The Rieth-Riley Construction Co., Inc. (RR) was awarded the first contract (2010) of the multi-year project to upgrade the northern corridor of U.S. 31in South Bend Indiana (U.S. 31 Major Moves) and it is finishing the last contract to complete the job. The contractor has secured five of the eight contracts awarded for the project, all worth a total of $92 million.
RR’s work consists of earthmoving, underground, sub-grade treatment, aggregate, concrete paving and asphalt paving. The final contract will be completed in the fall.
The project, initiated by the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT), is to build a new section (alignment) of the highway — 22 mi. (35.4 km) — in St. Joseph and Marshall counties. The new alignment starts in Marshall County, just south of U.S. 6 and goes into St. Joseph County, where it ties into the U.S. 20 bypass.
The old U.S. 31 ran through a few smaller communities and it intersected with several country roads, which required having traffic lights, that while addressing safety issues, slowed down the flow of traffic. The goal of the work is to have a continuous flow of traffic and address the needs of a growing residential community and commercial sector. The new north-south road will continue to be two lanes in each direction.
“The project was initiated to reduce congestion on U.S. 31 by providing the capacity to meet the forecasted travel demand for 2030 at an acceptable level of service,” said INDOT project engineer Trevor Mills, “and to improve safety on U.S. 31 between U.S. 30 and U.S. 20. It was also important to determine consistency with statewide (INDOT) and regional (MACOG) transportation plans, with MACOG being the South Bend Area Metropolitan Planning Organization.
“The total project cost (design, right of way acquisition and construction) of the project is $314 million,” he said. “The first public information meeting was held in 2002, and there was a public demand to make U.S. 31 a freeway from Indianapolis to South Bend. The U.S. 31 Coalition was established as an advocacy group and it is comprised of local towns, counties, officials and businesses.”
In 2000, the traffic on this stretch of road was 40,516 vehicles per-day and it is projected to be 51,906 vehicles per-day in 2030.
An investment study concerning the project was initiated by INDOT in 1992 and was completed in 1998.
“The ROD process started in 2002 and was completed in 2006,” said Mills. “The old section of U.S. 31 in Marshall County has been relinquished to the locals and the section in St Joseph County was not relinquished — the locals didn’t accept the offer and it will be maintained by INDOT.”
Communications between Rieth-Riley and INDOT were critical to getting around some of the hurdles that were encountered.
“We hold bi-weekly progress meetings with the contractor to discuss construction schedule, request for clarifications, and change orders,” said Brad Taylor, INDOT, area engineer, pointing out that INDOT had several engineers and other personnel on-site. “Because new alignment projects don’t happen very often, it’s a good opportunity for INDOT employees to be exposed to a wide range of construction in a short time.”
Todd Kulczar, RR’s sales manager (estimator/project manager), has been with the project since the beginning.
“There were a few segments done by other contractors but we probably did about nine miles out of the total. The majority of the new road was shifted about a half mile east and it passed through farm fields.”
The contract currently is valued at $25 million, covering 1.5 mi. (2.42 km) of roadwork and work to tie-in both ends of the new alignment.
“The biggest challenge for us was that the projects were let prior to some property acquisitions and some utility relocations,” said Kulczar. “We had to re-phase or change the way the project was being built to go around some properties that were not available and await utility relocations. But we kept the project moving — this often happens on such projects —and INDOT gave us the help we needed to make things work.
“All of the contracts were bid competitively and everything had to be low bid,” said Kulczar. “We put forward solid bids, but it helped that we were already on the job. This helped in the bidding because we knew what our capabilities were and the conditions, which helped us establish our production rates.
“There were some soil issues where we had to change the game plan to accommodate stability and we ran into some undesirable soils which were removed — there was not a lot of it and we gave it to anyone who wanted it,” said Kulczar. “Most of the earth was hauled in because the road was built over farm fields and used as fill for the roads. Some morrow pits were dug in several locations.”
The contractor also was responsible for some utility work, including underground work for water drainage.
“They ditched most of this,” said Kulczar, “but there was quite a bit, especially in the urban area in the north end, where we had to install some box culverts to have the drainage system pass through the community. For the roads on the farmland, we installed some under-drain pipes to complement the ditch/burrow pit system.”
The 19 new bridges that RR was responsible for are scattered along the highway, with four at the south end and at the north end. The major bridges, along with ramps and shoulders, are located in the urban areas to ensure that local roads are not impacted. The bridges, two lanes in each direction, are based on basic designs based on either steel or concrete.
“We built a couple at a time,” said Kulczar, “and as we moved, we wanted to bring it to the next bridge so that it could be recycled.”
According to Taylor, “The muck trussel bridges were built to span a large peat deposit and it took approximately six months to build a bridge.”
RR secured the current contract in 2013 and expects to complete it this summer.
The old U.S. 31 passes through La Paz and Lakeville, which are south of South Bend.
“Once we shifted to the new alignment,” said Kulczar, “it acted like a bypass around them and the traffic is non-stop now. The only work that we are doing in urban areas is the north and south ends and we’re receiving a lot of cooperation to complete the construction. We’ve followed all the traffic guidelines and we hired State Barricade, a local company, to do all of our traffic maintenance.”
The other major subcontractors brought on by RR are: R&R Excavating for earthwork and pipe work, LaPorte Construction to build four of the 19 bridges, Hawk Enterprises for traffic signals and signs, C-Tech for guardrail and fencing, and Bertsch-Frank & Associates for engineering.
In total, RR excavated 2 million cu. yds. (1,529,109 cu m) of dirt for the total project and to build the roads and 19 bridges. It brought in 30,000 cu. yds. (22,936 cu m) of concrete, 125,000 tons (113,398 t) of hot mix asphalt (HMA), and 150,000 tons (136,077 t) of aggregate.
A portable concrete plant was brought in on the first RR contract and it has been helping out ever since. The project provided the contractor with ample space for field offices, materials and equipment storage, and room for subcontractors to set up their operations.
“R&R bought a piece of property adjacent to the project in the south end and dug a borrow pit near our concrete plant,” said Kulczar.
Taylor notes that Walsh had a concrete plant on-site to do the concrete paving.
The majority of the work was done in single day shifts, except for last year when RR, in cooperation with INDOT, worked day and night for three weeks before the winter shutdown to ensure that traffic could use the new roads and infrastructure. The work season runs from late March to Thanksgiving, depending upon the temperature.
“We fire up our asphalt plants in the middle of April,” says Kulczar.
RR’s aggregate suppliers were helpful, especially with just-in-time delivery.
On a daily basis, one can find 50 RR and subcontractor employees on-site, the equivalent of three or four crews.
Rieth-Riley’s main shop and equipment yard, including a maintenance facility, is about eight miles from the job site. Kulczar had one on-site mechanic, Matt Carney, who was present during the work shift, and travels between the various sites.
Some of the equipment and vehicles used by RR for the overall project include: a Vince Hagan plant, a 350 CMI paver, a Cure & Tyne CMI, a Town & Country rex belt placer, a Cat AP 1055D asphalt paver, two Cat CB 54 rollers, a Roadtek SB 2500B shuttle buggy, a Blaw-Knox widener 195, a Wirtgen 2000 mill, a Cat 14 grader, a JD 650 dozer widetrack, a Cat 962 loader, 15 off-road trucks, and a Komatsu 400 excavator.
While no equipment was rented or purchased for the work, RR deals with the South Bend branch of McAllister Machinery.
With the end of the project within sight, Kulczar noted that having done much of the overall work “helped us be more productive knowing what we were capable of doing. The experience that we have at Rieth-Riley enabled us to bid the projects and do them at cost. We have really good guys and most of them of them have been with us a really long time. We don’t have a lot of turnover , which helps us a lot. We try to get our field guys involved in estimating from time-to-time to make sure that we’re looking at things properly.
“We also offer some value-added engineering if it is going to save the project time and money,” he added. “We had a good line of communication with INDOT. It is a good parternship that is helping to get things done.”
Kulczar is being assisted by Pat Plunkett, the project superintendent; Chris Weinkauf, the area manager, and Jamie Czarnecki, the general superintendent.
Today's top stories