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Vontz Paving Leads Work on Highway N-11

The prime goal is to resurface 14.7 miles of a two-lane (no median) highway, constructed 17 years ago.

Thu November 19, 2015 - Midwest Edition
Irwin Rapoport

While the work for the $5.2 million Nebraska Department of Roads (NDOR) project for the milling, resurfacing and bridge repairs for Highway N-11 in Hall County, Wood River North and South will only begin in April or May next year, Vontz Paving, Inc., based in Hastings, NE is carefully planning for the project that is expected to be completed within three months.

The prime goal is to resurface 14.7 miles of a two-lane (no median) highway, constructed 17 years ago, from its southern end at Interstate 80 to the northern end at Cairo. The contract was awarded to Vontz at the end of September. Not only will the north-south road be resurfaced and have a 6’ dirt shoulder on either side, but key safety features are being installed to help prevent lane departure crashes and improve highway safety as part of the NDOR design.

The existing road will be milled two inches, followed by a cold-in-place asphalt foam operation on the pavement, and the placing of three inches of asphalt (1.5 inches of a lower lift and 1.5 inches of an upper lift). In addition, the lanes will be widened from 12 feet to 14.5 feet.

“The road is in bad shape,” says Wes Wahlgren, PE, NDOR’s District 4 Engineer. “The existing pavement has shown a lot of distress and cracking - freeze-thaw is a major issue for us.”

The closest towns to the highway are Wood River near the south end of the project and Cairo at the north end of the project. This is a major road and commercial artery for the area and the average daily traffic on it is approximately 1,400 vehicles per-day, with nine percent of the traffic being trucks. There is a major ethanol plant at Wood River that attracts a lot of truck traffic hauling in grain.

Improving safety, as mentioned, is a key part of the design.

“That’s the reason for the two foot widening to go to the 28 foot top,” says Wahlgren, “the two-foot widening along each edge will allow us to install shoulder rumble stripes. We’re are also going to install a beveled edge on the outside edges of the road, so if it does develop a drop off, it will provide protection for run off the road and lane departure type crashes.”

The cold foam installation was specified by NDOR’s Research and Materials Division for the pavement design. The new road is expected to have a lifespan of 15 to 20 years. While no new lighting systems are being brought in, new culvert pipes are being installed.

“We are having a problem with corrugated metal pipes culverts that have corroded out.” says Wahlgren. “We’re going to jack new pipes under the road and we’re also going to extend one bridge size concrete box culvert. There is also some minor bridge buttress work for the new bridge approach guardrail, and for that work, there will be some minor grading.”

The project will require the use of 45,000 tons of asphalt and SPR asphalt. About 25,000 tons of asphalt is expected to be removed and about 55 percent of it will be recycled to build the new roadbase.

NDOR will have a project manager on-site, as well as inspectors.

Although the daily traffic may not be large compared to other parts of the country, Wahlgren notes that “for this area of Nebraska, it’s a fairly high traffic count.”

Nebraska, which is a rural state, has many rural roads and maintaining them can be expensive, especially with the weather conditions it experiences.

“When we work on a project,” says Wahlgren, “we try to correct everything we can if the budget allows it. This is why safety measures are important. We differentiate between a shoulder line rumble stripe and strip. A strip is 18 inches long and used on shoulders 6 feet or wider while a stripe is eight inches long and we put stripes onto a road with narrower surfaced shoulders. When a vehicle’s tires drives onto the stripe, it gives an audible noise to say ’you are getting to the edge of the road.’ We also put the beveled edge on the edge of the road – both of these are major safety improvements.”

“Run off the road collisions is are one of our major safety issues that we are trying to look at and we do what we can to correct it from an engineering standpoint,” says Wahlgren. “Most states are using the beveled edge. Nebraska installed rumble strips across the State on our interstate system. This this has really cut down on run off the road collisions on the interstate and installing rumble stripes on our secondary roads should reduce lane departure crashes on them too.”

This is the second NDOR project that Vontz has worked on that used cold-in-place asphalt foam operation – the first was for 20 miles of N 74. Sean Vontz, the owner and president of the firm and his estimator, Alan Kimberly, visited the work site when preparing the bid.

“It’s essentially like an intermediate layer of asphalt,” says Vontz, who notes that Midstate Reclamation & Trucking, based in Minnesota, is laying down the cold foam asphalt. “They are taking out four inches of the existing asphalt and will rejuvenate it with a 52-34 asphalt binder. Then we’ll pave it with three inches of asphalt.”

The culvert work is being done by Van Kirk Bros Contracting, which will bore underneath the road to replace the culverts and do all the dirt work.

“This won’t affect the existing roadway at all,” says Vontz, “so there will be no settling or anything like that. This work will be done simultaneously with the asphalt work.”

Vontz adds that there will be between 15 and 20 construction workers on-site during the 7 am to 7 pm shifts and “that there are a lot more people in the background – truck drivers, management staff, and mechanics - we might have 60 people working all at once.”

The first step of the work is to mill the road and Vontz will be using a 12.5-foot-wide RX 900E milling machine. The northbound direction of N11 will be milled first, most likely in stretches of three miles per-day.

“It will be done under open road traffic conditions where we use a ’pilot car’ traffic control system,” says Vontz, “so there won’t be any traffic closures. When we are working on the northbound side, traffic will be diverted to the southbound side. We’ll mill both sides of the road during the same day.”

The widening of the shoulder will occur at the same time as the cold foam work.

Recycling the asphalt is important to Vontz Paving and NDOR. Vontz Paving is producing all of its asphalt for the project, with a portable asphalt plant (made by Custom Welding and Metal Fabrication in Minnesota) five miles from the work site.

“We brought it in to save some money on trucking and it makes it more efficient so that you can run a higher production rate on the job,” says Vontz.

Spring weather will pose a major challenge to the construction process.

“The cold foam process needs to have fairly decent warmer spring weather,” says Vontz. “We’d like to start early as possible in April, but sometimes start until May because it’s just too cold for the cold foam process and we need good roadway temperatures for it to move along smoothly. We don’t like rain.”

A key lesson learned from the first cold foam process project was to not take out six inches of asphalt.

“It made for a rougher surface and Midstate is only doing four inches of reclamation,” says Vontz, “and they can paver lay that back and it will help with the smoothness of the subgrade work and make for a smoother road.”

A three month schedule is tight, but Vontz is confident that it will be completed on time.

“We have to run tight schedules in Nebraska because of the weather and to maximize your projects through the year,” he says. “It’s a team effort and everyone needs to be on schedule to make things run smoothly. When everyone gets their work done ahead of time, the next guy can keep moving forward.

“We work hand-in-hand with NDOR and have a good relationship with them,” he adds. “We do a better project in the long run when you get along with the department that you are working with.”

When the paving of the top cover of asphalt begins, Vontz says that his crews can cover up to seven miles a day in good weather.

Equipment to be used by the subcontractors includes a custom-made train for the pulverized material, which was designed to match Midstate’s specifications.

Vontz Paving will be using an RP I90E asphalt paver, various CAT rollers, a Roadtec RX900E milling machines, John Deere and CAT wheel loaders, and Bobcat skid steers. The firm’s main shop is 35 miles from the work site.

There will be no on-site mechanic, but two mechanics are always on call. The company has a senior/main mechanic in the person of Orin Johnson, and a service and lube technician in Joe Hauner.

“We take pride in our equipment,” says Vontz. “We keep our equipment up and do as good a job as can with our staff. We have daily inspections and the mechanics go through the equipment once a week to check the hours used. Not all of our equipment is linked to GPS and has the data go to a database, and so a lot of it is still done manually by looking at the hours and seeing when service intervals are needed.”

When a machine experiences mechanical problems, operators notify the superintendent, who then contacts the main mechanic.

Vontz Paving does not expect to purchase or rent any equipment for the contract.

“We typically do not rent equipment – we like to own all of our equipment,” says Vontz.

Equipment is purchased locally in Grand Island at the CAT dealership – NNC and the Komatsu dealership - Road Builders.

“Our Roadtec equipment, which is the majority of our paving spread, is all purchased in Chattanooga, Tennessee from Roadtec directly” says Vontz, who stresses the importance of maintaining good relationships with the equipment dealerships. “Usually, when the equipment is still under warranty, they will come out and fix it. Sometimes you have to take it to their shop if it’s anything major for warranty purposes. That’s why we like Roadtec – they’ll actually send a service technician out into the field.”

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