TH 212 Project Begins Following Years of Delays

Tue August 29, 2006 - Midwest Edition
Dick Rohland

After approximately three generations of preliminary planning, environmental studies, acquiring right of way and securing financing, Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) officials finally broke ground last August on the construction of a new, 12-mi. (19 km) segment of truck highway (TH) 212.

At a cost of $238 million, it also is the largest single road construction contract ever let in the state of Minnesota.

Long overdue for an overhaul according to MnDOT documents, the existing highway has huge capacity deficiencies exacerbated by rapid suburban growth. An alternate highway to the north, though two lanes in each direction, is not only at or above efficient capacity but also is heavily signalized and serves a different geographic area.

New TH 212 will improve traffic safety and decrease congestion to create and maintain a vital link between the Twin Cities through western Minnesota to the Dakotas, approximately 200 mi. (320 km) to the west, MnDOT officials said.

Stretching west from the suburbs of Minneapolis, new Highway (HWY) 212 will merge into existing TH 212 in Chaska, MN, where it travels due west through the farm and prairie lands of western Minnesota into the state of South Dakota.

Though long in the planning, time will be relatively short constructing this road. MnDOT officials and their prime contractor, Zumbro River Constructors (ZRC), expect to open the new highway to traffic by the end of 2008.

ZRC is a joint venture of three companies coming together as equal partners to get the job done. Fluor out of Greenville, SC, is the managing member of the project, Edward Kreamer and Sons of Burnsville, MN, will be building the bridges while Ames Construction, Burnsville, MN, came on for the grading and paving operations.

MnDOT officials credit working hard with local governments in setting aside right of way very early on, relying on the design-build scheme and cutting edge technology to complete the road within three years.

Compared to most road construction projects, where existing highways undergo a complete reconstruction, the new alignment of TH 212 is on virgin ground. With the exception of existing roads crossing the new alignment, there are very few major traffic issues to deal with, said Jon Chiglo, MnDOT project manager.

Beginning at Eden Prairie, a third-tier suburb southwest of Minneapolis, road crews are digging and paving through former farm fields and prairie grass lands to Chaska, MN, where suburbia meets the rural geography of southwestern Minnesota.

In reference to the typical road project where highways undergo a complete reconstruction under heavy traffic conditions Chiglo remarked, “you don’t get to work on these type of road projects very often anymore.”

The new road alignment will be constructed to freeway standards, Chiglo said. Along with four traffic lanes and wide shoulders, 30 bridges and seven interchanges will be constructed throughout the new alignment to eliminate dangerous, at grade road intersections that cross existing TH 212.

TH 212 always has been a significant route for the commercial and agricultural industries in Minnesota, Chiglo noted. It is a key agricultural route for grain and produce transportation from the eastern Dakotas through west central Minnesota into the Twin Cities. Mixed in with the heavy trucking activity are thousands of daily travelers and commuters, Chiglo added.

“It’s a farm-to-market route and highly traveled route. This alignment and this project is going to allow traffic to flow more smoothly with less interruption from the west of Chaska into the heart of the Twin Cities,” Chiglo explained.

MnDOT also saved time and money very early on in the preliminary planning stages of this project, Chiglo said, by working with communities along the proposed route to restrict development along the future right of way of the new road.

“This was a major success to our right of way acquisition process,” Chiglo explained. “It really saved the department some money as far as escalation of property values.”

Since road construction started late last summer, the advantages of working on virgin ground can be clearly seen. Approximately a dozen Cat scrapers zoom back and forth with plenty of space to roam and stay clear of dozer operations and bridge construction occurring throughout the construction zone.

Much of the new alignment through former farm and wooded land has been cleared. And pockets of small housing developments popping up on both sides of the new road alignment clearly delineate state right of way boundaries.

Grading operations run faster because Trimble based GPS receivers have been placed on a dozen or so dozers and graders to accurately set the blades on the equipment to the desired grading levels and alignment, said Tim Odell, ZRC construction manager with Ames.

“It minimizes the number of stakes we have to put in the ground and it also minimizes the number of passes a motorgrader operator has to make to get to that final elevation,” Odell explained.

The signals received from satellites orbiting thousand of miles above earth provide for an accuracy of less than a half inch (1.3 cm).

“Typically, the tolerance of the finished surface has been consistent to three-hundredths of an inch,” remarked ODell.

Within one year the project broke ground, 6 mi. (9.6 km) of the new road is undergoing grading work and 9 mi. (14.4 km) of the corridor has been cleared for grading, ODell said.

Before grading could begin on the new highway, ZRC workers and equipment dug out thousands of yards of bad soil, which proved to be one of the first challenges.

“We dug out over 600,000 cubic yards of muck. In some areas, it was 40 feet deep,” said Scott Risley ZRC, project manager. “Getting that material out, disposing of it and backfilling with sand,” became a challenge, Risley explained, “because of local work hour restrictions and a 45 minute round trip traveling in heavy traffic.”

At one time during the removal operations, Risley estimated that more than 50 trucks hauled the bad material out and returned with sand for backfill, battling local traffic on their 45-minute round trips. One of the bigger areas of excavation operations centered at the crossing of TH 101 over the new alignment.

MnDOT and ZRC also requested a variance from the city of Chanhassen to work in and around the TH 101 crossing through the night to shorten the impact of daily excavation operations.

“The city of Chanhassen allowed us to work over a seven week time period through the night,” Risley explained. The modified work hours allowed “us to get a lot out faster and was less of an inconvenience to the prime, daytime motoring public.”

State Project Manager Chiglo added that the state bidding process also improved the original removal estimate.

“It was interesting to see the bids come in,” Chiglo noted. “They all concentrated on the same areas by tweaking the profile here and there,” to greatly reduce the original removal estimate.

ZRC eventually reduced the original removal estimate from 1.5 million cu. yd. (1.1 million cu m) to 750,000 cu. yd. (573,000 cu m), Chiglo said.

Cat scrapers, dozers and excavators quickly changed the local landscape over the first few months of the excavation, scraping and grading operations of the project. The heavy equipment cut a nearly flat corridor through gently rolling terrain and built huge berms, some several hundred yards long and 30 ft. (9 m) high, throughout the first several miles of the corridor.

ZRC has operated more than six dozen pieces of heavy equipment since the road work began last fall, according to company documents. Approximately a dozen Cat 631G and E scrapers, several Cat motorgraders, more than a dozen Cat dozers and loaders along with a half dozen Cat excavators have been used.

And approximately a dozen booms from a variety of American, Terex, Link-Belt and Grove cranes rise above the landscape to lift material for several bridges under construction.

Quantities on this road project include 7 million cu. yd. (5.35 million cu m) of earthwork, 1 million cu. yd. (765,000 cu m) of muck excavation, 50,000 cu. yd. (38,000 cu m) of concrete and 50,000 lb. (22,700 kg) of rebar.

Fluor Project Manager Risley estimated that more than 400 workers from ZRC and 20 subcontractors will eventually be on the job site.

Designers from ZRC also saved on project costs for the state by modifying the design of one bridge and eliminating another, Risley noted.

“We were able to make a steel beam bridge much shorter and go with concrete spans,” Risley explained. “The other bridge, a concrete box girder was eliminated by changing the road alignment and replacing it with a box culvert.”

With the new road crossing a dozen or so local streets and roads carrying heavy traffic in and out of the Chanhassen and Chaska communities, staging for ZRC workers is very critical, Risley said and key to moving the project forward with no delays.

“A primary focus late last year and through this year is working from Eden Prairie Road to Powers Boulevard [on the east end], really concentrating on getting Powers Boulevard open.” Risley explained “because Powers Boulevard is key to some of the first staging. By opening this road and moving traffic on to it allowed us to close Lyman Boulevard off.”

Closing Lyman Avenue off, which crosses the new highway on an east-west alignment and connects two busy, north-south crossings of the new road will open the way for construction crews to erect the Lyman Avenue and TH 101 bridges crossing over the new highway and complete construction on the TH 101 interchange.

At the far western edge of the project, where existing TH 212 meets the new alignment, ZRC workers are erecting another bridge.

“This is a key bridge for us as far as staging,” Risley remarked. “This is a very difficult interchange here. It’s very tight. We’re trying to have this road open in the next few months because it is a key to building the west end of the job.”

ZRC expected to have the entire corridor cleared by the end of this year and to open up a 1-mi. (1.6 km) section of road to traffic by the end of this year, Risley said.

“We’ll probably have almost every bridge started this year,” Risley added. “We’re trying to get all the pile driven this year so we’ll have all 28 bridges under construction.”

The poor soil conditions also have proven to be a minor thorn in the side for the bridge workers.

“We’re building this whole thing over a swamp,” remarked Mark Olson, ZRC project manager of Kreamer and Sons. “We have muck, peat; the ground is moving under us all the time. It’s very soft.”

However, the soft soil has not slowed bridge construction, Olson noted.

“We have a start on close to 40 percent of the bridges at this point. We have foundations started on a lot of structures, we have three decks poured out. Two of the bridge structures are open to traffic,” Olson said. “So, we don’t have any real press from this point forward but we’re looking to expedite the work and maybe try to complete the bridge construction by the end of 2007.”

All 12 mi. (19.2 km) of new TH 212 will open to traffic by the end of 2008. CEG

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