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Work Dramatically Improves I-75

Tue March 20, 2012 - Southeast Edition
Cindy Riley

Crews putting in long hours on Florida’s Interstate 75 are working to dramatically improve an area known for its daytime congestion, particularly during tourist season. Thousands of vehicles per day travel this segment of roadway, which includes the Tuckers Grade interchange No. 158 to south of the North Jones Loop interchange No. 161.

According to Debbie Tower, public information director, Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), “FDOT’s commitment to a strong interstate system — vital to business, industry, the state’s citizens and Florida’s visitors — is demonstrated with a project like this one. I-75 moves freight from southern Florida throughout the state and through the country into Canada. FDOT is focused on building six-lane improvements that relieve congestion for drivers and that tie into an existing and planned six-lane corridor both to the south in Lee and Collier counties and to the north in Sarasota County, and continuing northward.”

In addition to adding a 12-ft. (3.6 m) travel lane and 10-ft. (3 m) shoulder to the inside of existing northbound and southbound I-75, teams are widening the bridges at Tuckers Grade and Alligator Creek. Crews will resurface the existing ramps at the Tuckers Grade interchange and the ramps at the weigh station. Total cost of the project is $ 12.2 million.

Maintenance of traffic (MOT) is always a significant issue for the project team, said Tower, and with interstate jobs, crews are working both daytime and nighttime hours.

“Emphasis is directed toward safety first and foremost for drivers, their passengers and crews working immediately adjacent to heavy, fast-moving traffic. MOT is inspected continually — to be certain the work zone is clearly identified and to be sure motorists can move smoothly through the job. The project team has coordinated closely with staff at the I-75 weigh station, located within the project limits, who are responsible for its 24/7 operation inspecting and weighing trucks,” Tower explained.

To date, there have been only two weather days recorded, and they have not affected progress.

“Summer months in Florida, however, traditionally bring daily heavy rains and wet/windy weather can affect work the contractor has done or delay activities that have been scheduled. Hurricane season in Florida always is a challenge for the construction industry. Every job has an emergency plan detailing how to secure the project before a storm event,” said Tower.

FDOT reported that drivers are experiencing some lane closures at night/overnight on I-75 when traffic has lessened. Full ramp closures at interchanges are permitted from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. During the day, ramps remain open to traffic and, though interstate lanes may have shifted slightly left or right for different construction activities, two lanes northbound and two lanes southbound remain open to traffic during daytime hours. The department cautions motorists to drive “heads up” in the work zone and to be aware of crews, trucks and equipment which is extremely close to travel lanes.

This segment of roadway is known for its particularly heavy daytime use, especially during tourist season. Annual average daily traffic counts are 40,500 — meaning an average of 40,500 vehicles per day travel this section of interstate. Public information staff provides weekly updates to media, and traffic reporters use this information daily. Variable message boards and dynamic message signs, part of the I-75 Intelligent Transportation System, also give drivers current information about lane and/or ramp closures and lane shifts. Motorists are assured the inconvenience will pay off in the long run.

Said Tower, “Six-lane improvements to the interstate mean enhanced safety and more efficient travel for all motorists, including, for example, regular commuters within the region, tourists, and freight truck drivers. An I-75 moving six-lanes of traffic through and to southwest Florida, again, is essential and contributes greatly to Florida’s economic vitality — moving commerce and industry to destinations, improving commute times, and bringing seasonal visitors to the area.”

The general contractor, Ajax Paving Industries of Florida LLC, said crews are using a John Deere 624J for drainage structure work. Three cranes are being utilized for overpass widening at Tuckers Grade, including a Terex rough terrain, an American 9299 and an American 7250. Materials for the I-75/Tuckers Grade bridge and road widening include 250,000 lbs. (113,398 kg) of reinforcing steel, 1,500 cu. yds. (1,146 cu m) of concrete, 49,000 tons (44,452 t) of lime rock base, 47,000 cu. yds. (35,934 cu m) of embankment (fill material) and 38,000 tons (34,473 t) of asphalt.

Six to eight people work per crew, with three to four crews working per shift, day and night. Officials say the rest area for visitors will not be affected by the work; however, motorists are encouraged to use extra caution and be prepared for slow moving traffic and delays along the construction route. To date, there have been no major complications, according to FDOT.

Jill Norris, project administrator, AIM Engineering, said, “There is no doubt this job has had a direct, positive effect on many businesses and individuals, and will continue to do so throughout the life of the project. Besides our AIM employees currently working on the job, the I-75 widening project employs a variety of sub consultants including three certified Disadvantaged Business Enterprise firms: Allied Engineering for materials testing, High Spans Inc. for inspection support and Cella Molnar & Associates Inc. for public information to the community.”

Crystal Gorman, FDOT interstate resident engineer, added, “We know transportation projects put people to work and that is something we are very happy about. This project is a positive one — a talented work force doing a good job. Ajax Paving has been a real partner with the department and put a good team together.

“The contractor and subs are taking a coordinated approach to getting work done,” Gorman continued. “These crews are building an important job — the interstate matters to local businesses because it gets products to customers and it matters to people living here because it brings products they need to local stores. Many people use I-75 for statewide travel but this segment also sees routine commuter traffic between two counties and that makes this interstate capacity job especially important to southwest Florida.”

Construction began last September and is expected to be completed the first quarter of 2013.

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