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VDOT Embarks on Bold Four-Year Job

VDOT's goal is to get in and get out as soon as possible on 11 separate bridge projects.

Tue August 27, 2013 - National Edition
Lori Lovely


In 2010 the Virginia Department of Transportation embarked on a four-year project to replace 11 bridges on a 7-mi. (11 km) stretch of I-95 in metro Richmond.
In 2010 the Virginia Department of Transportation embarked on a four-year project to replace 11 bridges on a 7-mi. (11 km) stretch of I-95 in metro Richmond.

In 2010 the Virginia Department of Transportation embarked on a four-year project to replace 11 bridges on a 7-mi. (11 km) stretch of I-95 in metro Richmond. It may be unusual to work on so many at once, but VDOT’s goal is to get in and get out as quickly as possible.

“Considering the traffic volumes this corridor accommodates each day, it would be a bigger headache for drivers if we were to stretch out this work over 8 to 10 years,” said Dawn Eischen, VDOT communications manager.

VDOT officials estimate that about 160,000 cars cross the bridges each day.

“It made more sense to use an accelerated construction process in order to get in and get out in four years and not have to re-visit the area again for many years [other than for routine maintenance].”

By replacing or rehabilitating all 11 bridges under one contract, VDOT has simplified the project, with only one general contractor: Archer Western Construction LLC of Atlanta, Ga.

That results in a shorter learning curve, Eischen said.

“The contractor improves his process and efficiency based on lessons learned from one bridge to the next and the contractor becomes much more proficient in accelerated bridge construction, which will indirectly result in more qualified contractors that will be bidding on future VDOT projects of this nature. This also reduces the impact to drivers. Get in, get out and stay out.”

The I-95 corridor is a north-south, six-lane divided interstate through the city of Richmond and Henrico County. This corridor is a major thoroughfare for downtown metropolitan area commuters and also serves east coast travelers.

All of the bridges were built in 1958, with the exception of the Upham Brook bridges that were constructed in 1962.

“The bridges are inspected at a minimum each year,” said Eischen. “Four of the bridges are classified as ’functionally obsolete’ and five are classified as ’structurally deficient.’”

However, VDOT said that the bridges on this list are all safe, although they need the upgrades to stay safe.

Gov. McDonnell told reporters, “Our investments in transportation continue to have significant impacts. This project will help ensure that traffic can move safely and efficiently through the Commonwealth for decades to come, and improve the quality of life for all who live, work and travel through Virginia.”

The project began in 1999 with the successful replacement of the James River Bridge and Broad Street bridges as part of an initiative to improve bridge integrity along the corridor. Routine maintenance and repairs continued on the remaining 11 bridges while funds accumulated for the project.

Since then, VDOT has accumulated funds to restore the remaining 11 bridges along this vital transportation corridor. The project is fully funded in the fiscal years 2011-2016 Six-Year Improvement Program using a combination of federal and state transportation funds. Of the $106.6 million total project budget (including administration, design, construction and inspection), 80 percent came from federal sources, with the remaining 20 percent from the state.

The eleven bridge rehabilitations along the I-95 corridor at the following locations between Lombardy Street in Richmond and Upham Brook in Henrico County include:

• Upham Brook Creek (northbound)

• Upham Brook Creek (southbound)

• Laburnum Avenue

• Westwood Avenue

• I-95 South ramp over Boulevard

• Boulevard (Route 161)

• Hermitage Road

• Robin Hood Road

• Sherwood Avenue

• Overbrook Road

• Lombardy Street and over the CSX Railroad

Work on the first bridge began in September 2010. Several bridges have been completed:

• Laburnum Ave. (Oct. 2011-April 2012)

• I-95 South Ramp to Boulevard (southbound May 2012, northbound Sept. 2012)

• Westwood Ave. (southbound June 2012, northbound Oct. 2012)

• Boulevard (southbound June 2012, northbound Aug. 2012)

• Hermitage Rd. (southbound July 2012, northbound Sept. 2012)

• Sherwood Ave. (southbound Nov. 2012, northbound April 2013)

• Robin Hood Rd. (southbound Nov. 2012, northbound April 2013)

• Overbrook Rd. (southbound and northbound March 2013)

Lombardy Street began construction in May and completion is expected sometime in late 2013. The Upham Brook bridges will start construction in early 2014. While VDOT established a fixed completion date of Oct. 24, 2014, Eischen said the anticipated completion date is spring 2014.

The work area extends 2,024.3 ft. (617 m) in two directions (northbound and southbound). The project includes 5.3 mi. (8.5 km) of roadway and shoulder widening.

Using accelerated bridge construction techniques, VDOT will assemble all the unique prefabricated bridge superstructure units offsite and deliver them to the bridge locations on specialty transport trailers.

“The total number of bridge units on this project totals 234,” said Eischen. “This equates to 9,500 cubic yards of concrete and 2.5 million pounds of steel.”

By mid-June 192 of the 234 preconstructed composite units (82 percent) had been cast and 150 (64 percent) had been installed. The PCUs are set onsite by two 200-ton (181.4 t) cranes.

“The units are transported to the site via three different specialty transport trailers with 12-axle configurations,” said Eischen.

WO Grubb is the subcontractor in charge of cranes and special transport vehicles. Other subs on the job include Freyssinet completing substructure repairs, Seaboard in charge of drilled shafts and Pryor in charge of hauling.

The casting yard uses two 120-ton (108.9 t) gantry cranes. There are several personnel lifts onsite, as well as other equipment such as front end loaders, forklifts, a small bulldozer, backhoes and smaller cranes.

The design and construction team learned several lessons and experienced many challenges during the accelerated bridge construction process, according to Eischen.

“Our durations for various phases of the project have been reduced by better efficiencies of crews and equipment, team coordination, communication and after action reviews with VDOT and the contractor.”

Other daily challenges mitigated by the team included meeting a 10-hour window to set up lane closures, deploying zipper barriers, sawcutting the existing deck, removing the existing superstructure demo pieces, preparing beam seats, haul routes and permits for PCUs, setting the PCUs and temporary post-tensioning and grid deck.

In addition, Eischen says crews had to deal with deteriorated existing structures, which included failing diaphragms and joints. They had to haul the PCUs over structurally-deficient structures.

The four-year project is being completed in multiple phases. The first two years of the project involved repair and restoration activities under each bridge, which required periodic overnight lane closures and detours on Richmond city streets.

In 2012, contractors began replacing each bridge span with new, prefabricated sections. This required traffic pattern shifts and overnight lane closures along I-95. During overnight construction on I-95, VDOT maintained one travel lane in each direction and one emergency vehicle lane.

Crews removed and replaced segments of bridges during overnight hours so the bridges were fully operational by morning rush hour each day.

“VDOT is committed to keeping traffic moving through Richmond for the duration of this project,” said Tom Hawthorne, VDOT Richmond District administrator.

When beams and decks are replaced during the main construction phase — from October 2011 through fall 2014 — I-95 traffic is reduced to one travel lane in each direction Sunday through Thursday nights from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m.

“By working at night, we will impact fewer drivers and reduce motorist delays,” said Eischen.

I-95 ramps and city streets under the bridges will also be closed during bridge replacements.

“Our goal is to complete the project with as little motorist inconvenience as possible,” said Eischen. “Much of the foundation restoration to the piers and abutments from 2010 through spring 2013 [was] done during weekdays and [required] single lane closures under the bridges and on I-95 from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Lane closures are not permitted during morning or afternoon rush hour except for emergency repairs.”

Despite VDOT’s best efforts, commuters often felt challenged by changing traffic patterns and delays.

Eischen defends the contractor, citing a consistent lane closure schedule from the beginning of the project that has helped drivers know when to expect delays.

“VDOT has used every outreach resource available to notify drivers about potential delays,” she added.

Nevertheless, two-hour delays and 3- to 4-mile backups during rush hour haven’t won over many commuters. In December 2012 VDOT closed two lanes after an issue with a metal plate used in the bridge repair on the Robin Hood Road Bridge. The metal plates used to link the new portion of the overpass to the old section, bridging a gap that will be filled with cement. Eischen believes that a vehicle, “probably a tractor-trailer,” hit the bridge plate, shifting it in such a way that it caused other vehicles to hit it, causing damage to themselves.

“It may seem like this project has a lot of problems, but you have to keep in mind this is one of the most heavily traveled sections of road on the east coast,” said Eischen. “Anything that happens on this project that causes a delay is going to get a lot of attention.”

That wasn’t the only emergency that led to major delays. Work on a bridge led to the closure of three southbound lanes and 19 miles of congestion between exits 27 in Bridgeport and 9 in Stamford that resulted in a delay of more than two hours for motorists.

If drivers can survive construction delays, they’ll reap the benefit of improved safety along the I-95 corridor.

Because the lifespan of the bridges will be extended for 50 to 75 years, the total maintenance cost savings for VDOT could reach nearly $10 million.

The construction project will benefit the region economically by creating more than 500 jobs. An additional 100 jobs are expected per year as an economic ripple effect.

According to a 2010 economic impact study conducted by Chmura Economics and Analytics, the project is expected to generate a one-time economic impact to Richmond and Henrico County of up to $166 million when project contractors and their sub-contractors patronize area businesses. Nearly $2.3 million in tax revenue for the commonwealth is expected to be generated during construction, with fiscal benefits for local governments of $200,000 from 2010 to 2014.