A $26 million reconstruction project is under way on a dangerous winding S-curve on Interstate 59 in Laurel, Miss., that has been the scene of fatal accidents for decades.
Southern District Highway Commissioner Wayne Brown said the project, which will take three years to complete, has been 20 years in the making.
“It was built before the interstate system and doesn’t meet today’s standards,” he said.
Brown noted interstate standards changed while “we were trying to build it and we had to change designs.”
The three-year project is .74 mi. (1.2 km) long, and half of that distance will include construction of a bridge overpass. The project also calls for reconstructing and realigning I-59 between 16th Avenue and Fourth Avenue in Laurel with two new Beacon Street exits.
Laurel’s S-curve was built in 1955 with construction of the relocated U.S. 11 through the city. When the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 providing a funding mechanism for the planned interstate system, Highway 11 was renamed I-59. The project was completed in 1961, before the adoption of interstate standards.
In 2005, the Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT) hired an engineering consultant to modify construction plans by redesigning the Beacon Street loop and incorporating other design elements requested at a public hearing held in July 2004.
According to a timeline of the project, due to lack of funding, the project originally could not have been let to contract any sooner than 2008. However the city of Laurel used MDOT’s H.E.L.P. program (Highway Enhancement through Local Partnerships) to secure $32 million to advance fund the construction project.
Red Stringfellow, MDOT project engineer, said Tanner Construction of Ellisville, Miss., started the project Aug. 14.
“The sequence of construction is that during phase one most of the bridge, except for a small portion on the north end, and about 300 feet of roadway on the south end, except for the portion that will finally tie back into the existing roadway, will be completed. This is occurring to the east side of the interstate and in no way interferes with the traffic on the existing interstate.
“When this construction is completed, we will then be able to move into phase two, phase three and phase four construction during which time the ties on both ends to the existing interstate will be made. During these phases, we will be changing traffic patterns as needed, but hopefully can maintain four through lanes at all times. Traffic will then be moved to the new roadway and then the work to the remaining ramps and city roadways can be completed,” Stringfellow said.
He said approximately one quarter of the drill shaft foundations have been placed.
“A.H. Beck Foundation Co. Inc. from San Antonio, Texas, is performing the drill shaft construction using a closed drill mud system. There are 15 of the 72 inch diameter shafts, 99 of the 48 inch diameter shafts, and 33 of the 36 inch diameter shafts. Tanner Construction Co. Inc. will construct the substructure and superstructure and has started on the columns of the first interior bend,” Stringfellow said.
Currently, a Manitowoc 125-ton (113 t) crane and a American 5299 crane are being used on the project by Tanner. A.H. Beck is using a Liebherr 130-ton (118 t) crane for drilling shafts, setting the reinforcing cage and placing the drill shaft concrete. Tanner Project Superintendent Eddie Boyer said the Manitowoc is being used to hang beams, while the smaller American crane is being used to pour concrete.
Boyer said the work has gone smoothly and is on schedule.
He expressed appreciation to Laurel officials for being “really cooperative. They’re helping us do whatever we need to do. They’re great to work with,” Boyer said.
The main bridge to be constructed is approximately 2,000 ft. (610 m) long and anywhere from 100 to 140 ft. (30.5 to 43 m) wide, according to Stringfellow. He said the variance in width is due to the three ramps (one off ramp and two on ramps) that are part of the bridge.
The bridge will consist of a 15-ft. (4.6 m) median, 10-ft. (3 m) outside shoulders and four 12-ft. (3.6 m) through lanes. There will be acceleration lanes and deceleration lanes for the ramps along the main bridge.
“We’ll switch traffic from the old bridge onto the new bridge when we’re ready. Our biggest concern is to maintain four lane traffic on the interstate at all time. When we go to tying in ramps to the bridge, we will need some detours,” Boyer said.
Crews are working 10 to 12 hour days at five or six days a week.
Stringfellow said the new section of I-59 also will be an S-curve, but it has been designed with a longer radius and will allow for the safe movement of traffic at the regular posted speed.
“The old S-curve on I-59 was actually safe at the posted speed, but the problem was that people were not used to slowing down to the posted speed and did not anticipate what may happen if they didn’t,” he said.
Twelve subcontractors have been approved by the Mississippi Department of Transportation for the project. They include: Road-Pro Safety Inc., traffic control items; A.H. Beck Foundation, drill shafts; Tremac Resteel, reinforcing steel; Miller Staking Inc., roadway construction staking; RJM McQueen Contracting Inc., erosion control and concrete curb and gutter, islands and sidewalks; J.L. McCool Contractors, striping; Lewis Electric Inc., traffic signals; Atwood Fence Co., guard rails and signs; A-1 Sealing Inc., rumble strips and transverse grooving; Harper Construction, concrete median barriers and bridge railing; Walters Construction Co. Inc., excavation; Synergy Earth Systems LLC, retaining wall system.
Stringfellow said Walters is building the roadway embankment for a few hundred feet of the roadway required for the main line and ramps.
Officials don’t anticipate any actual detours of the interstate.
“The traffic control has been designed such that we will maintain four lanes of through traffic during the duration of the project. After Phase one construction and the main bridge is completed there will be some detours of city streets while on and off ramps are completed. The contractor will also be required to finish the main bridge and complete the tie-in one either end of the interstate. During this time, some exits will have to be closed,” Stringfellow said.
There are several challenges from MDOT’s standpoint on the project.
“Naturally we will be working closely with Tanner Construction to ensure a quality product. The construction of the drill shaft foundations, the tie-ins to existing interstate on both ends, and the construction of the northern bridge abutment are three challenges for this project. The east half of the northern bridge abutment will be built during phase one construction. This requires a drill shaft retaining wall to be placed alongside the existing interstate so that the main bridge can be built for the northbound lane. This will allow the contractor to move traffic onto this part of the completed bridge so he may then finish the west half of the northern bridge abutment for the southbound lane,” Stringfellow said.
Maintaining the correct grade may be a challenge, also.
“With three of four ramps being part of the main bridge and with the bridge being in a reverse curve this presents a challenge to Tanner and MDOT to obtain the correct grade so that we can provide a smooth ride for the traveling public,” he said.
There is an added benefit to the project. Twenty live oak trees were removed as part of site preparations in August to help preserve a national historic landmark: the restoration of the Charles W. Morgan whale ship in New Bedford, Mass.
“Quentin Snediker with the Mystic Seaport Museum in Mystic, Connecticut, came down and supervised Tanner Construction Company’s cutting and loading of the trees. The trees were then transported by volunteer trucks contracted by the Mystic Seaport Museum. Mr. Snediker reported that the 20 trees would supply the remaining 80 tons of milled material needed to complete that portion of the restoration of the Charles W. Morgan,” Stringfellow said.
Tanner Construction has been doing work for MDOT since 1993, Stringfellow said. The company was started in 1977 and works in Mississippi and Alabama. Tanner is capable of doing excavation and grading, subgrade, paving, drainage and bridge construction. CEG