Over the River and Through the Woods in Baldwin County

Wed May 06, 2009 - Southeast Edition
Kerry Lynn Kirby




As homes and businesses have sprung up like weeds in former farmers’ fields east of U.S. 98 in Alabama’s Baldwin County, traffic volume on two-lane Alabama 181 has exploded.

To ease congestion on both north-south roadways, the county has embarked on the largest road and bridge project it has ever undertaken on its own — an $8.6 million extension of Baldwin County Road 13, said Frank Lundy, Baldwin County’s construction engineer and point man on the project.

“It’s going to open up a north-south corridor,” said Lundy, noting the roughly 3-mi. (4.8 km) segment of two-lane roadway, including a bridge spanning a small creek and wetlands, is the last piece in Baldwin 13’s trek from U.S. 90, just south of Interstate 10, to the east-west stretch of U.S. 98 in the southern part of the county.

Spanish Fort, Ala.-based Ammons & Blackmon Construction is the prime contractor on the job, started in late September 2008 with completion expected in June 2010.

The job consists of clearing, grading, draining, bridging and paving the new road corridor, which will provide a link between east-west thoroughfares Baldwin County Road 64 and Alabama 104, Lundy said.

The 780-ft. (238 m) bridge crossing Fly Creek will consist of a 120-ft. (36.6 m) span over the creek itself and 11 60-ft. (18.3 m) span segments through the surrounding wetlands.

“Environmental concerns were a priority on this project,” Lundy said. “Extreme care and protective measures are being utilized to protect wetlands on site.”

The creek and wetlands area at the south end of the job, just north of AL 104, was owned by Auburn University.

The rest of the job site was primarily agricultural property, mostly fields and some pine woods, with a single private owner.

Before the job began, that owner brought in a timber company to clear the roadway area through the pine woods.

At $3.5 million, the bridge — subcontracted to Scott Bridge Company of Opelika, Ala. — is a big chunk of the job cost-wise. But going the more environmentally friendly route was actually a cost-saver for the county.

“There’s not much water in [the creek],” he said, explaining that it cost less to build a larger bridge over the creek and through the remaining wetlands area than to build a small span just over Fly Creek and take a different approach with the wetlands.

They designed the bridge, “so we didn’t have to fill in the wetlands and go through the mitigation process.”

While addressing environmental concerns, it was also the most cost-effective approach.

“It was cheaper to go across them than to excavate all the wetlands out,” he said.

Scott Bridge Company is doing all the bridge work.

Cranes being put to work on the bridge include a Kobelco CK 2000, a 100-ton (90.7 t) Link-Belt LS 200 and a Grove RT 530E. Among their tasks, the cranes are being used for placement of 20-in. (50.8 cm) diameter, 80-ft. (24.4 m) long piles for the new bridge.

Lundy said 1,420 cu. yd. (1,086 cu m) of concrete will be poured for the bridge, and overall the project will entail 15,180 tons (13,771 t) of asphalt.

Mobile Asphalt Company of Mobile has been subcontracted to lay the asphalt on the job, said Bill Ammons, president of J.B. Ammons Construction, which does business together with Blackmon Construction Inc., headed by Jerry Blackmon, as Ammons & Blackmon Construction.

Other subcontractors are C&H Construction Services LLC of Daphne, Ala., which is doing the guardrail and fencing work; and J.C. III of Daphne, which is doing some of the dirt moving with tractor and pans.

Ammons said his firm has been working five days a week, single shifts, on the job, with anywhere from about 10 to about 20 of his workers onsite, depending on what work is being done at the time.

He said equipment on the job has included all different sizes of bulldozers, as well as 10-ton (9 t) vibratory rollers, front-end loaders, rubber-tire backhoes, hydraulic excavators, tractor and pans and offroad dump trucks.

Ammons said he’s not partial to a particular brand of equipment. He said he has Caterpillar, John Deere, Ingersoll Rand, Komatsu and Kawasaki equipment working on the project.

Most of the company’s equipment has been purchased, though it will rent a piece occasionally.

“We buy from all four dealers around here,” said Ammons, naming Thompson Tractor in Spanish Fort and the Mobile locations of Beard Equipment Co., Tractor & Equipment Company and Cowin Equipment Company.

Ammons is happy with the service at all four companies.

“We’re on a friend basis with each and every one of them,” Ammons said.

As of early April, 75,500 cu. yd. (57,724 cu m) of material had been excavated from the job site, and 24,200 cu. yd. (18,502 cu m) of borrow material has been brought on site.

Much of the excavated material has been used at various locations on the project, he said. And the borrow material is being trucked in from some dirt pits right by the job, which brought down the job’s cost.

Among the project’s drainage work is the laying of underdrain pipe, which will draw in natural spring water from the soil and then carry it out.

Without that underdrain pipe — which basically is like the reverse of a soaker hose — the natural spring would cause water to come out of the bank and cause road maintenance problems.

The project is being funded completely by local sources with no federal or state aid. Eight sealed bids were received for the job. Ammons & Blackmon was the lowest bidder.

As late March 2009, 29 percent of time had been used and 25 percent of the project had been completed.

“Progress is going well,” Lundy said.

If the weather had been more cooperative recently, Ammons said even more of the work would have been completed.

“In the last few months there’s been an awful lot of rain, or we’d have been a lot further along,” he said.

Because the project is on a new corridor on undeveloped land, the project isn’t adversely affecting the traveling public. CEG