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Pulice Boosts Capacity On Texas Highway

Wed July 26, 2023 - West Edition #16
Irwin Rapoport – CEG Correspondent


Pulice Construction is pressing ahead on the north portion of the Capital Express Program, a $606 million I-35 highway reconstruction project 
in Austin. 
(TxDOT photo)
Pulice Construction is pressing ahead on the north portion of the Capital Express Program, a $606 million I-35 highway reconstruction project in Austin. (TxDOT photo)
Pulice Construction is pressing ahead on the north portion of the Capital Express Program, a $606 million I-35 highway reconstruction project 
in Austin. 
(TxDOT photo) The north project is adding one non-tolled high-occupancy vehicle managed lane in each direction along I-35 from SH 45 North to U.S. 290 East; reconstructing six bridges; and adding a diverging diamond interchange at Wells Branch Parkway.
(TxDOT photo) Construction began last spring and is expected to wrap by 2028.
(TxDOT photo) Construction of the north portion of the program is being conducted in six phases. Crews began with Phase I, which includes installing a new center median barrier, constructing a new northbound I-35 frontage road bridge over Walnut Creek and reconstructing the Braker Lane bridge.
(TxDOT photo) Pulice Construction broke ground on the north portion of the Capital Express Program, a $606 million I-35 highway reconstruction project in Austin. This is part of two ongoing projects for the multi-billion dollar I-35 Capital Express Program.
(TxDOT photo)

The Texas Department of Transportation's (TxDOT) $606 million I-35 Capital Express North in Austin is one of two ongoing projects for the multi-billion dollar I-35 Capital Express Program that was design to help improve traffic flow in the growing city.

The massive construction project was awarded to Pulice Construction Inc. and is being funded by the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) and TxDOT. Work on the north project began last March.

The north project is adding one non-tolled high-occupancy vehicle managed lane in each direction along I-35 from SH 45 North to U.S. 290 East; reconstructing six bridges; adding a diverging diamond interchange at Wells Branch Parkway; building pedestrian and bicycle paths throughout the corridor; reconstructing entrance/exit ramps and adding intersection bypass lanes; and making additional safety and mobility improvements within the project limits.

Weather permitting, the project should be delivered in late 2028.

Construction is being conducted in six phases.

Phase I has crews installing a new center median barrier, constructing a new northbound I-35 frontage road bridge over Walnut Creek and reconstructing the Braker Lane bridge.

Phase II will widen northbound and southbound I-35 mainlanes, construct retaining walls and reconstruct entrance/exit ramps, and construct bypass lanes.

Phase III is reconstructing northbound and southbound I-35 frontage roads, constructing shared-use paths and reconstructing driveways.

Phase IV will reconstruct bridges at Grand Avenue Parkway, Howard Lane and Rundberg Lane, while Phase V will construct a DDI at Wells Branch Parkway and reconstruct intersections and signals. Phase VI will perform final striping and paving.

The north project was designed by Volkert Inc.

"One design challenge included the integration of the north project with recently completed TxDOT projects like the I-35 from Rundberg Lane to U.S. 290 East, I-35 at Parmer Lane and I-35 at Grand Avenue Parkway projects," said Matthew Kelly, TxDOT's North Travis assistant area engineer. "The design team developed alignments for the mainlanes, frontage roads and ramps that minimized throwaway costs by incorporating the recently constructed work into the north project design.

This won't be an easy project, considering the traffic in the corridor.

"The north project is a major highway reconstruction effort being performed along a highly urbanized and well-traveled corridor," said Kelly. "On average, more than 165,000 cars travel between SH 45 North and U.S. 290 East daily. This means that a key challenge of the project is ensuring that crews minimize adverse impacts to the traveling public. Right of way and space are always a challenge, especially when you are competing with live traffic. There are a number of locations along the corridor that offer limited accessibility given the tight work zone. TxDOT and crews will take the necessary precautions to ensure the safety of crew members.

"Crews are implementing the use of thermoplastic pipe up to 36 inches for storm drain installation throughout the corridor," he added. "This type of pipe reduces resistance to flow and are hydraulically more efficient than conventional pipe."

TxDOT's goal for the traffic management plan was to minimize impacts during construction.

"The plan for the north project calls for maintaining three mainlanes of traffic in each direction along I-35 at all times," said Kelly. "Any closures of the mainlanes, that are not full closures, will be short duration impacts, such as overnight or on the weekends. Crews will construct the outer mainlanes first. Once complete, traffic will be switched to the new lanes and construction will begin on the managed lanes, inner mainlanes and frontage road throughout the corridor."

Earlier this year, TxDOT reduced the speed limit from 55 mph to 45 mph on the frontage roads to encourage drivers to slow down and stay alert while traveling through the project's work zone.

"When work begins along the mainlanes, TxDOT will place additional barrier to ensure the safety of crew members and drivers during construction," said Kelly. "TxDOT has established key locations along the corridor to allow for equipment and materials to be transported safely to the project site. This includes providing openings in the barrier at the overpasses for mainlane activities and placing low profile barrier at entrance and exit ramps for frontage road work."

Project Background

The south project — a separate endeavor part of the larger program — is ongoing and planning for the central project, which cost several billion dollars, is pressing ahead.

"I-35 through Austin is one of the most congested highways in Texas," states a project web site. "It serves as the backbone of the local, regional and national transportation network. Lack of mobility on I-35 threatens the economic livelihood of our community and our state. Improvements to this area are needed due to population and employment growth, which have caused increased congestion in the area."

"By 2045, the population in the Austin region is expected to double, which means congestion will continue to worsen unless we do something about it," said Kelly. "The I-35 Capital Express Central project was developed to increase mobility and safety on I-35 for the traveling public. TxDOT has been presenting to the community and receiving feedback on the I-35 Capital Express North project since 2019. In the past four years, we have held one open house and one public hearing, as well as hosted numerous property owner and stakeholder meetings, to ensure that the public was aware of the project and had an opportunity to provide feedback."

Prior to the start of construction, more than 165,000 vehicles travel along I-35 between SH 45 North and U.S. 290 East daily.

"TxDOT provides regular maintenance for its roadways," said Kelly. "The reconstructed roads and bridges will ensure that they meet future safety guidelines and the mobility needs of our community. The new roadway infrastructure will be able to support the projected traffic demands of the community, while ensuring that all users [vehicles, bicyclists and pedestrians] are safe.

"While the project is still in its beginning phases, crews have done a good job to remain on schedule," said Kelly.

This is a team effort between TxDOT and Pulice,

"Immediately upon the start of the North project, the TxDOT, Atkins and Pulice teams established a direct line of communications," said Kelly. "With weekly progress calls and multiple daily touch points, both management teams continue to work well as the project picks up steam. TxDOT is in close coordination with Pulice regarding supply chain issues and labor shortages." CEG


Irwin Rapoport

A journalist who started his career at a weekly community newspaper, Irwin Rapoport has written about construction and architecture for more than 15 years, as well as a variety of other subjects, such as recycling, environmental issues, business supply chains, property development, pulp and paper, agriculture, solar power and energy, and education. Getting the story right and illustrating the hard work and professionalism that goes into completing road, bridge, and building projects is important to him. A key element of his construction articles is to provide readers with an opportunity to see how general contractors and departments of transportation complete their projects and address challenges so that lessons learned can be shared with a wider audience.

Rapoport has a BA in History and a Minor in Political Science from Concordia University. His hobbies include hiking, birding, cycling, reading, going to concerts and plays, hanging out with friends and family, and architecture. He is keen to one day write an MA thesis on military and economic planning by the Great Powers prior to the start of the First World War.


Read more from Irwin Rapoport here.





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