Work Speeds Ahead on Replacing Century-Old Bridges With Tunnel

ROC 52 Sets Record Among MN Projects

Fri October 24, 2003 - Midwest Edition
Dorinda Anderson

Using the design/build process and a type of fast track financing, Mn/DOT and Zumbro River Contractors (ZRC) were able to turn an 11-year highway project into a four-year project known as ROC 52, expected to come in at a much lower cost.

The 11-mi. (17.7 km) stretch of U.S. Highway 52 through Rochester, MN, from 85th Street NW to Highway 63, includes designing and reconstructing the existing four-lane freeway, widening it to six lanes (three through lanes in each direction). The project generally consists of grading, roadway surfacing, bridges, detention ponds, noise and retaining walls, traffic signals, lighting, signing, pavement marking, and an intelligent transportation system.

The roadway will be rebuilt to better serve the public. The new highway is intended to improve safety, reduce congestion and provide a safer and more connected frontage road system.

Highway 52 cuts through the heart of the city and is the main corridor for throughtown traffic. About 60,000 vehicles travel portions of the 11-mi. stretch each day.

The project expands the highway from four to six lanes from Highway 63 to 75th Street NW and includes:

• a new interchange at County Highway 14/ 75th Street NW;

• reconstruction of interchanges at 6th Street SW, 2nd Street SW, Highway 14 West/Civic Center Drive and 19th Street NW;

• two new overpasses at 65th Street NW and 85th Street NW;

• new frontage roads from 65th Street NW to 85th Street NW;

• reconstructed frontage roads;

• camera surveillance for faster response to incidents and better traffic management;

• noise walls to reduce highway noise in residential neighborhoods;

• landscaping and aesthetic treatments on retaining walls, bridges and noise walls; and

• sidewalks and trails.

Ames Construction of Burnsville, MN., and Edward Kraemer & Sons Inc., of Plain, WI, are acting as the prime contractors for this year’s $17.5-million improvement.

The 40-some-year-old roadway was in significant need of repair, while connected loops and scissors ramps created unnecessary congestion. The original plans to alleviate these situations were drawn up in 1996 and called for a four-lane freeway, explained Brian Jergenson, Mn/DOT public relations specialist. “But as time wore on and traffic increased, it was determined that six lanes was the best solution.

“Originally the project was to stretch over 11 years and we were going to do one bridge and segment of the highway at a time, which would include 15 phases,” Jergenson added. But the city of Rochester, Mn/DOT and Olmsted County were uncomfortable with the long approach so the three entities conducted an analysis study and looked at completing the project in four, seven or 11 years.

“There were a number of businesses that were interviewed and traffic modeling was looked at, such as diverting traffic onto city streets,” Jergenson explained. A five-year plan was settled on with some stipulations, including maintaining traffic on Highway 52 during the entire project with no detours, maintaining east and west access across the highway mainly for business access and access to the Mayo Clinic, and to curtail construction during the Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s holidays.

However, cutting several years off of the original plan required additional changes. “That was back in 2000 and 2001 but we had no tools in our tool box to get it done and no plan to get it done,” Jergenson said. “Then design/build entered the picture and the state Legislature approved an accelerated funding bill,” which was promoted by the federal government.

The funding bill included allocation of monies to cover the project as a single project, rather than as several projects throughout several years. “Our district (District 6) will have to pay those funds back over a number of years,” said Terry Ward, project manager with Mn/DOT.

This is the largest one-time project letting in Mn/DOT’s history for a highway construction improvement project. Before this project began, Mn/DOT experimented with design/build on two other low-bid projects.

“We got our feet wet and came up with a plan for this project,” Jergenson said. “Then ZRC came in with proposals at a cost of $232 million and, not only would they beat the five-year plan, they would finish it in just over four years and have all the main line work and crossroad construction done in three years, and by August 2006 the whole project would be done.”

Work during the final year would simply consist of cleanup and removing temporary items.

Mn/DOT estimates that shaving an additional year off the construction process will result in $22 million of additional savings, due to reduced travel time, reduced crashes and reduced vehicle-operating costs. Design/build is credited for the time savings.

“The project was let in November 2002 and by the end of 2002 it was awarded. Then by January 2003 designers were finishing off the design so construction could begin by April 2003,” Jergenson said. “They had removed a bridge and were working steady all over the corridor by May.”

Mn/DOT slated this as a “design/build, best value” project, which means teams had to present technical scoring phases based on their schedule of how long it would take to complete their portion of the project, Ward said, which helped determine how long the project would take.

Managing the Workload

To handle the workload, ZRC broke the job into three segments for management purposes, with one person assigned to each segment; Mn/DOT did the same, allowing the project to be managed as three separate mini projects, Ward said.

Jergenson added, “We’re hearing people say they are impressed that there is always something going on all along the corridor; there is always dirt being moved, construction equipment being moved around … people can tolerate the inconvenience of road construction if they can see something happening.”

Throughout the corridor more than 60 pieces of construction equipment, such as cranes, backhoes, dozers, loaders, scrapers and at times about 100 trucks have been operating.

“We just completed a rock cut of about 300,000 yards to widen an area, making room for the additional lanes,” Ward said. “The rock is placed in the median for fill or hauled to other projects in Rochester that the department is working on, so all the rock is incorporated into various projects.”

Some of the bituminous is being milled off the existing roadway and run through a crusher to create class 7 material that is also used on the project, which helps keep the costs down, Ward added. Mn/DOT estimates that 260,000 cu. yds. (198,784 cu m) of concrete will be needed for the main line construction, which includes the 11 mi. of six-lane roadway, concrete beams and decks on 20 of the 24 bridges (four are temporary structures that will be removed in 2006), and noise walls.

Noise walls along Highway 52 will be either freestanding or on top of retaining walls. Freestanding walls will be 20 ft. (6 m) high. The noise barriers on top of retaining walls will be 10 ft. (3 m) high; the combined height of retaining wall and noise barrier will vary. All noise walls will be constructed of precast concrete posts and panels simulated in a split face block pattern. The retaining walls will also be precast concrete simulated in a stacked block pattern.

“We had a couple of bridges that were designed with steel beams but they were changed to concrete beams because of the cost savings in design and scheduling and with long-term maintenance of the structures,” Ward said.

As of the beginning of October, Jergenson said, decking was being poured on a new bridge next to the Zumbro River, and construction is taking place on two temporary bridges at 19th Street and 2nd Street, and on two permanent bridges for southbound lanes of Highway 52 over 7th Street and one over Cascade Creek.

Pavement traditionally has a 35-year design life but in this project, Mn/DOT is using high performance pavement that has a 60-year design life, Ward said. The bridges are standard Mn/DOT design. The retaining and noise walls have straps that carry a 100-year life span; the straps go into the fill behind the wall, ensuring structure stability.

The walls were accepted as an alternative from the poured cast-in-place cantilever retaining walls of the original plan, Ward said.

The walls saved $900,000 in upfront costs and may have taken about one year off of the construction time. The facing on the walls is cast off site and delivered to the job, so the facing and the groundwork can be done at the same time. In the originally approved method, the walls were cast in place so the digging for the footings had to be done in advance.

Construction continues in preparation for a new interchange on Highway 63 at 48th Street in Rochester. Initial work is focusing on constructing the eastern Highway 63 frontage road (Wood Lake Drive) north of 40th Street. Crews are working in cooperation with Olmsted County to surface 11th Avenue. between 40th and 48th Street. When the 11th Avenue. surfacing is completed, 48th Street. will be closed between 11th Avenue and Highway 63 so crews can reconstruct 48th Street.

The Highway 63 interchange at 48th Street is one of two projects that will convert Highway 63 from an expressway to a controlled access freeway from south of 48th Street to Highway 52. Existing intersections will be closed and access provided by interchanges at 40th and 48th Street. Extra lanes also will be constructed on Highway 63 from 48th Street. to Highway 52.

The project will require substantial modifications to adjacent city streets and county highways, including St. Bridget Road, Commercial Drive SW, Woodlake Drive SE, County Road 101, County Road 147, 40th Street and 48th Street, to maintain continuity and property access.

Construction on the Highway 63 interchange at 40th Street should begin next summer.

As numerous bridges are being worked on traffic is flowing nicely. “The department made a significant upfront commitment to maintain traffic flow,” Ward said. We told the teams to maintain two lanes of traffic during the week, especially during commuter time. So far our ramp closures and detours have been fairly minimal. So to date, traffic has flowed fairly well. We will close some ramps as we get to the end of October and into November and even into next year. A lot of people have said they thought traffic would be tough but they say they haven’t seen that.”

Work will continue though the winter on demolition, bridges and noise and retaining walls. A priority yet this season is to get the mainline Highway 52 concrete finished.

“We have 19.5 lane miles of concrete to get finished and it is important to us to get it to the point where it can be used in the winter,” Ward said. “A number of bridges are being built offline, including Highway 14 West over Highway 52, which is the Civic Center Drive area. Mainline 52 was shifted to the west permanently; this was a design innovation ZRC brought to their proposal so we could do some offline bridge work.”