Pierson Presses to Keep $58M I-295 Project on Track

Tue October 21, 2003 - Northeast Edition
James Van Horn

For a southern New Jersey contractor, keeping all six lanes of traffic flowing smoothly while rebuilding 8.9 mi. (14.3 km) of the most heavily-traveled stretch of I-295 was in the plans. But nine months of probably the most hostile weather contractors have faced in recent memory wasn’t planned.

Richard E. Pierson Construction Co. Inc., Woodstown, NJ, is rebuilding Interstate 295 in Cherry Hill and Mount Laurel townships, NJ, from Exit 32, County Road 561 — Berlin-Haddonfield Road — to Exit 40, Route 38, under a $58-million contact with the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT).

The project calls for a full-depth flexible pavement — hotmix asphalt — reconstruction for half the length of the job and asphalt pavement overlay for the remaining half. This will provide uniform pavement and ride. According to NJDOT, the design was based on full-scale pavement evaluation and a Life Cycle Cost Analysis.

The improvements also include:

• Widening and replacing bridges, and installing highway lighting, drainage and intelligent transportation system facilities;

• Full blacktopped inside shoulders for use by disabled vehicles and emergency response teams;

• Upgrading highway lighting and guide rails to the current state and federal design standards;

• Providing vertical underclearance of 14.5 ft. (4.4 m) at all underpass structures as well as new striping, raised pavement markers and delineators; and

• Installing five additional closed-circuit cameras and two variable message signs to monitor traffic and provide information to the motorists of the traffic conditions.

Two Blackwood, NJ, companies are the electrical subcontractors — Bernato and Cioffi for foundations and conduit, and Diehl Electric for general electrical work.

The six-lane section under reconstruction was completed in stages between 1963 and 1966, the second-oldest section of I-295 in New Jersey. It carries approximately 115,000 vehicles per day south of Exit 36 (NJ 73), the heaviest-traveled stretch of I-295, and approximately 80,000 vehicles per day north of there.

The extensive deterioration of roadway pavement and bridge decks, substandard roadway geometry, increased traffic volumes have contributed to an unsatisfactory ride and an increase in number of accidents on I-295.

Pierson is removing 259,852 sq. yds. (217,000 sq m) of concrete and doing 211,095 cu. yds. (160,400 cu m) of unclassified excavation for grading. Some of the unclassified material, mostly all of it clay, is used as fill, while the rest is sold to other contractors.

“The excavated material is very good, so we can sell just about all we can produce,” said Dennis Manzo, of Pierson.

Paving will be entirely Superpave hotmix asphalt. Quantities include 256,800- tons (233,000 t) base, 170,500-tons (155,000 t) intermediate and 91,300-tons (85,000 t) surface courses, plus 95,000 tons (86,000 t) of open aggregate mix, (called “popcorn”) for quick runoff in water-prone areas. These will be laid on top of 446,099 sq. yds. (356,900 sq m) of 8 in. (20.3 cm) base and 16,264 sq. yd. (13,000 sq m) of 6-in. (15.2 cm) base.

Work also includes removal of six bridges and installation of new ones, and all new storm drains (no sewer or water utilities are involved). Structural Steel Services, Coopersburg, PA, is the subcontractor for erection of the bridge beams as well as the stay-in-place steel forms.

Due to the high-traffic volume, accommodating motorists while carrying out construction is a prime factor in Pierson’s operations. The contractor is required to keep the existing number of lanes in operation throughout the project during peak travel periods and to alert NJDOT Traffic Operations to changing traffic patterns with 72 hours notice. NJDOT in turn posts notices on variable message signs and www.njcommuter.com. The NJDOT operates an emergency service patrol Monday to Friday between the hours of 4 a.m. and 8:30 p.m.

On the few occasions when traffic must be detoured off the ramps for short periods of time, Pierson must have all detour signs in place prior to any ramp closures. These ramp closures will be posted in advance on the variable message signs, the Web and radio traffic reports.

While the job sounds fairly straightforward, the weather threw Pierson a nasty curve ball.

When work started in November 2002, Pierson, like other New Jersey contractors, had just come off one of the best years, weather-wise, for construction. A warm winter with little snow in 2001-02 was followed by hot, dry, almost drought-like conditions.

But all that changed when 2003 started. Snowstorms alternated with days of extreme cold, leaving only a few isolated days at all favorable to construction. These were followed by a spring and summer where it rained almost every day, often heavily.

This had almost a domino effect on Pierson’s operations, explained Andy Gargiulo, project manager of Pierson. To keep traffic moving fairly close to normal, Pierson uses an elaborately choreographed system of staged construction and traffic control.

Before construction can start, crews put down concrete barriers to separate the lanes under construction from traffic lanes, which are either configured three across or split two and one, going around the work zone. Sometimes this means traffic is channeled down narrow, barricaded lanes (Pierson workers refer to them as “cattle chutes”) but the alternative is constructing additional temporary lanes around the work zones, which could create more problems.

When Pierson loses one day to weather, it can set back the schedule as much as a whole week, said Gargiulo. The catch is that it’s not that Pierson can’t carry out some of its work in bad weather, but that, for safety reasons, they can’t put into place the necessary traffic control and diversion mechanisms.

“We had to shut down completely when there was snow on the ground,” he added. “Basically we lost two months to winter.”

And bad weather can play havoc in other ways. For example, one Saturday afternoon, during a violent thunderstorm typical of the weather in spring and summer of 2003, two cars plowed into each other and onto the median, leaving deep gouges in a newly regraded and seeded area.

As a result, Pierson is now often working two eight-hour shifts, one the standard daytime and other at night, when there’s less traffic, as well as on weekends. Gargiulo cited an example, “Last weekend, the weather was clear, so we did three straight deep pipe crossings, to get them over with when we had the chance. We worked straight through from Friday morning to Sunday night.”

Coming up to the halfway point in the project — substantial completion is scheduled for December 2004 — Pierson has made major progress in making up for time lost to weather.

Currently, the principal pieces of equipment include Caterpillar wheel loaders and hydraulic excavators, Ingersoll-Rand compactors, and CMI Terex trimmer and milling machines. To achieve the new underclearance of 14.5 ft. (4.4 m) under the overpasses, excavating into the original subgrade, as much as 2 ft. (.6 m) below the pavement, is necessary. The trimmer is ideal for the precise cutting to final grade. Hauling is done by independent contractors with over-the-road tandem-dump trucks.

According to Gargiulo, “We haven’t hit any bad material in excavating for the new grade. The contract calls for laying down roadway stabilization fabric but because the subgrade is very good here, it really acts more as a divider.”

What is new on this job, for New Jersey at least, is a process of in situ manufacturing of concrete subbase by a technique called rubblization. A crew from subcontractor Antigo Construction Inc., Antigo, WI, is using a proprietary machine, the MHB Badger breaker, which breaks up existing concrete pavement to form a subbase or subgrade. After a pass by a roller, it’s ready for paving, usually with 13 in. (33 cm) of hotmix course. Antigo is rubblizing a total of six lane-miles in the most deteriorated part of I-295.

According to Gargiulo, “They probably made a harder and better subgrade than anything we could do. They picked the worst stretch of the highway and got great subbase.”

The Antigo MHB Badger breaker, characterized as looking like a pipe organ on wheels, is a rubber-tired self-propelled unit which carries 1,100-lb. (500 kg) hammers mounted laterally in pairs, with half the hammers in a forward row and the remainder diagonally offset in a rear row. This produces continuous breakage from side to side. Each pair of hammers is attached to a hydraulic life cylinder that operates as an independent unit, developing between 1,000 and 8,000 ft. lbs. (1,360 to 12,880 joules) of energy, depending upon the drop height selected, and cycles at 30 to 35 impacts per minute.

The operator, using the hydraulics, can control the rate of breakage and size of rubblized pieces to meet subbase specifications. The machine can work in widths up to 13 ft. (4 m). Typically it can do 1 lane-mile (1.6 lane km) a day. The Badger Breaker also can break up pavement for removal by other machines, such as wheel loaders or trimmer/excavators.

Antigo has been in the specialized pavement rehabilitation business for 20 years and developed the Badger breaker in 1995. This is the first use of Antigo’s rubblization process in New Jersey, although the machine has been used successfully in Delaware and other states.

Currently, Pierson hopes to have the bridge work finished as well as most of the grading and subgrade work done by next spring, in preparation for the paving season.