don’t know how to stress that — on us to try to do all these giant, fast-paced projects that are 24-hours a day when we only have a handful of people.”

Three other projects are planned down the road for I-64 between the eastern end of this project “all the way to Simpsonville,” Littleton said. Those projects will be to resurface the roadway and install guardrails. Contracts have not yet been formalized.

Littleton is self-effacing about his role in the project, giving a nod to the contractors, subs and crews working on the project.

“They’re the real ones that deserve the credit,” he said. “They’re doing all the work. We’re just paying them.” CEG

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