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Rehabilitating Crucial Michigan Corridor

Thu October 15, 2009 - Midwest Edition
Lori Lovely

Nearly 90,000 tons (81,600 t) of various mixes of HMA will be used on this project.
Nearly 90,000 tons (81,600 t) of various mixes of HMA will be used on this project.

A short 19-mi. (30.5 km) stretch of road just north of Detroit has been transformed into an improvement project with a rather complicated strategy. Extensive work on the I-96/I-696 corridor in Oakland and Macomb counties has been divided into four separate projects.

Project 1 consists of rehabilitation of eight bridges and repair of 4 mi. (6.4 km) of pavement in Oakland County between Novi and Halsted roads, including the I-96/I-696/M-5 interchange in Novi and Farmington Hills.

Project 2 picks up where the first project ends and involves pavement patching and rehabilitation of 42 bridges on I-696 in Oakland County between Halsted and Campbell-Hilton roads.

Project 3 focuses on rehabilitating 22 bridges on I-696, 15 of which are located within the I-696/Mound Road interchange.

Project 4 includes rehabilitation of six bridges and extensive pavement repairs to I-696 between Hayes and Nieman roads in Macomb County. Also included are safety upgrades and lighting replacement on the median and ramps.


For all practical purposes, the $67 million overall project has been divided into two contracts — east and west — with two prime contractors: Dan’s Excavating out of Grant, Mich., on the west contract and C.A. Hall on the east.

But even that division is a little blurry.

“There are overlapping facets,” says Bob Daavettila, construction director for Tetra Tech, particularly concerning the bridge work.

A total of 56 bridges will undergo rehabilitation. Because C.A. Hall is a sub-contractor for all bridge work on both contracts and since there’s a lot of bridge work in the west contract, Hall is doing considerable work on both.

“Because they’re a major sub, it leads to a lot of coordination. Hall is at all the meetings for the Dan’s contract.”

According to Daavettila, the two big contracts consist of a two-year project for $47 million to reconstruct pavement from Novi to Farmington Hills — the west project — and a $14 million contract to conduct bridge rehabilitation and concrete patching on I-696 — the east project. The west contract involves significant amounts of overlay, but there is none on the east contract. Instead, there is, as Daavettila says, “a lot of concrete patching.”

Other Names for an Old-Time Trail

Before being designated as a military highway in 1832, the corridor from Lake Michigan through Detroit, Lansing and Grand Rapids was used as an Indian trail known as the Grand River Trail. In 1871 Detroit renamed its portion the Grand River Avenue. Later, in 1918, it became the M-16, which, in turn, was designated as part of U.S.-16 in 1926 when it became the first paved highway in the state. I-96 replaced the route and designation of U.S.-16 was deleted in 1963, but the plan for the corridor was in the works even before the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act was signed in 1956.

As Interstate 96, it was constructed predominantly in sections, which opened from 1957 to 1962, although the Detroit portion wasn’t completed until 1977. Actually an intrastate highway, I-96 is entirely within the state of Michigan. The section in Wayne County was originally named the Jeffries Freeway, but in 2005 the portion within Detroit was renamed the Rosa Parks Memorial Highway by the state legislature.

Interstate 696, also an intrastate, is a spur route that branches off I-96 and partially encircles Detroit. Part of the original Interstate Highway System outlined in 1956, it has 6 to 8 lanes for most of its 10-mi. (16 km) length and serves as a major commuter route for Detroit’s suburbs. Also known as the Walter P. Reuther Freeway, after an early automobile factory labor union activist, it’s affectionately nicknamed The Autobahn of Detroit by locals, who also refer to it as The Mixing Bowl because of extensive use of retaining walls and three large landscaped caps.

ADT statistics indicate that 150,000 and 100,000 travel the I-96 and I-696, respectively. MDOT considers it one of the most prominent corridors in the state. Because the aging 19-mi. (30.5 km) section of I-96 and I-696 encompassed by this project are heavily traveled by commuters and vacationers, Daavettila says it’s important to build a high-quality road for better safety and mobility.

Changes in Store

“Primarily,” Daavettila elaborates, “it’s a reconstruction job, but we’re adding one additional lane connector for about a mile.” Other additions also are scheduled. Exit ramps will be widened, with some additional ramps being constructed. A westbound weave lane between M-5 and the Novi Road ramp will be constructed to improve traffic flow by allowing for additional maneuvering of traffic entering and exiting westbound I-96.

Most of the existing roadway is formed of 9-in. (22.9 cm) jointed reinforced concrete pavement with an HMA overlay varying from 3 to 7 in. (7.6 to 17.8 cm) or an exposed 9-in. JRCP with deteriorated joints and cracks throughout. The existing crown is 1 percent.

Different processes are taking place at different points on the project. One mi. (1.6 km) of roadway will get a complete concrete reconstruction. Two mi. (3.2 km) will receive a full 5-in. (12.7 cm) HMA (hot mix asphalt) overlay. Some portions are undergoing full-width reconstruction of the mainline, with drainage improvements. Part of the I-696 mainline will be inlaid with high-performance concrete pavement. Most of the shoulders will be reconstructed with full-depth HMA pavement. Nearly 90,000 tons (81,600 t) of various mixes of HMA will be used on this project.

Daavettila estimates using equal amounts of concrete pavement and HMA. The reconstruct pavement design consists of a jointed plain concrete pavement (JPCP) section, of 11.5-in. (29.2 cm) thick high-performance concrete mix. The 132-ft.-wide (40 m) mainline roadway will be totally reconstructed with a pavement section consisting of an 11.5-in. (29.2 cm) JPCP slab over a 16-in. (40.6 cm) open-graded drainage course base with geotextile separator and 6-in. (15.2 cm) open graded under drains. Total pavement section thickness of the concrete portion will be 27.5 in. (69.9 cm).

High-performance, non-reinforced concrete shoulders will be constructed, as well as new valley gutter and barrier wall in the median. All ramps at the Novi Road interchange that are being replaced with concrete will be constructed with either a 9.5-in. (24 cm) High Performance JPCP with a 4-in. (10 cm) aggregate base and 12-in. (30 cm) sand subbase section, or a similar section as the mainline pavement. The total amount of concrete pavement used on the entire project will be approximately 77,500 sq. yds. (64,800 sq m), with an additional 30,000 sq. yds. (25,080 sq m) of concrete shoulder.

The concrete pavement will meet an improved requirement (High Performance P1-mod) over and above the normal P-1 mixture as required by the Standard Specifications in the expectation that the mixture will lead to greater pavement durability and extended-service life. According to Daavettila, while there are no contract incentives related to completion date or quantities of material, there are penalties and bonuses awarded for quality of materials.

Bridge work includes deck patching; replacement of railings, joints, pins and hangers and piers; painting; abutment repair; substructure and slope protection repair and widening with MSE walls and steel plate girders.

In some areas, such as Meadowbrook Road over I-696, micropiles are being used in the pier foundation. “It’s not standard bridge work,” Daavettila said. “It’s a unique aspect of this job.” Crews can salvage bridge footings by drilling through them and pouring additional footing. At Meadowbrook, 20 7-in.-diameter (17.8 cm) drilled and grouted micropiles with #18 bar grade 75 all-thread re-bar are being used for the pier foundation. A temporary support, protected by temporary concrete barrier, is placed above the existing shoulder with a timber foundation. Steel sheet piling is proposed to be placed adjacent to the temporary pier to allow for excavation of the pier foundation.

Because CSX railroad tracks (a mainline and a siding track) are below two bridges undergoing rehabilitation, MDOT has to carefully coordinate work schedules with train schedules. Plans call for increased under clearance for the CSX railroad. To meet current criteria for highway grade separations over railroads, the vertical clearance needs to be increased to 23 ft. (7 m). Because I-96 is on a curved alignment, a 3.1 percent superelevation rate across the bridge deck is required. The structure must also be constructed to allow for three lanes of traffic in each direction to be maintained during work operations. It has to be raised from approximately 4 ft. (1.2 m) on the low side to 6 ft. (1.8 m) on the high side. This results in significant road approach work, major temporary construction and complex staging.

Coordinated Schedules

This is not an expedited project, Daavettila notes, so there are no incentives for early completion. Work began in spring 2009 and should be completed on the east contract by mid-fall. Work on the west contract will see a seasonal suspension over the winter and resume in March. It should be completed in fall 2010, weather permitting.

Daavettila said there have been few impediments to progress: cooperative weather and no right-of-way, utility or drainage issues to contend with.

“The main challenge has been to maintain traffic flow. Three-fourths of our meetings deal with traffic issues: ramp and freeway closures.”

Because the project is expected to impact regional traffic beyond the construction area, Daavettila said MDOT is very cognizant about minimizing interruptions, which is one reason why they have met with communities, businesses and neighborhood groups throughout the project.

“They have a say in the details, such as bridge color.”

They also have influenced logistics, particularly when work affects the many commercial sites along the route, including the total reconstruction of ramps near the Novi mall, where provisions have been included in the plans for holiday shopping and special events. In addition, accommodations are being made to handle emergency vehicles while the nearby Providence Hospital undergoes expansion.

“Considering all the substructure rehabilitation, painting, asphalt and concrete work, overhead bridge deck work and so many bridge closings,” Daavettila counts, “It’s been a challenge to coordinate different schedules and deadlines.”

Twenty-five sub-contractors have been working on the west contract and there are 22 on the east contract. Schedules have run the gamut from around-the-clock to nighttime and weekend bridge work and paving.

MDOT is trying to maintain three lanes of traffic in each direction during peak hours in most sections. In fact, Daavettila said, a big value engineering proposal to temporarily widen a bridge in order to maintain traffic was accepted. It allows crews to build the railroad bridge in two stages instead of three.

“We took beams from other projects to build temporary lanes.”

He said that work should be completed by Christmas, but traffic won’t be shifted until March, after the snow is gone. CEG

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