Traffic Standstills Spur $300M I-84 Expansion

Tue August 24, 2004 - Northeast Edition
James Van Horn

What made the current expansion of Interstate 84 in west-central Connecticut necessary was a classic case of a road outgrowing itself.

Built in the 1960s to connect Hartford with the New York State Thruway and points west, much of I-84, including the stretch from Waterbury to Southington, was originally two lanes in both directions. That was fine for 35 years until traffic volumes grew too high.

Vehicle per day counts in 1996 were 59,400 in Southington, 82,500 in Cheshire and 88,800 in Waterbury. During a three-year period, 1,065 accidents were recorded, yielding approximately 120 accidents per mile. Traffic frequently ground to a halt for no apparent reason, such as on weekends.

In 1995, a comprehensive study initiated by the Connecticut Department of Transportation (ConnDOT) of the I-84 corridor between Waterbury and Hartford recommended widening existing four-lane segments in this corridor to six lanes, widening shoulders, reconstructing substandard overpasses (specifically, raising the clearance of the overpasses), improving interchanges, and implementing enhanced transit options. Total cost of this revamping of the original interstate has been estimated at $300 million.

The first improvements to be implemented under this study will be on approximately 10 mi. (16 km) of I-84 between exit 23 (CT 69-Hamilton Avenue) in Waterbury and exit 30 (West Main Street) in Southington. The improvements, estimated at $164 million, involve widening the existing I-84 from four to six lanes, modifying some interchanges, reconstructing eight bridges and two culverts, building new retaining walls, constructing new service roads, smoothing out curves, and installing a new “incident management system.”

The first project (actually two contracts), valued at $53 million, was awarded to L.G. DeFelice Inc., of North Haven, CT. It covers 3.4 mi. (5.4 km) of I-84 eastbound and westbound west of Exits 27 and 28 (Marion Road) in Cheshire to just east of Exit 25 (Scott Road) in Waterbury. The exact boundaries of the project are from Marion Road in Cheshire to Pierpont Road in Waterbury. The project includes the construction of two new ramps at Austin Road (Exit 25A) — an on-ramp from Austin Road to I-84 eastbound and an off-ramp from I-84 westbound to Austin Road.

The existing I-84 eastbound off-ramp to Austin Road will be relocated. When complete, the project will provide on- and off-ramps at Austin Road in both directions. The Exit 26 on-and off-ramps to and from Route 70 will be realigned to improve safety.

The project will provide three 12-ft. (3.7 m) wide through lanes in both directions, plus a fourth climbing lane on steep hills. In addition, there will be two 12-ft. (3.7 m) wide breakdown lanes, one on either side of the travel lanes, in both directions.

A 5-ft. (1.5 m) wide median barrier, filled with base material and capped with concrete, will separate eastbound and westbound traffic. New guide rails and retaining walls also will be constructed.

The second project, widening of I-84 in Southington, went to Manafort Brothers Inc., Plainville, CT, in May 2003. The third project, from the western end of DeFelice’s job into Waterbury, is currently in the final stages of design.

Both DeFelice’s and Manafort’s projects call for completion in October 2005. Now, according to James Ruitto, project manager, District 1 Construction for ConnDOT, DeFelice, who began work in October 2002, is ahead of schedule. (During the first quarter of 2004 Manafort was still in the first stages of work.)

According to Ruitto, Manafort’s project is probably the most straightforward, DeFelice’s more complicated, and the still-to-be-bid western end job the most complex.

DeFelice’s job involves 390,000 cu. yd. (300,000 cu m) of dirt excavation and 68,000 cu. yd. (52,000 cu m) of rock. The contractor is removing most of the rock where the road is being widened at the apex of the job, a steep ridge of basaltic and grantic rock separating the Quinippiac River and Naugatuck River valleys. Here, DeFelice drills and blasts, using Kobelco, Daewoo and Caterpillar hydraulic excavators to load shot rock into Volvo articulated off-highway haulers.

Safety and traffic control factors severely limit blasting. DeFelice has a two-hour “window” during off-peak hours every week or so, and can stop traffic for up to 10 minutes in each direction during that time. Consequently, high production is not a factor. DeFelice uses a single air drill for blastholes.

Pavement deterioration was not a factor in the decision to revamp this section of I-84. Much of the original concrete pavement will be repaired and reused.

DeFelice will lay down 325,000 cu. yd. (250,000 cu m) of asphalt hot mix courses and 1,300 cu. yd. (1,000 cu m) of new concrete. Using an on-site plant, the contractor is crushing and screening as much of the shot rock as possible for the new base courses, since most of the rock is excellent raw material for aggregate.

In the early stages of the project, DeFelice laid paving for the new inner shoulder for the eastbound lanes using a combination of a material transfer vehicle with a windrow attachment, feeding a hot mix paver. Then trucks could dump paving material ahead of the transfer vehicle, which then scooped it up, mixing it to avoid segregation and depositing it in the paver hopper.

DeFelice also is putting up one new steel plate girder bridge at Exit 25A — Scott Road — and rehabilitating five others.

A major part of DeFelice’s job involves traffic control and safety. Numerous Connecticut State Police officers are present for traffic control when crews are working. In addition, the contract requires that all work takes place behind positive protection.

DeFelice can close lanes on either I-84 eastbound or westbound at night, but no lane closures will be permitted between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. From 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. only shoulder closures will be permitted. All lane closures will take place between 7 p.m. to 6 a.m.

In two-lane sections of the roadway, DeFelice may close one lane between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m., and in three-lane sections, one lane at 7 p.m. and a second lane at 10 p.m.

The exception is for blasting, which is done during the day at non-peak traffic hours, although there is usually a steady stream of traffic even during off-peak.

To provide positive protection, DeFelice chose a movable concrete barrier system from Barrier Systems Inc., Rio Vista, CA. This consists of short sections of reinforced concrete walls, which used the so-called “Jersey barrier” design, linked together so they articulate.

DeFelice can move these from lane to lane with a transfer machine, which travels up to 7 mph (11 kmh) and can shift the linked sections, snake-like, as much as 24 ft. (7.3 m) laterally. This method saves time and manpower over the usual method of moving sections of Jersey barrier one at a time with a wheel loader or rough-terrain hydraulic crane, a flatbed truck and a crew of at least three people.

To date, this method has helped DeFelice stay ahead of schedule despite working under some extremely tight traffic control restrictions.