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Williams Brothers Constructs Houston Freeway

Wed July 10, 2024 - West Edition #14
Irwin Rapoport – CEG Correspondent


Aside from widening the freeway, crews are building four direct connectors; widening the existing bridge to increase capacity; reducing congestion; and improving overall traffic flow, particularly during hurricane evacuations.
Photo courtesy of TxDOT
Aside from widening the freeway, crews are building four direct connectors; widening the existing bridge to increase capacity; reducing congestion; and improving overall traffic flow, particularly during hurricane evacuations.
Aside from widening the freeway, crews are building four direct connectors; widening the existing bridge to increase capacity; reducing congestion; and improving overall traffic flow, particularly during hurricane evacuations.   (Photo courtesy of TxDOT) Williams Brothers Construction Company has been working for more than a year on the $93 million reconstruction of a Houston highway (SH 35) to create an eight-lane freeway.   (Photo courtesy of TxDOT) Over the next few months, efforts will concentrate on construction of bridge substructures, roadway reconstruction and continued storm drain installations.   (Photo courtesy of TxDOT) Relocation of existing utilities in conflict with the proposed work is an issue that the general contractor has been able to overcome.    (Photo courtesy of TxDOT) Excavation and demolition is expected to generate 136,000 cu. yds. of earthwork and 70,000 sq. ft. of concrete.    (Photo courtesy of TxDOT)

The Williams Brothers Construction Company (WB) is more than one year into the construction of the Texas Department of Transportation's (TxDOT) $93.9 million SH 35 Griggs Road to I-45/Spur 5 project in the southeast Houston area to improve traffic flow, safety and meet the demands for increased population growth in the area.

Photo courtesy of TxDOT

The project is part of the Texas Clear Lanes program that is reducing congestion on some of the state's busiest highways and is expected to be completed in fall 2026.

WB, which secured the contract in March 2023, is constructing a new eight-lane freeway, including 12-ft. wide mainlanes with ramps and four direct connectors; widening the existing bridge to increase capacity; reducing congestion; and improving overall traffic flow, particularly during hurricane evacuations.

To this point, the contractor has completed the following elements:

  • New pavement at the intersection of Wheeler Avenue and Spur-5/SH-35, including the segment of northbound frontage road leading up to University Drive;
  • All water and sanitary sewer line installations;
  • Approximately 70 percent of storm drain installations; and
  • Approximately 30 percent of the substructures (e.g. drilled shaft, columns, abutments and bent caps) for the bridge that will span over Brays Bayou, Wheeler Avenue and University Drive.

Over the next few months, efforts will concentrate on construction of bridge substructures, roadway reconstruction and continued storm drain installations.

Construction Challenges

Challenges are being overcome through solid planning and collaboration.

"Relocation of existing utilities in conflict with the proposed work [is an issue]," said TxDOT Houston District Public Information Officer Kristina Hadley. "These challenges have been mitigated by maintaining regular coordination meetings with the utility providers and stakeholders since the beginning of the project. We are pleased at the progress of work."

Crews are benefitting from an open work space.

"This is primarily a daytime project, but some operations do require nightly work," said Hadley. "TxDOT and the contractor maintain a collaborative partnering approach towards the successful completion of this project. One operation for this construction project will require running a new CTMS conduit across the existing IH-45 northbound mainlanes, over UPRR tracks. However, this work will not affect railroad operations/traffic. When work of this nature takes place, TxDOT and the railroad company coordinate extensively. A railroad flagger is present during operations, to ensure the safety of all involved staff."

Photo courtesy of TxDOT

The construction of the new freeway lanes, ramps and direct connectors are proceeding as planned, with a new freeway section being constructed from end to the other.

"The current construction project will construct the SH-35 mainlanes from IH-45 up to Kuhlman Gully, with entrance/exit ramps to Griggs Road at the southmost limit," said Hadley. "Future segments of SH-35 currently in design will continue the mainlane construction, to eventually connect with IH-610."

Utility relocation is a challenge, but constant communication and coordination for timeliness of relocations is minimizing the hurdles.

"To continue with the project moving forward, on-time and on-budget, TxDOT, the contractor and pertinent stakeholders will tackle each obstacle as they arise," said Hadley.

"A portion of the project is being constructed on non-disturbed soil," she added. "No buildings were demolished. A small pump station building was demolished and replaced with a drainage new system. Two detention ponds adjacent to Wheeler Avenue and two more in the vicinity of Kuhlman Gully are being excavated for construction."

The construction of the new road has multiple crews working — excavation, site prep, underground infrastructure installation, pouring concrete lanes, paving asphalt roads, ramps and connectors.

The north and southbound mainlanes range from a width of 72 ft. to 84 ft., which is based on the entrance/exit ramps.

Williams Brothers equipment operators are using cranes, excavators, backhoes, loaders, paving machines (concrete and asphalt), motor graders, rollers (pneumatic, drum, sheepsfoot), manlifts and hand tools.

The bridge widening work is making significant progress. One challenge is to keep the outside lanes open as work takes place.

"This allows traffic flow in a configuration similar to the preexisting condition, avoiding a lengthy detour to get to Wheeler Avenue and University Drive intersections," said Hadley. "The main challenge of constructing over Brays Bayou is installing bridge girders with limited access for cranes, for the bridge spans over the water."

The bridge is 454-ft. long. In the pre-existing condition, two northbound frontage road lanes came from the south and opened to three at the bridge, for a total of three lanes reaching the Wheeler intersection.

"The new configuration adds one lane on the innermost side of the bridge, for an exit ramp onto the northbound frontage road," said Hadley. "However, essentially the same pre-existing three-lane configuration remains at the bridge, because a safety gore between the new off-ramp lane, and the two thru-lanes, replaces the footprint of the original left lane."

The new bridge requires several concrete pours. Work on the bridge has one existing lane closed.

The TxDOT team, working with Williams Brothers, includes multiple agency sub-teams and engineering consulting firms providing design, environmental and construction services.

Peak days have 70 WB and subcontractor employees on-site. The subcontractors consist of Duran Steel, Bell Bottom Foundation, Southwest Road and Safety Contractors, Mesa Rodbusters, Scott Derr Painting, Allstate Signal and Construction, Quality Turf Farms, Base Construction and Highway One.

Excavation and demolition is expected to generate 136,000 cu. yds. of earthwork and 70,000 sq. ft. of concrete. New materials being brought will include 16,500 cu. yds. of structural concrete, 11,700 linear ft. of concrete girders, 24,000 linear ft. of concrete beams, 176,000 sq. yds. of concrete pavement, 9,978 tons of asphalt, 11,500 linear ft. of concrete pipe, 3,600 linear ft. of water pipe, 1,400 linear ft. of sewer pipe, 28,000 linear ft. of drilled shafts and 370,000 sq. ft. of reinforced concrete slab.

Houston-based William Brothers can easily dispatch mechanics to the construction to conduct everyday repairs and routine maintenance. The company purchases and rents equipment from dealerships that it has a long-standing relationship with.

"The improvements we're making here in Houston and other metro areas are the governor's vision to clear traffic logjams and get Texans — and Texas products — moving quickly again on our state's roads," said Texas Transportation Commissioner Robert C. Vaughn. "Getting the traveling public through safer and faster is the goal and, since 2015, the Texas Clear Lanes program has $64 billion of non-tolled projects that are completed, under construction or planned."

Photo courtesy of TxDOT

The construction zone, which covers 1.81 mi. of the SH 35 corridor, carries more than 102,000 vehicles per-day and, in the next 10 years, that number is projected to increase to more than 142,000.

"An important corridor, it serves as an alternate artery connecting the SH 35 corridor to I-45 and SH 288 for people traveling between southeast Houston and the Houston Central Business District, University of Houston, Texas Southern University, the Historic Third Ward and William P. Hobby Airport," said Hadley. "Situated along the railroad corridor on the west side of the railroad, the project will improve linkage between major corridors in southeast Houston, including four roadways on the National Highway System: I-610, US 90A — Alternate 90, I-45 and SH 288."

"The State Highway 35 acknowledges the continued population growth in our city and our responsibility to provide robust infrastructure that can accommodate this growth," said Houston Councilwoman Carolyn Evans-Shabazz. "It will serve to better connect major corridors in southeast Houston making it an invaluable artery in our city's transportation network."

The project is located in a busy area. It will cross main line BNSF and Union Pacific railroads near the roadway intersection of Mykawa Road, Long Drive and Griggs Road.

The project was designed by IDCUS Inc., a design consultant for TxDOT.

The triangular roadway intersection is complex, according to TxDOT, "due to at-grade rail crossings with these railroads. The project will provide access ramps immediately north of the triangular intersection as well as provide a grade separated route for north-south traffic." CEG


Irwin Rapoport

A journalist who started his career at a weekly community newspaper, Irwin Rapoport has written about construction and architecture for more than 15 years, as well as a variety of other subjects, such as recycling, environmental issues, business supply chains, property development, pulp and paper, agriculture, solar power and energy, and education. Getting the story right and illustrating the hard work and professionalism that goes into completing road, bridge, and building projects is important to him. A key element of his construction articles is to provide readers with an opportunity to see how general contractors and departments of transportation complete their projects and address challenges so that lessons learned can be shared with a wider audience.

Rapoport has a BA in History and a Minor in Political Science from Concordia University. His hobbies include hiking, birding, cycling, reading, going to concerts and plays, hanging out with friends and family, and architecture. He is keen to one day write an MA thesis on military and economic planning by the Great Powers prior to the start of the First World War.


Read more from Irwin Rapoport here.





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