Like it or not, it is a project whose time has come.
In an attempt to save time, money and lives, New York State’s Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) began shutting down a portion of Albany’s Interstate 90 in June, one direction at a time — on nights and weekends — to perform highway and bridge work on roughly a 4-mi. (6.4 km) stretch between the Adirondack Northway and Corporate Woods Boulevard. Tens of thousands of motorists now have to use alternate routes while crews complete the $44-million second phase of this three-year rehabilitation project.
The strategy is similar to a 10-day eastbound shutdown DOT executed in 2003 on the “alternate” portion of Route 7 between the Northway and Interstate 787. This time, the closures between I-90 Exits 2 and 5a will be limited to times when few commuters will be on the road.
According to NYSDOT Regional Director Tom Werner, “We looked at the traffic carefully in this proposal. There probably are 3,000 to 3,500 vehicles per hour at peak weekend times. That is about one-half the number of vehicles that would be on the road during the morning or evening commutes.”
The closure was a value-engineering proposal made by Lancaster Development Inc., of Richmondville, NY, the project’s primary contractor. Value engineering is when a contractor analyzes a project’s original plan in search of ways to improve upon it.
“On this project, traffic is the biggest risk our workers face. We originally wanted to close [the highway] around the clock, seven days a week for two weeks,” said Mark Galasso, president of Lancaster Development. “In that time, we could have completed an entire [east or west] bound but the weekly traffic counts were too high. Instead, NYSDOT allowed us to shut down nights during the week and weekends. That will shave roughly three months off the schedule, improve worker safety and project quality and reduce costs.”
For years, hazards have plagued nighttime crews working on busy interstates, including setting up and tearing down more than 100 light plants daily, the glare for oncoming traffic, working in shaded areas and setting up lane closures in the dark.
Lancaster Development is addressing those issues by using a Fixed Position Temporary Lighting System. This system — never before used in the United States — consists of 108 light poles 70 ft. (21.3 m) high, with aluminum masts, set in pre-stressed concrete bases. Each pole houses four 6,000-Watt bulbs. The masts are connected by PVC-covered direct burial cable to five 275-kW generator sets. When the power switches are flipped the entire road is illuminated like daytime.
“It is a new application of an existing technology,” said Galasso, whose company leases the lights but owns the other components. “Basically, they are sports lights. Because they are on both sides of the road they create a competing light source so there are no shadows. And, because they are so high, there is no glare to the driver.”
So why hasn’t this system been used in the United States before? Its high price tag is considered to be the main reason.
“To reach the break-even point you have to be in a fixed position for over four months. Most nighttime construction projects are fast-track-type jobs that blow through an area in a matter of several nights. Because this job is for such a long duration it made sense,” said Galasso.
Several variations of roadwork are involved in rehabilitating the 35-year-old highway. Type 1 is full reconstruction, which only is being done for the bridge over the CSX Rail line. Type 2, milling the existing asphalt and repaving, will be done at Exit 1. That stretch is being milled as two-course asphalt overlay with guardrail and sign replacement. Type 3 rehabilitation is from just past Exit 1 — where there is exposed concrete — all the way to Exit 5. Roadwork of this type includes rehabbing the existing concrete pavement, completely replacing the concrete median barrier, repairing the drainage system (mostly by using a polyethylene liner) and topping it off with a three-course asphalt overlay. All signs and guardrails also will be replaced.
Included in the project is work on three bridges. The bridges over Fuller Road (east of the Northway exchange) and Central Avenue (Route 5, east of Route 85) will be rehabilitated. The bridge over the CSX Rail line (west of the Corporate Woods interchange) will be replaced and is expected to take two years.
The Fuller Road bridge will undergo a deck rehab that includes milling off the existing overlay and repaving and replacing the concrete bridge barrier and guardrail.
The Central Avenue bridge involves the same basic concept but with more thorough repairs. A portion of the concrete superstructure — the upper 2 to 4 in. (5.1 to 10.2 cm) — will be removed, the upper map of rebar will be exposed and a deck overlay with concrete will be done. The outside and median bars also will be replaced and the approach slabs repaired. While this bridge requires a more thorough superstructure repair, no sub-structure work is needed on either bridge.
Work on the Fuller Road and Central Avenue bridges will be completed by this August.
Substructure work began on the CSX Rail line bridge in early June and is scheduled to go through this calendar year. Before stopping for the winter, the substructure will be built up underneath the existing one. When work resumes in the spring it will be done in three phases.
“The existing bridge will be completely demolished, the substructure will be finished and the superstructure will be built,” said Galasso. “The CSX bridge is being raised just over one meter [3 ft.]. As a result, the roadwork will be affected. The existing concrete is being ripped out and replaced with new asphalt pavement from Exit 5 to 5a because of the profile adjustment over that bridge. The bridge is being widened and a better exit to the Everett Road off-ramp is being added. It is the only area of the project that involves full reconstruction.”
The bridgework is progressing on schedule.
As for the roadwork, the eastbound — other than paving in the vicinity of the Fuller Road and Central Avenue bridges — is complete through the second course of blacktop. All concrete pavement repairs are finished and most of the asphalt is done up to the second course.
Westbound closures began the weekend of July 9. By the end of July all roadwork from the NYS Thruway toll plaza to Exit 5 will be completed through the binder course and both bridges will be finished. In August, all of the top course paving will be done, east and westbound, and the signs, guide rails and detail work will be done. Some work — primarily removing the light system — will remain for September.
Not Without Its Challenges
Galasso’s major challenge has been trying to coordinate the logistics of a job of such magnitude, with so many things happening day and night.
“Logistically, it is difficult to work at night because your vendors aren’t available to help. It becomes a staging effort to make sure enough materials are on hand. The transition of crews in and out and across weekends also presents a challenge. Not only does it disrupt this job, it also disrupts the job the crews are coming from. It takes quite an effort to put it all together but with proper planning it works out,” he admitted.
For closure information and project updates, visit www.dot.state.ny.us/roads/rc1.html CEG