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Total Makeover Thrusts Loop 303 Into New Era

The biggest challenge on the project turned out to be earth moving.

Thu June 11, 2015 - West Edition
Lori Tobias

Four years ago, the Loop 303 freeway near Phoenix was an outdated two-lane highway with limited areas to pass and ill-placed traffic signals and stops signs. It was, said Doug Nintzel, spokesman of the Arizona Department of Transportation, “slow going and frustrating for local residents in the growing region about 20 miles west of downtown Phoenix.”

But today that’s all history. Due to 20-year extension on a 2004 Regional Transportation Plan extending a half cent sales tax combined with federal and state funds, Loop 303 has undergone a complete makeover, bringing the old highway into the new era.

“We consider Loop 303, anywhere from I-17 down to I-10, to be a freeway that has now been constructed ahead of the development curve in the West Valley,” said Nintzel. “To go from a two-lane rural style highway to a modern, access-controlled urban freeway in a matter of about four years now, has been a remarkable achievement. The Maricopa Association of Governments, as the region’s metropolitan planning organization, set the final schedule for getting this done. ADOT took that blueprint, and working with our team of contractors, has turned Loop 303 into a big cog in the West Valley’s economic development engine. It’s great to drive on something like that.”

The makeover began with a stretch of Loop 303 that did not exist — a 14-mi. (22.5 km) segment that crosses undeveloped desert land, between Interstate 17 in north Phoenix and heading west into Peoria.

“Ground was broken in 2009, and after two years of construction that took place without a lot of fanfare — since most people couldn’t see it happening — the new Loop 303 opened in May 2011, providing a new option for drivers west of I-17,” said Nintzel. “That segment is operating with two travel lanes in each direction with room to expand as growth occurs in the coming decades. But it was just the beginning of the Loop 303 story.”

In the fall of 2011, Pulice Construction Inc. of Phoenix went to work on the first of what would be four projects — with future bids to come.

The $145-million I-10 and Loop 303 traffic interchange project was one of the most significant, involving a five-level interchange, soaring 70-ft. (21 m) in the air.

“The biggest challenge was traffic,” said Steve Campbell, Pulice senior vice-president. “It’s not a roadway you can regularly shut down. One of the most important things was just phasing, building a structure 70 feet in the air, limiting the height. In some cases, some of the overhead structures were within a detention basin. We excavated down, then built dirt back in to limit that height range.

“We had 5 million yards of excavation. It had to be moved a couple of times just because of the phasing issues. We used Caterpillar 385 excavators, 631 scrapers, 40-ton rock truck hauls. For the structures operation, we used mainly in-house cranes. All our cranes are Link-Belt, 60 to 100 ton cranes. At any given time we probably had nine of our own cranes out there and typically one rental Manitowoc 3900.”

Pulice also managed the call for a change order fairly late in the project.

The change order added the construction of portions of additional elevated ramps directly over I-10 that had been planned for construction in a later phase of work.

“Early on in the project, with a large amount of movement on I-10 to maintain traffic, the project team and ADOT realized that since all the traffic is already in this configuration, why don’t we get some of these other structures built over I-10. We can get them built now so we wouldn’t have to interrupt traffic again. It was a $10.9 million change order, a late change order. But everyone was willing to get it going. It would have been much more expensive had they chosen not to do it at this time.”

Next came the Loop 303 reconstruction project between Camelback Road and Glendale Avenue, including an all new traffic interchange at Glendale Avenue. Again, it was a challenge of phasing. Crews routed traffic to the southbound side of Loop 303, then built new northbound ramps that were part of a traffic switch allowing work to be finished along the freeway’s southbound side.

“This job had 741,000 yards of import and two miles of drainage channel that will eventually connect to the Gila River,” said Jim Meadows, Pulice operations manager.

“One of the challenges with the drainage channel is that everything to the west and really to the east is existing farm property that is actively being farmed. There are a lot of drainage and irrigation channels. If they are over filled or there was a lot of rain, the water flowed onto our project. We had several rain events that were pretty catastrophic in September when we had five to six inches of rain in one night. It filled every basin all the way down I-10.

From there, the work moved to the stretch of Loop 303 between Glendale and Peoria avenues.

“That job had quite a bit of challenges because a large portion of the project was an import job,” Campbell said. “Part of it came off a detention basin within the footprint of the 303/I-10 TI project. Part of it came from outside sources, part of it was movement of dirt within the project. That was the biggest challenge, managing the earth movement. We had 1.9 million yards of import. We recognized very early on there was going to be a shortage of material on this project.”

They took their concerns to the ADOT design team who came up with a solution by making some of the detention basins larger to create more onsite material. Pulice also took some additional waste material from an unrelated project to the south.

The final job was the Peoria to Mountain View Boulevard project which, at $129 million, was ADOT’s largest Construction Manager At Rick (CMAR) job to date. It involved 2.5 million yards of excavation on site on 5.5 mi. (8.85 km) of divided freeway, Meadows said.

The challenge with it was to maintain traffic while moving dirt on the north two miles to the south two miles.

“We came up with design to build an equipment box so that our truck traffic did not interfere with the public,” Meadows said. “We moved 1.5 million yards through the box without interrupting the local traffic. It was a box culvert with two bays, 14-foot wide, 12-feet tall and 60-feet long. We had them drive the belly dumps through that underneath with the existing traffic above us.”

In the end, all four project totaled $382 million and kept Pulice crews busy.

“It was a little bit of a strain on our resources, but we were able to work around it and we did not have to gear up too greatly to meet the obligations of the schedule,” Campbell said. “We had enough equipment or were able to rent outside to get what we needed. It was actually beneficial to have the four projects within the same corridor as opposed to four separate projects throughout the valley. Because we were able to manage our resources, and that’s both personnel and equipment, by and with all the project managers working together to shift crews back and forth as needed.”

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