Trumbull Leads $93M Rehab of ’Burgh’s I-79

Tue June 28, 2005 - Northeast Edition
Jennifer Rupp

Remember lava lamps and Archie Bunker? After more than 30 years, these pop icons have become outdated, just as the 5.8-mi. (9.3 km) stretch of Interstate 79 North near Pittsburgh has.

Original construction of this highway began in the late ’60s and was completed in 1972. Today, the length of roadway between exits 54 and 60 in Allegheny County is in desperate need of repair.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) let the project on Dec. 23, 2004. The project is estimated at $93 million and will take two years to complete, including all aspects of highway refurbishment.

Trumbull Corporation of Pittsburgh won the bid, coming in at $92.8 million. Trumbull, along with its joint venture partner, Lindy Paving Inc., is the major contractor for the job. Additionally, there are more than 20 subcontractors assisting with various aspects of the reconstruction. Preliminary processes began in February 2005. Traffic was affected by the crossover onto southbound lanes on April 4.

The task for 2005 is to revamp the northbound lanes. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania spent approximately $3.5 million to upgrade the southbound lanes in preparation for the closing of I-79 north. All traffic traveling on the 5.8 mi. has been re-routed to share the existing southbound lanes and crossovers will be utilized to access northbound exits. In spring 2006, the opposite will take place and traffic will be moved to the northbound lanes to reconstruct I-79 south.

The Michael Baker Corporation works closely with PennDOT regarding project management. The company’s staff monitors the specifications of the contract between PennDOT and Trumbull Corporation and measures quality of the work and the quantities payable to the contractor. Currently, $2 to $3 million is paid out weekly by the Commonwealth — a figure that will increase to $5 million once the paving begins.

Interstate 79, also known as the Raymond P. Shafer Highway, is the single largest interstate in southwestern Pennsylvania. Traffic exceeds 100,000 cars daily where I-79 and I-279 (Parkway West) meet, which is part of the work zone. On May 13, the northbound and southbound lanes of the Parkway near this intersection were completely closed for 11 hours to remove nine girders from the existing bridge. Traffic was re-routed onto Route 60 North, which intersects I-79 North.

Subcontractor Joseph B. Fay Company of Russellton, PA, was hired for the demolition. Using two 500-ton (453.6 t) capacity cranes, (rented from ALL Crane in West Elizabeth, PA) the task was facilitated quickly so traffic could resume normal patterns.

Joseph B. Fay is subcontracted to work on a total of 20 bridges in the I-79 project.

“Other than rented cranes, we are using Komatsu PC200, PC300, PC400 and Volvo EC330B track excavators to complete the demolition on the project,” said Dennis Watkins, vice president of Joseph B. Fay.

Trumbull Corporation also is using mostly their own machinery.

“At this point, we are considering the purchase of three pieces of equipment that we currently rent,” said Bob Decker, equipment manager of Trumbull.

For hauling broken concrete, Trumbull rented a Volvo A35D articulated truck from Rudd Equipment Company in Leetsdale, PA. For excavation, they chose a Gradall 4300XL from Highway Equipment in Zelienople, PA, and a Caterpillar D6R dozer from Beckwith Machinery in Delmont, PA, for various other construction needs.

Bridgework, Culverts and Retaining Walls

There are 24 bridges being rehabilitated. Most of them include the excavation and removal of existing abutments. The plan is to extend the abutment piers to facilitate additional girder lines using new concrete or steel beams.

Underground culverts also are being revamped. These concrete arches stand 12 to 15 ft. (3.6 to 4.6 m) high and are several feet thick. Some stretch to 2,100 ft. (640 m) in length and are covered by more than 100 ft. (30.5 m) of dirt. After 35 years, the concrete needs repair on four culverts in the work zone.

Near the Kirwin Heights interchange, two retaining walls are being constructed to accommodate the required roadway and shoulder widening. This will enhance the vehicle capacity on the section of highway that serves the surrounding communities of Kirwin Heights, Carnegie and Bridgeville. Heavy shopping traffic flows through this area.


When PennDOT originally let this project, the paving design included full-depth superpave asphalt. The process entails replacing the existing concrete with 21-in. (53.3 cm) asphalt pavement. Upon acceptance of their bid, Trumbull Corp. presented PennDOT with a second option: “crack and seat.” Crack and seat involves braking up the existing concrete, proof rolling it with a heavy roller and using that as a base to top with 17 in. (43.2 cm) of new pavement. This procedure has been successfully implemented in PennDOT District 1. The benefits include substantial cost, risk and time reductions for the state, as well as the contractors.

Paving around bridges poses an extra challenge for the highway workers. To maintain the clearance height for tractor-trailers, they are not able to add the standard 17 in. of pavement without first completely removing the existing concrete from 500 to 700 ft. (152.4 to 213.4 m) before and after a bridge.

Intelligent Transportation System

The Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) is a network of cameras used to monitor traffic flow and maintain highway safety. At the ITS Center on Thoms Run Road in Bridgeville, PennDOT employees oversee highway activity. Dispatchers contact police, emergency vehicles and tow trucks when necessary.

The current system is being augmented to extend the vision to various points on the highway and also will include additional corresponding variable message signs.

PennDOT has keyboard access to the message signs at the ITS center where they are able to send “real-time” messages to motorists regarding accidents or traffic problems ahead. A supplemental six-camera system was assembled temporarily for the construction phases to monitor the work zone for the full 5.8 mi. (9.3 km).

Coinciding programmable message boards are being monitored 14 hours per day. In addition, two emergency trucks rotate through the work area during the peak traffic hours which are 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday.

Traffic and Safety

When construction is taking place, PennDOT conducts daily reviews of the M&P — maintenance and protection of traffic. They drive with the traffic through the work zone to identify possible delays or problem areas. Bill Marszalek, PennDOT project manager, said present traffic is flowing smoothly at 55 mph with virtually no delays. Concrete barriers with 54-in. (137.2 cm) glare screens separate the north and southbound lanes on I-79.

“We inspect the signs, barriers and traffic flow regularly,” said Marszalek.

Safety is one of the top priorities for the road crew. PennDOT engaged in pre-construction prep work to ensure that the contractors would be able to perform their duties without the threat of speeding motorists. Pennsylvania State Police have two to three patrol cars per night stationed in the work zone to warn travelers to slow down.

PennDOT would like to remind drivers to obey the construction and speed limit signs, and to have a high regard for the safety of the highway workers.

Other Construction

The acceleration and deceleration lanes at three interchanges are being lengthened to meet design standards. Many roadway problems are caused by a lack of drainage. PennDOT is remedying this by adding pipe and rebuilding inlets.

Additionally, replacements will be made in the areas of highway lighting, guide rails, signage, pavement markings and other miscellaneous construction.

“We have not encountered any major impediments at this point in the project and we are running on schedule,” said Bill Marszalek.

Upon completion of the project, motorists can look forward to quicker, safer and smoother travel on I-79. CEG