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PA Job Surmounts Difficulties, Wins Archaeological Award

Tue May 18, 2004 - Northeast Edition
Mary Reed



During the past 10 years, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) has invested more than $160 million in its modernization of U.S. Route 15 in Tioga County. It also has committed itself to an investment of approximately $200 million to complete the job of upgrading this highway between Williamsport, PA, and the New York State border.

Project Background

This latest section of the U.S. Route 15 project involved construction of approximately 6 mi. (9.6 km) of a four-lane limited access highway roughly paralleling the existing Route 15 and running between Blossburg Narrows and the Mansfield Bypass at a cost of approximately $55 million.

According to Rick Mason, community relations coordinator of PennDOT District 3, plans for this section of the new U.S. Route 15 were placed on hold in the late 1970s for fiscal reasons, shortly after it received federal clearance as required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

At around the same time, funding for Pennsylvania’s Appalachia Highway Program became very limited, being reduced to approximately 10 percent of what it is today.

“PennDOT then switched over from bond financing to pay as-you-go funding,” Mason said, “and this limited the availability of state matching moneys. Then during the ’80s and early ’90s, Appalachia funds, as available, were applied in a series of smaller, multi-phased construction contracts designed to sequentially complete the freeway beginning at Williamsport and progressing northward.

“In the early 1990s, however, Pennsylvania’s Appalachia highway allocation was significantly increased and PennDOT earmarked the funds for the completion of Route 15 North. Emphasis then shifted to preparing the remaining sections of U.S. 15 — involving NEPA clearance, design, contract development, etc. — in timely manner so as to fully utilize all available Appalachia funds,” Mason said.

“This section required reevaluation of its 1977 environmental impact statement and acquisition of all new limited access right of way. Consequently, it took longer to get its first construction contract, which was for major earthwork, to bid than did the completion of the two additional lanes on the previously acquired four lane right of way on the Mansfield Bypass.

“Despite these delays, Mason concluded, “thanks to commitment from then Gov. Tom Ridge several years ago, we have essentially advanced the timetable for the completion [or getting under construction] of all sections of Route 15 north of Williamsport by approximately 15 years.”

PennDOT expects this new road will be opened to traffic by fall 2004.

Public opinion on proposed new routes was mixed, as John Elwell, PennDOT’s project manager for the project, recalled.

“The majority of public comments were received during the preliminary design process when several corridors for the highway were being studied,” he said. “The decision on where to locate the highway was eventually narrowed down to two corridors, a western corridor and an eastern corridor.

“Several residents offered their opinions of which side of the valley the roadway should be built on. There was public comment in support of both corridors, but there was more public opposition to a western corridor. In the end, environmental and engineering consideration in conjunction with public and agency comments favored an eastern corridor.”

Design services were handled by Gannett Fleming Inc., based in Camp Hill, PA. The company had worked with PennDOT in 1998 on a section of Route 15 running from the top of Bloss Mountain to north of Blossburg and also has designed another section of Route 15 in Lycoming County, approximately 20 mi. south of this job.

The groundbreaking ceremony for the project was held on April 11, 2002. In his remarks at the event, PennDOT Secretary Bradley L. Mallory pointed out that, “This will become the fourth major section in Tioga County to be opened to traffic in a decade.” The job is currently [January 2004] on winter hiatus, but is proceeding in a timely fashion, despite one or two unusual problems.

New Enterprise Stone & Lime Company Inc. (NESL) of New Enterprise, PA, is the prime contractor handling earthwork and drainage for the project, which involves approximately 2.5 mi. (4 km) of 17.7 to 76.7-in. (44.9 to 194.8 cm) storm pipes. This section cost $24.1 million, with funding split between 80-percent federal and 20- percent state sources. It is NESL Inc.’s largest dirt moving job since 1999.

Work began on grading in spring 2002. The original completion date was Sept. 26, 2003, but was extended to Nov. 7, 2003 due to the necessity for extra work in certain slide areas. The wet 2003 summer also contributed to the slight delay in completion date.

The new highway parallels current State Route 15 and the earthwork contract involved moving more than 5 million cu. yds. (3.8 million cu m) of rock and earth and the construction of four major drainage culverts. A portion of existing Route 15 also has been reconstructed, as were three local township roads and a trio of small bridges.

In addition, 10.5 acres (4.2 ha) of replacement wetlands and three service roads were constructed and utility relocation carried out. Six precast box culverts have been installed.

At peak production NESL was moving 25,000 cu. yds. (19,114 cu m) a day.

Mike Sulesky, project manager/estimator of New Enterprise Stone and Lime described what was needed to do the job.

“We had a crew with a Hitachi 1800 excavator and five 85-ton off-road trucks plus two other smaller crews, one working with a Komatsu 750 excavator and five 35-ton Volvo articulated trucks and the other with a fleet of four 631 scrapers. The 1800 crew and the 750 crew worked a double shift.”

Project Superintendent Frank Day headed the NESL team, which consisted of Earthwork Superintendent Mick Blake, Project Engineer Greg Norris, Timekeeper Sheryl Kyle and E & S Superintendent Dick Hensel.

Some Difficulties

PennDOT’s Elwell described this project as “an exciting and challenging job to design in conjunction with the governor’s commitment to upgrade Route 15 through north central Pennsylvania to four lanes. “There were, however, one or two difficulties experienced as the job unfolded.

“One challenge that had to be addressed in the design for this section was the topography,” Elwell said. “On the southern half of the job, the new highway runs along a steep mountain slope with the Tioga River at its base. Fitting the highway on this topography presented several problems.

“First, it was necessary to situate the highway without impacting the Tioga River or removing the side of the mountain all the way to the top of the slope. Needing or having excess earth, aka borrow or waste, either of which adds significant cost to the project, also had to be avoided.

“Other considerations were how to maintain flow to wetlands fed from seeps in the slope in the path of the highway and how to control erosion and sediment pollution with so little room between the road and river,” Elwell said.

The difficulties associated with the steep topography were overcome by design changes.

“The highway slopes were made steeper to avoid the river and minimize the cut to the mountain,” Elwell explained. “These steeper slopes were designed with a rock veneer for stability. One of the goals of setting the horizontal and vertical alignments was to balance the amount of embankment and excavation. Then in areas adjacent to wetlands, rock was specified to be placed at the bottom of the embankment so that water can seep through the bottom of the embankment and continue to feed the wetlands.

“To control erosion and sediment pollution, a series of interceptor ditches were designed to run downslope of the new highway and route runoff toward sediment basins where the water is cleaned by allowing the sediment to settle,” he added.

As the job progressed, a problem arose with an embankment section of the highway, which had fill heights averaging 55 ft. (16.8 m) built on top of a 60 ft. (l8.3 m) deep subsurface area of clay.

“During construction, a crack appeared at the top of the embankment which signaled that the ground below the highway fill was beginning to fail,” District 3 Assistant District Engineer of Construction Kerry Drake recalled.

“This was due to the weight of the highway embankment and the pressure it was putting on the clay surface below.

“The solution,” Drake continued, “was construction of a toe berm adjacent to the highway fill. This toe berm will act as a counterbalance to the highway fill and stabilize the slope.”

“However,” his PennDOT colleague Elwell noted, “nothing in the final design could be classified as unusual although there are several aspects of the design and project that are noteworthy. The project involves the moving of over 5 million cu. yds. of material.

“Also, the roadway has been designed with what is called a bifurcated alignment. This means that for the majority of the project, the northbound lanes are about 13 ft. higher in elevation than the southbound lanes.

“In addition, the project involved the design of two wetland areas to replace wetlands affected by the construction of this section of highway and other sections to the north.”

GPS Problem Overcome

Glenn O. Hawbaker Inc.’s Eastern Division, located in Montoursville, PA, is handling the approximately $14.1-million paving part of the project, for which 23 to 35 of its employees plus a seven-man bridge rehabilitation crew will be utilized.

“Work began on Aug. 4, 2003 and is currently slightly ahead of schedule,” said Harry Trego, Eastern Division Paving Superintendent in early January 2004. “The PennDOT deadline is Nov. 12, 2004, which should be achievable if the separate bridge contract is done on time.

“The paving part of the job is currently a little under 20-percent complete,” he went on. “All four lanes of the northernmost 1.9-mile section is currently base-coated plus one new ramp has been completed through wearing course in preparation for the spring 2004 traffic switch and bridge rehabilitation.”

The company fielded a large fleet of equipment for the project.

It included a Roadtec SB 2500 remixing material transfer vehicle, Roadtec Stealth SP 100 paver (10 ft.), Caterpillar AP 1000 paver (10 ft), and a Barber-Greene 225B paver (8 ft. for shoulder area). Also utilized were a Caterpillar 634C and two Caterpillar 543B double-drum vibratory rollers plus a Hypac 778B double-drum vibratory roller, a Troxler 4640 B nuclear density gauge, and a K J Law T6400 Profilometer.

Grading and stone base placement was accomplished with the aid of a Caterpillar D8 bulldozer with Topcon GPS-controlled stone box, Caterpillar 14H and 140H Topcon LPS controlled motorgraders, a Caterpillar CS583 dirt roller and a Caterpillar 634C double-drum vibratory roller.

Chafing at the Bit

Hawbaker Inc. also encountered difficulties during the job.

“One of the problems encountered in ’03 was the much wetter than normal weather pattern plus the earlier than anticipated cold snap,” Trego recalled. “Initially we had much difficulty with the GPS system, which Topcon traced to a lack of good satellite reception/availability. We settled in on LPS usage, and, after fits and starts, this appears to be the weapon of choice for grade control.”

Looking ahead, Trego noted that the 2004 portion of the job includes a wide open section of new four-lane, full-depth highway paving.

“Our Montoursville hot-mix plant, which will be supplying the project, is a large Standard-Havens drum plant that we seldom get a chance to use to its potential, which is up to 600 tons an hour with a 1,500 tons storage capacity,” he explained.

“The company has committed to all the iron and other resources required. During the fall of 2003, we placed 61,000 tons of hot-mix and everyone involved is chafing at the bit to show what we can do with the 185,000 remaining tons to be made and laid.

“Work undertaken in the spring of 2004 will utilize a Topcon LPS controlled stone box followed by either a Gomaco trimmer or full lane milling machine for fine grading. Either or both will be controlled by Topcon LPS. Pavement base drainage work will involve a Vermeer trencher and Mack tri-axle belt conveyor backfilling,” he concluded.

Project Honored With Archaeological Award

The Louis Berger Group Inc., based in East Orange, NJ, was subconsultant to Gannett Fleming Inc., working on the cultural resource component of the Route 15 project under the direction of Hope E. Luhman, of Bergert’s Cultural Resource Services. Boy Scout Troop 21 in Mansfield, PA, also was a beneficiary of archaeological work carried out on site. With PennDOT’s approval and support, Berger developed an educational program to teach the scouts,” Lubman explained.

“Using the data recovery project, we were conducting in their hometown as the ’laboratory,’ we created an opportunity for them to earn the merit badge in archaeology. The boy scouts were at the site for three days and the rest of the program was conducted through meetings held with the troop during their regularly scheduled troop meeting.”

With assistance from Berger the troop subsequently created an exhibit consisting of posters made by scouts and copies of newspaper articles about the dig culled from newspapers published throughout Pennsylvania. This exhibition was displayed at a local bank. In addition, in November 2000 PennDOT District 3 was presented with the American Cultural Resources Association Award for 2000 in recognition of the educational and outreach efforts represented by the merit badge program.

About the Companies

Founded in 1915, Gannett Fleming Inc. is an international consulting engineering and planning company. It currently has more than 1,900 employees and has undertaken projects in every U.S. state and more than 50 countries, including numerous large highway jobs.

Pennsylvania’s highways on which it has worked include Route 322 (the so called “Missing Link”) in Milroy; Route 30 (central and western sections of Lancaster bypass) in Lancaster County; the Meyersdale Bypass in Somerset County; and the Route 581 extension in Cumberland County.

New Enterprise Stone and Lime Company Inc. has been in the highway construction business for more than 75 years. It recently carried out a $7-million earthwork project and a $14-million asphalt roadway job on West Virginia’s much publicized Corridor H highway, just east of Moorefield, WV.

In fall 2001, it completed two sections ($19 million and $49 mullion, respectively) on the Mon-Fayette Expressway, southeast of Pittsburgh, PA. Both of these projects involved large amounts of earthmoving, structure work and concrete paving. In early March 2002, NESL was awarded a $66-million reconstruction job on the Pennsylvania Turnpike at Donegal.

The Louis Berger Group Inc. was founded in 1953. Headquartered in East Orange, NJ, the company offers clients engineering, construction, management and planning consultation services.

Its cultural resource services department provides archaeological, archival and historical services ranging from preliminary work to archaeological excavation and documentation. Since 1981, the Berger Group has completed more than 3,000 projects both in the United States and overseas.

Glenn O. Hawbaker Inc. is headquartered in State College, PA. Established in 1952 and still expanding, the company is a family-owned full- service heavy and highway construction and materials firm covering most of north and central Pennsylvania. Sales are currently in excess of $100 million per year with 800 employees in its various construction divisions, crushing plants, and hot mix plants.

In 2000, the company performed bituminous paving as a subcontractor on an adjacent section of the Route 15 highway to the south, as well as more of the numerous Superpave paving projects it handles every year from its various plants and divisions.