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Tripling Population Spurs SR 365 Resurfacing Project

Thu September 29, 2011 - Southeast Edition
Lori Lovely

After decades of traffic, State Route 365/US 23 between Lula and Cornelia, Ga., is in need of repair. After an extensive corridor study of the four-lane, median-divided rural highway, the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) designed a project to remove damaged, crumbling asphalt and lay down a new, smooth driving surface from SR 52 in Hall County to the split at SR 17 and U.S. 441 in Habersham County.

The population in both counties is projected to nearly triple over a 25-year period, rising from 195,300 in 2005 to 577,090 in 2030. The rate of projected change in employment is expected to increase by more than 3.5 times, rising from 81,400 workers to 307,048 by 2030.

The impact on traffic volume is significant and could lead to gridlock conditions, particularly south of Lula, according to the study. Two-way, 24-hour traffic volumes on SR 365 vary from a high of 31,000 vehicles per day on two sections in Hall County to a low of approximately 18,000 vpd in Habersham County, where daily traffic peaks at 29,500 vpd. With an unusually high incidence of injury and fatal crashes already recorded since 2003 at the intersection of SR 365 at Demorest, the GDOT has expressed concern for future traffic volume.

According to the study, “the State Route 365 study area passes through parts of Hall and Habersham counties. Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, both population and employment increased substantially in both counties. Population and employment growth in Hall County has been driven by Gainesville’s status as a regional center for northeast Georgia and the growth of metro Atlanta northward up I-985. Habersham County’s scenic beauty, rural ambiance and mild climate are contributing factors to its population growth. SR 365 also is a factor because it provides access southward to metro Atlanta. Current growth trends are expected to continue, and population and employment are forecasted to increase in the future.”

Eighty percent of the funding for the $19.2 million, 20.996-mile-long resurfacing project comes from the federal gas tax, with a 20 percent match in state gas tax.

Night Moves

The contract was awarded to C.W. Matthews Contracting Inc. of Marietta, Ga. In business for 65 years, C.W. Matthews is primarily an asphalt company, with 27 plants, but also features a road division, concrete division and does bridge work. Its job on this project is to remove up to 8 in. (20 cm) of damaged asphalt along 21 center line miles/84 lane miles and put down three layers of new asphalt — all before the contract completion date of June 30, 2012 … or earlier.

Bill White, senior vice president of asphalt construction, C.W. Matthews, said that the contractor imposed a Sept. 30, 2011, deadline on itself “because we can.”

There are sound reasons for accelerating the deadline. By finishing before winter, they avoid any weather issues that could complicate work and scheduling. They’re also able to get the permanent striping down now, without having to replace it in the spring. By getting as much permanent work completed as possible now, it adds a safety element for the schools in the area, White added.

Eagerness to finish work in school zones before students return to class in August may have contributed to the change in the schedule. Work hours have been lengthened to save money and encourage the contractor to finish the work as soon as possible, although Pope explained that there are no incentives or disincentives in the contract.

Weather permitting, C.W. Matthews is now planning to finish the entire resurfacing project by Sept. 30, 2011. Assisting them in that goal are subcontractors such as Tony Cook Trucking Inc.; Detection Engineering Technology Inc.; Dills Trucking LLC; Joe Dirt Hauling; K Ware Trucking Inc.; Ladd Trucking; Powell’s Trucking LLC; and Thompson Carriers Inc.

Work is scheduled for both days and nights during off-peak hours, weather permitting.

“They can work days, except for peak drive times in the morning for southbound and in the evenings for northbound,” explained Teri Pope, GDOT District One Northeast Georgia communications officer, “but the contractor is choosing to work nights and weekends for now. This is their choice, not a requirement of the contract.”

It was C.W. Matthews’ choice to work nights, but lane closures scheduled overnights through June, which enabled safer, more efficient work, made the decision an easy one. Around-the-clock lane closures on select weekends in specific areas also dictated the schedule. While one crew installed the binder layer of asphalt from SR 105/Historic US 441 to SR 197 during the day, another crew removed damaged asphalt and installed the base layer on the northern end of the project from SR 197 to the split at SR 17 and U.S. 441 during the overnight hours.

Additional reasons that made night work a better option include the fact that there’s less traffic disruption at night.

“It’s a remote area,” White explained, “but there’s still traffic to work around.”

Weather is another factor to work around. With 90 percent humidity and daytime temperatures in the 90s, the night shift became more appealing.

“We’ve had some heat issues,” White admitted. “We make sure our crews drink plenty of water and Gatorade.”

He indicated that the night shift became the popular choice among workers. An average of 15 C.W. Matthews employees can be found on site any given day, but that number doubles at night. The number of subcontractors triples from 20 during the day to more than 60 at night.

Not only are the crews more productive at night, but the mix plants also are. C.W. Matthews is using material from two of its local plants.

One weekend, in an effort to get one layer of new asphalt down on the four through lanes on 365 from Lula’s State Route 52 to Alto Mud Creek Road in Habersham, crews worked all night. The plan was to finish northbound to Alto Mud Creek Road, then switch to southbound and work it back to state route 52, explained GDOT District Engineer Todd McDuffie, with crews working each Friday, Saturday and Sunday night from 5 p.m. through to 7 a.m. while one lane was closed. The following week, again working overnights, crews resurfaced the median cross-over areas from 52 to Alto Mud Creek.

Laying It Down

The work plan breaks the project into two sections. The southern section is SR 52 to Crane Mill Road; the northern section is Crane Mill Road to the split at SR 17 and U.S. 441. Although the original plan called for two work zones, with one lane in each direction closed each weekend, unexpected storms impacted the work plan, so the contractor decided to work around the clock to make up for lost time.

“We haven’t had a lot of rain,” White said, “but it’s been untimely.” He added that showers seem to start at 6 pm, an hour after the crews begin work.

Pope reported that by mid-August the base was down on all four through lanes from SR 52 to Alto Mud Creek Road. Working in 3 mi. long work zones, crews have averaged 2 mi. per night.

“They averaged 25 feet an hour during the second week,” she noted.

A second paving crew was brought in to expedite work, laying down the second layer from SR 53 to Alto Mud Creek Road while the first crew continued to remove damaged asphalt and replace the base layer of asphalt at the median crossovers from SR 52 to Alto Mud Creek Road, with the goal of completing three crossover sections per night.

Material removed from the aging roadway is hauled away for recycling, White reported, with 25 percent of it being re-used on the project. New material from the two local plants includes 108,000 tons (97,975 t) of 19mm for the bottom layer; 105,000 tons (95,254 t) of 12.5mm of polymer modified for the second, middle, layer; and 49,000 tons (44,452 t) of open-graded friction course mix for the top layer.

The middle layer acts as a binder between the base layer on the bottom and the smooth driving surface layer, called the “topping.” Currently, Pope reported, crews have the base layer of asphalt down on eight center line miles of through lanes and are working on the median crossovers. A second crew has been brought in to start the binder layer, using pavers and MTVs from Rotech.

As new pavement is laid, it will be at different heights until both lanes are completed, causing GDOT to issue warnings to drivers. Communication has been critical on this project, and includes a weekly meeting with the contractor and construction supervision staff to discuss the project, brainstorm solutions and ensure that things are running smoothly. CEG

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