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RaCON Puts Some ’Mussel’ Into U.S. 82 Widening Job

Wed March 11, 2009 - Southeast Edition
Kerry Lynn Kirby

Contractors widening a roughly 3-mi. (4.8 km) stretch of U.S. 82 through the Sipsey River Swamp in Tuscaloosa County, Ala., have had to contend with a number of water-related issues, from endangered species relocation to destabilizing wet clay in the soil to flooding.

Still, the $14.1 million project to complete the highway’s four-laning through the county is running about 8 percent ahead of schedule, said Richard Brown, project manager for Tuscaloosa-based RaCON Inc.

Low-bidder RaCON started work April 28. The job includes installing base and paving on two new lanes of roadway, removing and reconstructing the old roadway, removing seven bridges and building six new ones, Brown said. Completion is targeted for June 15, 2010, he said.

Putting Some Mussel

Into It

Among its challenges, the project runs through an endangered species habitat, Brown said. That necessitated a painstaking effort to relocate endangered freshwater mussels from the bridge work area prior to any construction in the water. The mussels also require periodic survey work and, if necessary, mussels will be relocated throughout the project.

“We arranged for mussel relocation efforts to be conducted by a professional malacologist [a zoologist specializing in mollusks] with the assistance of divers experienced with identifying the stated mussels,” Brown said. “The mussel movement period for feeding and reproduction is from March 15 to October 31 of any calendar year.”

That meant the relocation work had to be done before Nov. 1.

As survey work and relocation is valid for only 30 days, the habitat will need to be checked every 30 days from March 15 on for “as long as we have activity in that area.”

Working With Water

Meanwhile, bridgework is at a standstill because of the Sipsey River’s seasonal flooding, said Steve Markham, bridge manager of RaCON.

Markham doesn’t expect the river to go down enough to commence bridgework right away.

“Just, historically, knowing that river as I do, you’re probably looking at late March, early April before it goes down,” he said.

Still, work is progressing on other parts of the job, said Markham, noting he expects they’ll complete the contract in plenty of time.

Only one of the seven old bridges slated to be removed — the one spanning the Sipsey River — is still standing, and that’s because it needs to be sawed and moved with a crane.

The other bridge structures were demolished using a Kenco Slab Crab concrete crusher attachment on a Hitachi EX400 excavator, which worked well for those bridges, he said.

One of the old bridges, which crossed over abandoned railroad tracks, is not being replaced. Instead, the old track area is being elevated to the roadway level.

Markham expects to use three company-owned cranes — a Link-Belt LS-218, a Manitowoc 300W and Terex H110 — for the bridge work.

RaCON also will utilize a Delmag D19-42 pile hammer and a Bid-Well 3600 bridge deck machine, both owned by the company, on the bridges.

The job calls for construction of four relatively short bridges, in the 150- to 160-ft. (46 to 49 m) range, built on steel pile-supported foundations and two bridges in the 300- to 350-ft. (91 to 107 m) range, one across the Sipsey River and the other the Sipsey River relief.

The two longer bridges will be supported by drill shafts.

A high content of very wet clay in the soil supporting the roadway has posed yet another challenge on the job and did cause an unexpected delay in progress of about three months, which forced the company to begin work on the bridges during the winter months.

“The existing new roadbed…that we were to base and pave had to be undercut and stabilized,” he said. “We added stabilization aggregate and processed it into the soil.”

“The Department of Transportation had to design this method, and then we had to agree to the pricing,” Brown explained, noting a soil stabilizer was brought in for mixing aggregate into the existing soils and for mixing cement.

RaCON finished work on the new roadway section in November and was able to shift the two-way traffic there so as to begin work on removing and reconstructing the original two-laned roadway.

New material is being brought in for portions of the road while other areas are getting cement-treated subgrade to provide even more stabilization.

The job will entail 3,720 cu. yd. (2,844 cu m) of concrete and 64,382 tons (58,406 t) of asphalt, according to Brown. So far, 87,622 cu. yd. (66,992 cu m) of earth have been moved on the project.

RaCON has about 20 workers on the job at this point and more will be added once the bridge work starts.

An Army of Equipment

An army of heavy equipment — including three dozen Caterpillars — is being put to work on the widening project, according to Brown.

The Caterpillars, all from Thompson Tractor Company, include two 615C scrapers; a 16G, a 140H, a 140M and two 12G motorgraders; two D350E articulated dump trucks; two 325 track hoes; two loaders, a 966D and a 980H; two 330 BL hydraulic excavators; two rollers, an 815B and an SS-250; a 525 skidder logger, three backhoes, a 420DIT, a 420D and a 416C; an integrated tool carrier; and 14 dozers in an array of models.

Besides the Cats, other equipment includes four Ingersoll Rand rollers and a Broce Broom RJ350 self-propelled sweeper from Cowin Equipment Company Inc.; 10 Sterling LT9522 dump trucks from Long-Lewis Sterling; three track hoes, John Deere 270 and 270LC models and a Hitachi ZX450LC, a John Deere backhoe and the Hitachi EX400 excavator and Slab Crab attachment, from Warrior Tractor & Equipment Co. Inc.; and a Volvo EC240 track hoe from ASC Construction Equipment USA Inc.

Widening the section of U.S. 82 through the Sipsey River swampland is part of an overall effort started in the late 1990s to add lanes to existing two-lane sections of the federal highway, said L. Dee Rowe, Fifth Division Engineer for the Alabama Department of Transportation.

Currently, U.S. 82 is four-laned from Centreville, Ala., to the Mississippi State line, except for the 2.82-mi. (4.54 km) section in this contract and an 11.7-mi. (18.83 km) section from the Pickens/Tuscaloosa county line to east of the City of Reform, Ala.

ALDOT’s long-term goal is to have a four-lane highway from the Mississippi state line to Montgomery, Ala., as this would improve safety, handle increased traffic and foster economic development.

The current project is the second phase of two.

The first phase began in January 2003 with primary contractors Boyd Excavating and Clark Construction Company and involved grading, drainage and the construction of six bridges.

“Crossing the swamp land was a major issue with the first phase, with it being new roadway,” said Rowe, noting the first phase, completed April 6, 2006, was 22 months behind schedule and came in at just over $5 million.

Work started on the current phase Feb. 23, 2008.

The Federal Highway Administration is providing 80 percent of the funding for the U.S. 82 widening, with the state of Alabama making up the 20 percent difference.

Subcontractors on the project include ABC Cutting Contractors of Bessemer, Ala., grooving of bridge decks; Abramson LLC of Birmingham, Ala., cast-in-place bridge railing; Alabama Traffic Systems of Birmingham, traffic control items; ST Bunn Construction Co. Inc. of Tuscaloosa, asphalt and base; Gilley Construction Co. Inc., of Manchester, Tenn., metal decking installation and rebar; Russo Corporation of Birmingham, drill shafts; Alabama Guardrail Inc. of Pinson, Ala., guardrail installation; Ozark Striping Company Inc. of Ozark, Ala., traffic striping; and Alabama Asphalt Haulers LLC of Tuscaloosa, PCS LLC of Northport, Ala., and Pearce Trucking Inc. of Tuscaloosa, material hauling.

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