Winter won’t stop work on the Illinois Tollway’s construction of a 12.5-mi. (20 km), three-lane extension of the North-South Tollway from where Interstate 355 ends at Interstate 55 (the Stevenson Expressway) through Will County to Interstate 80.
In fact, Pete Stuckas, senior project manager for V3 Companies of Illinois, is looking for ways to gain time over the winter to build a cushion in the schedule just in case spring weather or other issues arise next year. “We’re working with contractors on winter protection for key bridges,” he elaborated. “We’re trying to get contractors in early. For instance, at the Archer interchange, which is affected by the central drain earth moving and drain contract, we have two contractors working in the same area at the same time. Fortunately, the area is large, so they’re not on top of each other. They’ve been cooperative. It’s helping us get ahead a little bit during a season when, traditionally, construction work in this part of the country slows down.”
It’s that kind of forethought and planning that has kept the project on-schedule and on-budget, while also keeping a very eager public informed and appeased. The long-anticipated $730 million roadway, which is part of the larger $5.3 billion Congestion-Relief Program to reduce travel times, will pass through 14 communities in Will County, which is one of the fastest-growing counties in Illinois. “Everyone approved of the project; everyone wanted it,” Jan Kemp, assistant press secretary with the Illinois Tollway, confirmed. “This major non-stop road will quickly move people to jobs in the O’Hare area — and other areas.” The new tollway is expected to reduce travel times between Interstates 55 and 80 by 20 percent.
Benefiting All Area Residents
Although Kemp said the project has been “in the works” for 30 to 40 years, it wasn’t until late summer-early fall 2004 that the Ill. Tollway Board approved the $5.3 billion Congestion-Relief Program.
The program contained several projects, such as the I-355 extension and planned to convert 20 mainline toll plazas to barrier-free, non-stop open-road tolls (which will decrease carbon monoxide emissions at toll plazas by 41 percent); rebuild and restore 90 percent of the system, which had begun to deteriorate; and widen and add lanes. Kemp explained that some sections of road are nearly 50 years old and in need of attention.
The program included a toll increase, effective January 1, 2005, but Kemp said there will not be an additional increase when the extension is finished. In addition, passenger cars using I-PASS are exempt from the increase. Passenger vehicles paying cash saw the toll double from 50 cents to $1 on the north extension and $2 on the south extension. Truck rates increased on a different scale.
In addition to moving commuters more efficiently, the project will generate $20 billion in economic benefits and create 252,000 jobs. The board predicted that most of the pavement would not require major construction for at least 30 years, providing added savings.
But there was a time when the entire project was in doubt. Work was due to begin in 1996, but was stymied in court by a lawsuit. As Kemp relates, several environmental groups got together to contest the road because the area is a habitat for several threatened and endangered species. The suit contained multiple claims, some with which a judge agreed. Because the environmental impact study offered no true no-action alternatives, the judge ruled that a new study must be provided.
A Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement, released in 2000, considered numerous options, such as changing traffic signal sequencing and adding lanes to existing routes, but ultimately, the judge ruled that they failed to provide the same congestion relief the proposed extension promised.
The tollway will accommodate the addition of more than 120,000 residents over the previous decade and provide for two percent of future growth. Planners estimated that developed lands in the corridor had increased by 30 percent in the last decade, and indicated that 75 percent of the corridor was currently slated for development.
In addition to accommodating the area’s human population, the toll road would have to consider resident wildlife. Concessions were made by the Illinois Tollway to protect the species and their territory. Before ever setting foot on the site, contractors were made aware of the situation, received training on how to handle the delicate situation and given information about whom to contact if there was a sighting.
The Des Plaines River Bridge plan also took the situation into account. Working with the environmental agency, the Illinois Tollway Board agreed to raise the bridge above the flight path of a dragonfly. “That’s why the bridge is 90 feet in the air,” Kemp pointed out. The Board also agreed to a monitoring period following completion of construction.
With legal and ecological issues settled, work began in the fall of 2004, consisting predominantly of clearing the land. Kemp said 2005 was “all about moving earth,” although there also was drainage work completed. That year, crews moved 5 million cu. yds. (3.8 million cu m) of dirt. By the time the project was completed, Kemp estimated that 10.2 million cu. yds. (7.7 million cu m) of dirt (enough to fill the White Sox and Cubs field seven times) would have been moved. Equipment required to accomplish that included 10 to 12 D6 dozers, 20 to 22 D8 dozers, 17 Caterpillar 345 backhoes, 12 Caterpillar 815 and 825 compactors, 12 Caterpillar 623 and 631 scrapers, 200 trucks and a few other backhoes and loaders.
“There was major cut and fill work done on the mainline,” Stuckas said. He reported that 95 percent of the earthwork and drainage was complete, with only 1 million cu. yds. (760,000 cu m) of excess materials. “We tried to minimize excess and locate right-of-way areas that could handle it; we built a lot of berms and created a stockpile for future projects,” Stuckas said.
The vertical profile was set 10 years ago, although V3 had some flexibility to change the grading, which saved 300,000 to 400,000 cu. yds. (229,000 to 305,000 cu m). As a result of not having large fluctuations in prices, developing efficiencies on the earthwork side helped the budget. “We looked at individual packages for balance,” Stuckas explained. “We combine contracts — cut and fill — for the best use and management of time and materials.”
As the corridor construction management team overseeing all contracts on the project, V3 had a responsibility to keep the project moving, administered contracts consistently, resolved issues and tracked budgets, scheduling and change orders. Considering V3 as an extension of the Tollway staff, Stuckas said, “Our goal is to have the road open in 2007. All it takes is one contract to fall behind to delay the whole project.”
Overseeing a project of this magnitude was no easy task. Kemp estimated that 3,850 full- and part-time professional and construction staff would have worked on the new toll road by the time work concludes next year.
Currently, there are 15 active contracts, and Stuckas expected to add one more on the cross road. “We grouped work. There are three main drain contracts: south, central and north. There’s the crossroad bridge contract, because there are a number of existing roads to cross, and there’s the Des Plaines River Valley Bridge — our largest contract for about $125 million. The I-55 interchange is broken up into three contracts.”
There were other, more geographic contracts. “It’s easier to work in sections and avoid packages that are too large to bid that they limit competition,” he added. “If contracts are kept in the $30-$50-$60 million range, we have more competition, more local contractors.”
The strategy had been successful; there had been a lot of minority participation in the project. In fact, many of the contracts demanded minority business participation, per availability. Stuckas said the requirements vary by contract, but generally included a minimum minority participation requirement of 10 percent, giving them “a good cross-section of contractors.”
Each contract stipulated differing requirements for minority businesses and each contract also called for different scheduling parameters. In general, crews were working 50-hour weeks, 6 days a week; overnight and shift work is the exception, according to Stuckas. However, Kemp pointed out, a lot of work had to be done at night. “We have to close I-55 to erect beams; that has to be done at night.” Night work was mostly conducted in the commercial areas so as not to impact residents. The toll road spans rural, residential and commercial areas, and the Tollway is trying to be a good neighbor, sensitive schedules and work that impact commuters, residents and businesses.
There could be more night work next year, Stuckas speculated, due to weather forecasts. “The first year was dry — almost too dry. We struggled with dust control. From September ’06-on has been incredibly wet.” Weather had impacted the schedule in isolated areas, causing V3 to re-sequence activities in order to keep the project on target.
Stuckas said community response had been overwhelmingly positive. He credited that to the work done “up front between the Tollway and the locals.” An advisory committee met with each impacted municipality to educate, update and discuss issues. These monthly public meetings laid the groundwork for success, he believed, adding that “you have to have a sincere desire to work with the public if you want success. The Tollway has that.”
Star of the Show
Work in 2006 focused on bridge and interchange construction. As Stuckas mentioned, the biggest single contract concerned the Des Plaines River Valley Bridge. The 6,600-ft.-long or 1.3 mile (2 km) bridge is the Tollway’s longest. Kemp called it the centerpiece of the project. Because the pre-cast, post-tensioned girder-design concrete bridge spans an environmentally sensitive area, it will rise 90 ft. (27 m) above ground at its highest point.
And because the bridge was so high, electric lines had to be raised to 160 ft. (48.7 m). Stuckas indicated approximately 345 AV lines and 128 KB existing regional transmission lines were raised last winter, with the assistance of Thomas Edison. The $5 million project was “well-coordinated with the company,” Stuckas recalled, and required precision scheduling. “There was a lot of cooperation.” Because the utility company required 10-week advance scheduling, V3 was under pressure to meet the deadline or be responsible for multiple outages. “Plus, we had active projects going on in the area — the crossing of the Des Plaines River… We shared a temporary crossing with the utilities.”
The bridge, with three lanes in each direction, will run north of Bluff Road to south of New Avenue, spanning the I&M Canal, the Sanitary & Ship Canal, several railroad lines, the river and the Forest Preserve. Drilling of the caisson foundations for new bridge piers north of Bluff Road and south of New Avenue began in March. The contract called for 34 piers. The five piers north of Bluff Road will be 10 to 20 ft. (3 to 6 m) tall, but due to the sudden drop in elevation to the valley 75 to 100 ft. (22.8 to 30.5 m) below, the 29 piers south of Bluff Road will have an average height of 75 ft. (22.9 m). Beams were 100 in. (254 cm) deep and weighed 200,000 lbs. (90,700 kg), most of which were set in place with two cranes. Erection of some beams required one crane on the bluff and one in the valley. “It made an interesting visual,” recalls Kemp.
The biggest single crane on the project, a 300-ton (272 t) Manitowoc 2250, was put together specifically for work on the bridge. Kemp explains that a low-level bridge over the Des Plaines River was constructed to allow crews to bring the big crane (and other equipment) into the valley.
Once work is finished, the bridge will be turned over to the Will County Forest Preserve for use in connecting their trail systems. However, the Tollway will continue to use it to inspect and maintain the bridge.
Stuckas said he was initially worried about the condition of the ground. Thus, he conducted soil boring every 10 to 15 ft. (3 to 4.5 m) to assess potential risks. The soil reports were “mostly accurate” and indicated that some areas needed treatment. “There’s a lot of clay soil; that’s good and bad, because it doesn’t drain well.” Overall, though, he said there were few surprises — other than a couple garbage piles: “nothing extensive.”
The bridge contract included specific requirements regarding the maximum number of piers and the number of columns within each pier, based on environmental issues. Another environmentally friendly feature of the bridge was its processing of storm water run-off, which would be contained in a closed system before being released into the river. “There are all kinds of de-icing agents,” Stuckas explained. “This process will let them settle out before the water goes into the river.”
Stuckas indicated that the design-build option was included in the bid for the bridge contract. “We’re on a critical path; the bridge has the most work to be done in a two-year period. The tight time-frame is one reason we went to design-build as an option.” Of the three bids submitted, he said two were design-build and the other included plans for a concrete bridge. Walsh Construction won with the lowest bid, but fortunately, Stuckas said, the company has experience with design-build.
Crews also were at work on the I-55 interchange this year, grading and building up for three flyover ramp bridges, building retaining walls and constructing new bridge piers to support eight flyover ramps.
A Manitowoc 999 274-ton (248.5 t) crane was used on the interchange. Other than the two big cranes used on the project, Stuckas said, “there was not much specialty” in the equipment list, just “a lot of volume.” A lot of equipment featured GPS technology. “We did a lot of grading by GPS, some of the layout and all the fine grading.”
Work on the new I-80 interchange at Cedar Road also began, with inside shoulder closures for center pier construction to carry flyover ramp bridge traffic.
Bridge decks will be framed over the winter, Kemp said. Bridges and interchanges will be completed next year. “We’ll be pouring concrete.” She estimated the building of the south extension will require a total of 410,000 cu. yds. (313,000 cu m) of concrete and 270,000 tons (245,000 t) of steel. “It’s a big project, with six interchanges — two with major roads — bridges, noise abatement walls...” All work has to be complete before the tollway opens. “The project will open as a whole when it’s completely ready.” With work currently on schedule, Kemp and Stuckas predicted an on-time opening in 2007. CEG
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