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Two Down, Two to Go on I-90 Reconstruction

Traffic management is the major challenge on the $70 million project.

Wed June 18, 2014 - Midwest Edition
Irwin Rapoport

The reconstruction of the last section of Ohio’s I-90 in Ashtabula County is being undertaken by Columbus-based Shelly & Sands Inc. (S&S), which just started the second year of a four-year ($70 million) project that will see 7.5 mi. (12 km) of new road built and nine bridges completely rebuilt.

The major challenge for this project is managing traffic so that the work can proceed on schedule. Work for the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) began in January 2013 with the construction of a tunnel for bicyclists underneath the I-90 bridge.

“In order to start the project, we had to construct a tunnel under the I-90 bridge so that we could remove the bridges and fill and construct a roadway over the tunnel.” said S&S Project Manager Dan Kirsch.

The above-ground tunnel — 14 ft. (4.2 m) wide and 16 ft. (4.9 m) high, is 400 ft. (122 m) long and is big enough to allow a train to pass through.

“The path is placed along an old railroad bed,” said Kirsch, “so we had to undercut and then construct a 14-inch concrete pad underneath, which took over 1,800 cubic yards of concrete to pore. Then we constructed half-walls on the side and placed precast concrete sections to create the dome.”

A 300-ton (299 t) crane was used to place the concrete sections of the tunnel. The demolition of the bridge was completed in 10 days.

The highway, two lanes on either side, is separated by median and was built as part of the Eisenhower interstate construction program. ODOT requested that S&S use the bi-directional traffic control system to minimize the traffic impact on motorists. This had S&S build a temporary 7.5 mi. (12 km) lane alongside the westbound lanes, which allows motorists to still use four lanes while the eastbound lanes undergo construction.

“I like the system to a certain extent,” said Kirsch. “In some cases it’s hard to get to your work — the hardest part is getting your materials to the job site, like the trucks carrying the stones for the underdrains and drainage and then hauling the material for stabilizing. We have over 350,000 square yards of stabilization on this job and over 60,000 cubic yards of undercuts, where you have to cut three feet of material out of the road base. It is bad material and is being replaced with Type B granular stone.”

A good portion of the roadbeds also are being lowered, which requires a lot of excavation. This is especially true with the rebuilding of the ramps at Route 45 and Route 11.

Save for two bridges that are two lanes, the others have four lanes, which is needed to maximize traffic flow, especially to ensure that bi-directional system will function properly.

Just as some of the road sections have to be lowered, some of the bridges have to be increased in height and the roads beneath them have to be lowered.

“Over the years they’ve been building the roads up and now semi-trucks are getting too close to the bridges,” said Kirsch. “There are a lot of clearance restrictions now when we are rebuilding highways.”

Last year, S&S rebuilt the westbound lanes and placed the temporary road bed, rebuilt several crossovers, and rebuilt three overhead bridges and one mainline bridge — approximately $24 million worth of work.

This season’s work will have 4 mi. (6.4 km) of the eastbound lanes rebuilt and in terms of bridges, an overhead one at Route 11 where it connects with I-2; the Forman Road Bridge, a mainline bridge; the eastern side of Forman Bridge; and two overhead bridges at Chapel Road and Jefferson Road.

In total, more than 300,000 cu. yd. (250,838 cu m) of concrete will be removed, with about 30,000 cu. yd. (25,084 km) this year.

“We’re taking it to a local sand gravel dealer,” said Kirsch. “Then we’ll excavate and probably have about 35,000 to 40,000 cubic yards of dirt this year, which will go into various places such as the tunnel and ramp work. Then we’ll separate/stabilize with lime — a subcontractor will lime stabilize 16 inches deep, and then we’ll put our underdrains — approximately 60,000 lineal feet just in this section this year,” He continued, “following that, the fabric goes in and 14,000 tons of Number 8 stone. After that, we’ll bring in a little over 40,000 tons of 304 limestone for the roadbase.”

Not only is this a tight operation, but a complex one that has much of the material being imported from Canada via barges to a dock in Ashtabula County and then hauled to the site.

“It’s a weather restricted project,” said Kirsch, “and then you have schedules and time constraints that you have to meet. We have Primavera scheduling, plus I meet with my superintendents everyday for the next day’s work. We have a lot of equipment on the project now and it is just one of the many elements that we have to manage.

“We generally finish before Christmas and get stared around the end of February,” he added. “In December, January and February it is still cold. This is a good time to revise our schedules, reviewing past work, and prepare for the new season.”

Several subcontractors have been brought on board, including Dave Keffler Bridge Company for the bridge work, Karvo Construction for the concrete work, Lake Erie for guardrail and sign construction, Miller Cable for power lighting and temporary lighting, and A&A Safety for striping and traffic control devices.

On a daily basis there are roughly 40 to 50 workers from S&S and the subcontractors strung along a very scattered work site.

“The bridge work is at one end of the job and we have work taking place all along the 7.5 mile section,” said Kirsch. “We’re a pretty safety-oriented company and we have one toolbox talk every Monday. We talk about the hazards and the measures we need to take to keep everyone safe. It’s the same with our bridges. We did an inspection in early May and everything looked good.”

He added that 90 percent of the work is based on 10-hour shifts, along with some night work when lowering beams for bridges, and when bad weather is called for and key aspects must be completed rapidly.

In addition to ODOT inspections, Kirsch’s superintendents and foremen keep a sharp eye on the work, especially as elevations for various aspects of the work have been set. GPS systems are employed to ensure they are met, along with several pieces of equipment fitted with GPS units and the use of rovers.

S&S has ample space to set up onsite offices, provide parking for vehicles, storage for materials, and for a maintenance yard.

“Before we started the job,” said Kirsch, “I reached agreements with a couple of farmers and property owners to put trailers and fenced areas for equipment and steel boxes. There is plenty of room and we are allowed to use any ODOT property.”

Wetlands adjacent to the project are being protected.

“There is a lot of erosion control that needs to be done and we have over $2 million just on this job,” said Kirsch. “That includes steel fencing, different types of sed basins, silt fence, dump rock, and making sure that everything is filtered before it leaves the project.”

While no utility work is being done, there are some natural gas lines in the area and the utility is contacted prior to any work that could affect them.

S&S has a considerable fleet for the project. To deal with the concrete removal, it is using five 40 ton (36 t) Cat and Volvo rock trucks and a 400-series Cat hoe.

“We’re using just about everything right now,” said Kirsch. “For the rock trucks, we’re using Volvos, John Deeres and Cats. For excavators, we’re using Cats, Komatsus, Volvos, and a couple of Kobelcos. For bulldozers, we mostly used Cats and John Deeres.”

Crews are working with BOMAG and Cat rollers, and Galleon and Cat graders, which have GPS systems.

A portable asphalt plant is being used to help with the 280,000 tons (254,000 t) of asphalt to be used on the project.

“You want to get the asphalt as close to as you can so that you can save money on trucking,” says Kirsch, who uses a broker truck to collect and place he asphalt produced on site.

There is one onsite mechanic and an oil man visits the project on a regular basis based on the maintenance schedules for various vehicles and equipment. Various oils are stored on-site, as well as fuel via a 20,000 gallon tank, which is distributed via a tanker.

The onsite maintenance yard is about one-quarter of a mi. from the job, where regular maintenance is performed, while the closest company yard is two hours away in Akron.

Mike Willis, a mechanic with 20 years experience in the field and shop, appreciated the help of the equipment operators in keeping him informed of potential problems.

So far there have been no major equipment issues.

With more than $400 million in business every year, Shelly & Sands has about 24 mechanics in the field and more based in shops in Ohio. If additional help is needed at a particular work site, additional mechanics can be rapidly sent. At times mechanics from dealerships also are brought in to handle new equipment still under warranty.

So far no equipment has been rented, but Kirsch said that if help is needed to pump concrete or other materials and to mill asphalt, subcontractors will be brought in.

The company’s equipment division, led by a president and vice president, is responsible for purchases from various dealerships in Ohio.

Bill Glass, the ODOT District 4 project engineer assigned to this leg of the I-90 reconstruction has been working for ODOT for 26 years and appreciates the cooperation that S&S is providing.

“Continuous dialogue at the project level is extremely important to improving the work schedule and working more efficiently,” he said. “There is rarely a day that goes by that Dan [Kirsch] and I do not have numerous conversations to address current and upcoming work issues. We were very successful at achieving our goals during the 2013 season. I believe that our ability to communicate and resolve issues played a huge part in that success.”

The main challenge for this project is maintaining the progress schedule of the four-year project.

“There is a tremendous amount of work that needs to be performed and interim dates that need to be met,” he said. “Each operation is interconnected with and dependent on every other operation. A delay to any item of work can adversely affect or cause delay to numerous other items of work.”

The expected service life of the new highway is 50 years, and according to ODOT, it is common for minor repairs and/or resurfacing to take place at or around 15 years.

“There have been no design changes on this project so far,” said Glass. “There have, however, been adjustments and alterations made at the project level in response to field conditions with the intent of improving the schedule. There are varying levels of surprises. We have surprises quite often but, so far, we have not encountered any of a serious nature.

Projects such as this one provide experience for new ODOT personnel and allow for “old hands” to pass on their wisdom.

“The construction experience of our field staff on this project ranges from just a few years to over 25 years,” said Glass. “A total reconstruct project of this nature provides considerable learning opportunity for construction personnel at any experience level. We are taking full advantage of this learning opportunity to further develop our staff.”

He added that lessons are learned with each project to help update ODOT monitoring systems and for design of future road projects and traffic management.

“There are always successes and failures at the project level with respect to all aspects of construction,” he said. “These are constantly evaluated for the benefit of future projects.”

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