For crews working on the Branan Field-Chaffee Expressway in West Jacksonville, the first few weeks of the project has been a pretty dirty job.
Of course that’s to be expected when you’re moving 1.5 million cu. yds. (1.1 million cu m) of dirt.
“It’s our biggest challenge right now,” said Jeff Daugharty, project administrator for Keith & Schnars Inc., which is overseeing construction for the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT). “Find it, move it, get it in place, get it compacted so we can build the various embankments.”
A $60.8 million project, the Branan Field-Chaffee Expressway (State Road 23) is a new 4.8 mi. (7.7 km) road extending from 103rd Street to Interstate 10. It’s being built west of the existing Chaffee Road and includes a new interchange at I-10, which is being widened from four to six lanes within the interchange limits.
Also, the existing Halsema Road Bridge over I-10 is being replaced and signalized intersections are being added at Normandy Boulevard and New World Avenue in the Cecil Commerce Center.
According to FDOT, the Branan Field-Chaffee Expressway has been in the works since the 1970s when state and local officials determined there was a need for a highway connecting Blanding Boulevard (S.R. 21) to I-10. In 1981, FDOT completed a study determining the location and design and the project has been moving forward ever since.
According to FDOT spokesman Mike Goldman, the Branan Field-Chaffee Expressway also will be part of the First Coast Outer Beltway, a proposed four-lane limited access toll road in Duval and Clay counties and the St. Johns River Crossing Corridor in Clay and St. Johns counties. The Outer Beltway would provide a connection outside of the existing I-295 between I-10 in Duval County and I-95 in St. Johns County. The total length of the proposed beltway is approximately 46.5 mi. (74.8 km).
Work started on the 930-day contract Jan. 16 and is expected to be complete by fall 2009.
Daugharty said, in addition to the dirt work, crews are currently clearing and grubbing.
“It’s new construction, we’re not working on a previously built road,” Daugharty said. “The contractor is doing a lot of clearing and grubbing, that’s been the primary focus.”
Daugharty said they are beginning to drive test piles for the new bridges, and doing some drainage work, installing pipes, getting the embankments in place and digging retention ponds.
“There are three bridges with the interchange aspect of the project,” Daugharty said. “And we [have] 10 different ponds to build.”
Superior Construction Co. is the contractor for the project. Founded in Gary, Ind., in 1938, Superior opened a division office in Jacksonville in 1987. Since that time, Superior has established itself as of one of the leading road and bridge contractors in northeast Florida, completing dozens of projects for FDOT, the Jacksonville Transportation Authority, the Jacksonville Port Authority and the City of Jacksonville.
Dan White, project superintendent for Superior, said everything has been going smoothly early in the game.
“So far, so good,” White said. “We got out of the gate pretty good. Our biggest job right now is moving dirt.”
White said the project is approximately 11 percent complete, which is slightly ahead of schedule. He currently has several subcontractors on site, including Jacksonville-based S&S Construction Support, which is handling the clearing and grubbing work, and ESI, another Jacksonville company, which is doing erosion control.
“Environmental — that’s always a big challenge,” White said. “We’ve got to be careful about the wetlands surrounding the job.”
Though firefighters battling several wildfires in the area because of extreme drought conditions might not like to hear it, White said the lack of rain has “really helped matters” when it comes to the work they’re currently doing.
“We’ve really gotten a break because there’s been no rain,” White said. “It’s been dry so far.”
When it comes to equipment, White said they’ve got just about everything in the fleet.
“We have dozers, tractors, rollers, off-road trucks, dump trucks, water trucks and a tractor and pan system,” said White, adding the company owns most of the equipment but does lease when necessary.
Most of the equipment is John Deere, Caterpillar and Hyundai.
While they aren’t using any specialty equipment, White said the tractor and pan system has really helped with the dirt moving.
“It’s a tractor that hauls a pan behind it for moving dirt,” White said. “Pans drag behind and carry dirt to another location and drop it instead of a traditional trackhoe. We can do it all with one piece of equipment. A lot of people are going with it these days.”
Currently, Superior has approximately 50 employees on the job, working one shift, White said.
Motorists in the area are experiencing some delays and as the project progresses there will be some detours.
“On I-10 we’re going to have to close some lanes to shift traffic to the outside to work on the median.” White said. “There’s a few times where we’ll have to do some detours to erect our beams over the overpasses and to do the superstructure work.”
While drivers may be temporarily delayed by construction, officials believe the expressway will help alleviate traffic congestion in an area that has one of the fastest growing populations in Florida.
Perhaps even more important, many see the Branan Field-Chaffee Expressway as a spark that will ignite economic development in West Jacksonville as that part of the city becomes a hub for distribution centers and transportation businesses.
The new expressway ends at the Cecil Commerce Center, which has been transformed into an industrial park after the Navy closed Cecil Air Field several years ago and the city took over the property.
Paul Crawford, deputy executive director of the Jacksonville Economic Development Commission, which controls most of the center, said the expressway will help bring industrial and office complexes to the area.
“It would be great if it was done today,” Crawford said. “It would make marketing a little easier.”
At FDOT, Goldman has a similar take.
“It will be a major stimulus for economic development on the Westside,” Goldman said. “I regularly get calls from developers exploring options for property along the corridor.”
White said once the dirt moving, clearing and test piles are complete, they’ll shift to the road work.
“We’ll continue with the road work and the road base,” White said. “We’ll do the asphalt paving, striping, lighting, sign work. We’re ahead of schedule and it all looks good now, knock on wood.” CEG
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