Spanning the news: bay bedlam

June 5, 2007

Robert Haus wasn’t dreaming when he heard the phone ring at 5:45 a.m. on a Sunday morning. Tom Hanks’ voice wasn’t on the other end, either.

Still, during the fallout of the tanker truck fire that destroyed a section of the connector ramp from eastbound I-80 to eastbound I-580 in California’s Bay Area, Haus felt like he was living a scene of the movie Apollo 13.

“Within minutes everyone was gathered, plans were being made and people just worked incredibly hard,” the Caltrans spokesperson told Roads & Bridges. “It reminded me of the movie Apollo 13.”

Robert Haus wasn’t dreaming when he heard the phone ring at 5:45 a.m. on a Sunday morning. Tom Hanks’ voice wasn’t on the other end, either.

Still, during the fallout of the tanker truck fire that destroyed a section of the connector ramp from eastbound I-80 to eastbound I-580 in California’s Bay Area, Haus felt like he was living a scene of the movie Apollo 13.

“Within minutes everyone was gathered, plans were being made and people just worked incredibly hard,” the Caltrans spokesperson told Roads & Bridges. “It reminded me of the movie Apollo 13.”

The first order of business was trying to find a way to deal with the 80,000-plus commuters that use the connector daily, which looked to be an incredibly hard task. The state offered free rides—at a cost of $2 million—on public transit the Monday after the incident. The move put some pressure off crews to reopen another connector ramp—located underneath the wreckage—taking westbound I-80 to southbound I-880. With the opening tense moments behind him, Haus was happy to report congestion was never an issue, even though the I-80/I-580 route had about a 165-ft section missing.

“I have been telling people the unsung heroes of this reconstruction project has been Bay Area commuters,” said Haus. “They have altered their routes to work; they have taken public transportation; they have studied very carefully the detours we have posted on our website; and traffic has been surprisingly good.”

Emergency demolition contractor Cleveland Wrecking Co. was on the site hours after the fire was extinguished to shore up the damaged area in preparation for take down. The focus then turned to I-80/I-880, where after falsework was placed, crews jacked the entire structure up about 9 in. to begin the road deck rehab and heat strengthening.

“The heat from the fire warped some of the girders,” said Haus. “As a result, the road surface was uneven.”

Haus described the heat strengthening process as a combination of acupuncture and tuning a guitar. Using torches at specific areas on the girders, the contractor was able to use the hydraulic jacks to straighten out the steel. The roadway was open to traffic by 4:30 a.m. on the Monday following the accident, but the heat strengthening process was still being executed throughout the week.

Core samples showed there was damage to the road deck, so the contractor ground out damaged sections, poured in new concrete and topped it with a polyester concrete overlay.

At press time, work was being done on the 165-ft section that was destroyed during the fire. C.C. Myers submitted a winning bid of $876,075, but was banking on early-finish incentives to earn as much as $5 million. C.C. Myers believed it could cover the 50-day contract in 25 days. The two columns holding up the I-80/I-580 connector ramp were damaged and C.C. Myers pulled about 4½ ft of bad concrete and poured new material. A new bent cap was precast at a yard in Tracy, Calif., and once custom-built girders from Phoenix arrived, all that was left to install was a new road deck.

C.C. Myers claimed the I-80/I-580 ramp would be open by June 2, and finished work before May 21. The entire cost of the project could come in at just over $22 million.

U-turn on U.S. 36

Communities along U.S. 36 near Boulder have reversed their opposition to tolls on the highway, hoping to attract federal funds to help add lanes and boost a FasTracks rapid-transit corridor, Denver’s Rocky Mountain News reported.

The U.S. 36 Mayors and Commissioners Coalition was firmly against charging tolls, but the state was unable to find another source of funding. The coalition approached the state to apply to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) for $234.5 million under the Urban Partnership Agreements program for funding to invest in one new lane in each direction down the middle of the highway.

“It’s a huge turnaround that has to do with the realization that there’s diminishing local, state and federal funding,” Debra Baskett, Broomfield’s transportation manager, told the Rocky Mountain News.

The FHWA program funds projects that will demonstrate whether the combination of tolling, transit, telecommuting and technology (the “Four Ts”) will reduce congestion.

A Colorado DOT study on how to improve U.S. 36 envisioned adding lanes for buses and car pools and possibly adding toll lanes. The FHWA grant would provide for only one new lane in each direction.

Construction spending up in March

“Total construction spending rose a tad in March following a big upward revision for February, as single-family homebuilding finally held steady and nonresidential construction boomed again,” Ken Simonson, chief economist for the Associated General Contractors of America, said. Simonson was commenting on the April 30 construction spending report from the Census Bureau.

“Total construction spending rose 0.2% in March, seasonally adjusted, while the gain for February was revised from 0.3% to a huge 1.5%,” Simonson remarked.

“Public construction was up 0.4% from February and 9% from March 2006,” Simonson observed. “The two big public categories—highways and streets, and education—were 11% and 9% higher than a year before, respectively. The next-largest public category, transportation facilities, was up 8% despite a big drop this March.

“For 2007 as a whole, I expect the biggest private gainers to be power and energy-related projects, some of which Census includes in manufacturing, lodging and hospitals,” Simonson concluded. “The office market may cool if sluggish overall economic growth causes big firms to slow hiring of office employees and the small-office market loses real estate agents, mortgage brokers and title companies as I anticipate. That market, along with some retail construction, will be dragged down by a continuing steep decline in new single-family construction. Public construction should remain modestly positive but will be pressured by rising costs for construction materials and components.”

Constructor backs off slippery slope

The contractor building a new section of U.S. Rte. 20 in Oregon has threatened to walk off the job if he does not receive more money and more time to complete the work, The Register-Guard of Eugene, Ore., reported.

Yaquina River Constructors said there have been too many landslides along the dangerous, twisting stretch of Rte. 20 they are trying to reroute. The company wants an extra $61 million and two years to finish the job, it said in a letter to the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT), or it will walk away from the contract.

ODOT admitted that the job was going to take two years longer than scheduled, but said the contractor knew about the landslide potential when it agreed to accept $130 million to build the new route. The new Rte. 20 will be straighter and have wider shoulders and multiple passing lanes. The work includes building eight new bridges and moving 3.5 million cu yd of soil and rock.

ODOT said it expected to hold Yaquina to the contract.

“No one here can remember the last time a contractor asked for termination,” ODOT spokesman Joe Harwood said. “The $61 million figure . . . that’s just not going to happen.”

ARTBA: $20B federal shortfall by 2009

The U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT) will have to find an extra $20 billion a year in 2010 just to maintain current conditions on the country’s highways, according to Dr. Bill Buechner, vice president of economics and research at the American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA). Buechner reached this troubling conclusion by analyzing the U.S. DOT’s 2006 biennial report to Congress on conditions, performance and congestion levels on the nation’s highways.

The current highway and transit law—the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU)—expires Sept. 30, 2009.

Beginning in fiscal year (FY) 2010, which starts the next federal surface transportation investment bill, the federal government would have to invest $54.5 billion and grow to $61.5 billion by 2015, Buechner said, just to maintain highway conditions and ensure traffic congestion does not get worse. By comparison, current Highway Trust Fund revenues are projected to range from $34.7 billion to $40.5 billion between FY 2010 and FY 2015—a shortfall of approximately $20 billion annually.

An increase in the federal motor fuels excise is the most effective way to fill this void in the short term, Buechner said. A fuel tax increase of 10 cents per gallon in FY 2010 is necessary to meet the federal government’s share of the documented highway investment needs in the U.S. DOT report. The federal motor fuels excise has not been increased since 1993, and inflation has eroded 30% of its purchasing power since then.

WSDOT head resigns

Doug MacDonald, secretary of the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) has resigned effective in late July after six years in the office.

In his resignation letter, MacDonald wrote, “After six years as secretary of transportation, the time has come for me to move on to other challenges.”

Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire issued a statement saying, “Secretary MacDonald has led WSDOT with energy and enthusiasm. The many successful projects and positive results from WSDOT during his time as secretary speak to his ability as a leader and his commitment to service.”

Gregoire said MacDonald planned to live in Seattle and pursue new opportunities in the environmental and transportation fields.

Record Bauma

Bauma 2007 set records for visitors and exhibitors in April. About 500,000 people attended the show at the New Munich Trade Fair Centre, about 20% more than the previous Bauma show in 2004. About 160,000 of those visitors were from outside Germany, an increase of about 35%.

The 28th international show set a record for the number of countries represented among the visitors: 190 countries, an increase of 11% over visitors to the 27th show in 2004.

On the exhibitor side, the trade fair booked 3,041 exhibitors, around 10% more exhibitors than at the last Bauma. The exhibitors occupied 540,000 sq meters (5.8 million sq ft) of exhibit space, another record, which broke down into 180,000 sq meters (1.9 million sq ft) of hall space and 360,000 sq meters (3.9 million sq ft) of outdoor exhibit space.

Green pavement

Earth Day was the occasion for Todd Stroger, president of the board of Cook County, to announce the kick-off of a “green” road construction project to use recycled rubber in pavements in the Illinois county, which contains Chicago.

Highway engineers were scheduled to bring samples of road surfacing materials, including the new recycled-tire rubber products, to provide hands-on examples of the characteristics of the new materials.

Used tires­—those that are no longer safe to carry cars and trucks on roads—are a major component in many dumps across the nation, including in Cook County. Tires are bulky, and 75% of the space a tire occupies is void, so whole-tire landfilling requires a large amount of space and consigns a valuable resource to the trash heap instead of the recycling bin.

Stroger expects the initiative to take thousands of used tires out of the trash stream in the coming months and set the stage for a major increase in the use of recycled tires in road construction projects across the region.

Rte. 61 slope on firmer ground

A section of U.S. Highway 61 near Vicksburg, Miss., had shown signs of landslide activity for 30 years, but a recent, massive slide required a serious solution. The 1,300-ft landslide blocked both southbound lanes at Signal Hill on the outskirts of Vicksburg.

The project to stabilize the slope is noteworthy because of the size of the slide and the depth of the slide plane below the surface, according to Hayward Baker Inc., Odenton, Md., the geotechnical contractor. Hayward Baker installed more than 250 buried anchor blocks to stabilize the slope. The company used a sophisticated anchoring technology and drilled tiebacks as long as 265 linear ft.

Over the 25 years after the highway was constructed, the roadbed sank as much as 4 ft on occasion, requiring extensive repairs, according to Jeff Curtis, the designated project engineer for the Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT). But with continuing—and increasing—incremental movements being detected, in 2004 MDOT contracted with Burns Cooley Dennis Inc. (BCD) to investigate the situation and recommend a new stabilization system.

BCD recommended a permanent ground anchor/buried anchor block system.

The recommendation was approved by MDOT, which awarded the contract to Hayward Baker as the result of a bidding process.

In all, the project took 10 months and $6 million. Hayward Baker served as prime contractor. Other participants in the project included ABMB Engineers Inc., Advanced Engineering Resources Inc. and MDOT’s geotechnical branch.

For the Signal Hill project’s design, BCD received the 2007 Grand Conceptor Award from the American Council of Engineering Cos.—Mississippi.

Parsons TG joins MBP

Parsons Transportation Group has joined Missouri Bridge Partners (MBP), one of two teams negotiating with the Missouri Department of Transportation to improve 802 of the state’s worst bridges through the Safe & Sound Bridge Improvement Program.

Parsons has replaced URS Corp. as MBP’s lead project designer. Zachry American Infrastructure is MBP’s lead firm. Other major participants in MBP are HNTB, Fred Weber Inc., Clarkson Construction and Infrastructure Corp. of America.

The other team seeking the contract is Team United, led by John Laing Infrastructure, based in London, and United Contractors, of Great Falls, S.C.

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