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ODOT Widens Major I-35 Corridor in Norman, Okla.

Tue April 14, 2009 - West Edition
Kathie Sutin

University of Oklahoma football fans can breathe a sigh of relief — the schedule for widening 4.6 mi. (7.4 km) of I-35 in Norman is being tailored around the Sooners’ home game schedule to minimize construction impact on game days.

The Oklahoma Department of Transportation engineers and contractor Haskell Lemon of Oklahoma City are working together to ease the impact of work on the crucial Route 77 ramps during football Saturdays.

“Route 77 is known as the north campus exit,” David Meuser, spokesman for ODOT, said noting the popularity of Sooner football during the fall. I-35 is the major north-south corridor through the metropolitan area, and Route 77 travels diagonally from the Interstate to the campus area several miles away, he added.

“We have big crowds that show up for those games, and we have to deal with that traffic [that the games generate],” he said. Consequently, some construction deadlines and timelines have been built around the football schedule, Meuser said. “That’s one of the challenges Haskell Lemon and our engineers have been able to meet head-on.”

The project includes expanding the current two lanes in each direction to three lanes between Indian Hills Road to north of Main Street, one of the state’s busiest stretches of highway. Acceleration and deceleration lanes will be added at the interchanges.

Workers also will add safety features as well including installation of median barriers and overhead lights and they will rebuild the I-34/US 77 interchange so that it has wider curves. The cost of the project is $40 million.

The exit was closed shortly after work began but will be open “in time for the fall term and, course the football season,” Meuser added.

The interchange was designed in the 1950s.“In fact, the bridge was built in 1951,” Meuser said. “It was designed to carry 25 to 30,000 vehicles a day. It’s now carrying 75,000 vehicles a day.”

Haskell Lemon has worked with ODOT to keep two lanes in each direction open the entire time “with the exception of overnight [when work will be] narrowing to one lane,” he said.“During the daytime when there’s high traffic, we’ll be able to keep the lanes open,” he said.

The original plan was to close the Route 77 interchange in early April but Haskell Lemon “figured out that actually we only need to close half of that,” Meuser added.“There will be a few on-ramps here and there that will be closed but by and large we’re really fortunate to be able to keep traffic flowing just as it has been.”

Currently the northbound Interstate traffic passes underneath the southbound highway bridge, Meuser said. “In order to widen the Interstate, we have to replace the bridge. It will be in the same place but it will have taller, wider clearance with room underneath for three lanes.”

Two other interchanges on I-35 were rebuilt in previous years, he added.

Jay Lemon, president of Haskell Lemon Construction Co., said the Route 77 interchange is a major element of the project and timing of its completion is crucial.

“There’s an internal schedule just for this interchange work,” Lemon said. “We’ve got 120 days to completely close the interchange, tear out a bridge, tear out the paving going in and around it, rebuild the bridge, rebuild the subgrade paving and open it all back up to traffic. It’s an aggressive timeline for the scope of work.”

And through it all, lanes will be minimally restricted. “The southbound I-35 exit to U. S. 77 is the only traffic that closes,” Lemon said.

Crews are using a variety of equipment on the project.“Our equipment is pretty standard for an American-based contractor,” he said. Grading equipment consists of Cat, John Deere, CMI/Terex, Roadtec rotomill, Ingersoll Rand compaction. Asphalt paving equipment is about the same — Cat pavers, Ingersoll Rand rollers. We do have one Sakai roller,” Lemon said.

“The grading is mostly light grading in one of about 20 different areas. In total we have 112,000 cubic yards. of material to move around and construct additional widenings with. There are over 200,000 tons of asphalt to be placed and two complete bridges to construct.”

Lemon said one of the challenges of the project is “being respectful of the public’s ability to drive in a four-lane capacity — two lanes in each direction — and yet completely tear out, widen, replace and overlay this road and still maintain a safe worksite and a safe place for the public to drive.

In addition, Haskell Lemon has committed to doing the work which would normally take about two and a half years in a year and a half.

“They put an accelerated schedule together with incentives and disincentives to beat in a time frame of about a year and a half,” Lemon said. “We’re working quite a few areas of the project simultaneously.We’re doing some night work to advance our progress to be able to meet those time frames.”

Interviewed when the project had been underway for five weeks, Lemon said he was pleased with the progress at that point.“So far it’s going in the right direction,” he said.

ODOT and Haskell Lemon are, of course, hoping for favorable weather along the way.

Thus far the project has seen “a bit of rain but not a lot that has impacted us and it’s allowed us to stay on this pretty aggressive schedule,” Lemon said.

“A lot of our success is dictated by our resources and our schedules and is also just as equally dictated by Mother Nature,” he added.

The project was designed for 50 percent of the work to be done at night but Lemon said he is hoping to trim that amount.“We’ve put some alternate schedules and sequencing together to minimize that for our own convenience and that of the traveling public,” he said adding that he’s hoping to trim it to 30 percent or less.

“We will have some operations going on in the daytime every time we’re out there,” he said.“And then anytime that we have to work in one of those two existing lanes of traffic we’re maintaining, we have to do it between 7 p.m. at night and 6 a.m. the following morning.”

ODOT expects completion in summer 2010. The contractor has early completion incentives of up to $1.2 million for 80 days.

A second project which will widen I-35 through Norman from Main Street south to the Canadian River, is in the planning stages. CEG

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