Crumbling. Rickety. Unsafe. However one chooses to describe the poor state of the country’s roads and bridges, one thing is clear: Deteriorating infrastructure is a major issue that needs serious attention. A 2009 report by the American Society of Civil Engineers graded the nation’s overall infrastructure a D, not exactly a score to feel good about. Worse, when just looking at roads and bridges, the grade slipped to an embarrassing D–.
A positive spin one could put on this is that it only helps make the case that immediate action is needed to rehabilitate the nation’s roads and bridges. One example of a road finally getting the attention it needs is a job taking place on a small section of I-80 in Pennsylvania.
I-80 is the second-longest interstate highway in the country, spanning from San Francisco toTeaneck, N.J. Since the spring of 2007, a concrete patching job spanning more than 20 miles of a particularly dangerous stretch from Dubois to Clearfield has been under way. The project entails replacing damaged and cracked sections on all four of the interstate’s existing lanes. Furthermore, each new patch will contain welded wire reinforcement (WWR), a material that strengthens roads and makes them safer. I-80 is one of only a few interstates in the country currently lacking WWR, a major reason why PennDOT decided it was time to take action.
The $53 million project was awarded to the Glenn O. Hawbaker Co., a local construction company based in State College, Pa. While it started out in 1952 as a small excavation company, Hawbaker has experienced significant growth and expansion over the years and now offers a variety of construction-related services, one of its specialties being concrete patching.
Gerry Thomas, project foreman and a 21-year veteran of Hawbaker, began planning for the job immediately. The first step was to contract with a concrete company to ensure an adequate supply would be available. To further enhance uptime, he also requested the concrete company set up close to the jobsite.
“The company set up a plant near the midway point of the site so that no matter where we are along the interstate, it’s just a few miles away,” Thomas said. “And this plant serves us exclusively.”
That has proven to be a wise move, enabling Hawbaker to replace more than 75,000 sq yd of concrete as of early 2010, nearly three years into the project.
Each required patch is 12 ft wide, while the lengths vary. The patches are classified according to size: A’s are between 4 and 20 ft in length, B’s are 21 to 65 ft and C’s are up to 500 ft long. Patch thickness at any given point is either 10 or 13 in., according to changes in the drive surface.
“We do patches of all different sizes,” Thomas said. “It just depends on what the inspector deems necessary.”
He estimated that they complete up to 60 patches per day. But while the term “patch” may lead one to think the process is simple and takes just a few minutes, it actually is quite complex.
First, the crew saws out a damaged piece per the inspector’s instructions. Next, it is lifted out with a large wheel loader and removed. The subgrade is compacted, and the crew prepares for the next big step: drilling. Each patch requires several holes be drilled 10 in. deep for placement of dowel bars into the east- and west-facing sides. For 10-in.-thick drive surfaces, hole size is 138 in., while 13-in.-thick drive surfaces require that the hole be drilled to 158 in. Next, the 18-in. dowel bars are placed and coated with epoxy. Then they fill up the patch halfway, place the WWR and top it off with the final layer of concrete.
Thomas expected that a large chunk of time each day would be spent drilling. Each patch requires 12 holes on each side, equaling 24 holes per patch. Factor in the daily patch count of 60, and it can add up to more than 1,400 holes drilled every day. To ensure the drilling process would go as efficiently as possible, Thomas put veteran drill operator Kerry Aikeley on the job.
Serving as Hawbaker's drill operator for more than a decade, Aikeley was confident that the best equipment choice for the project was the 210-3 EQ MT model from E-Z Drill. The backhoe-mounted, three-gang horizontal drill adds efficiency thanks to a “side shift” feature. The unit can drill three holes and then simply shift or slide over to create three more holes without having to reposition the backhoe itself. With 24 holes to drill per patch, the backhoe only needs to be positioned four times instead of eight.
Aikeley knew right away this was the drill he wanted to use, but there was just one problem: It already was working on another jobsite. Thus, Hawbaker determined that the benefits outweighed the cost to purchase new equipment, and subsequently the company acquired a second 210-3 EQ MT model.
This all was great news for Thomas and his crew, because efficiency is the name of the game. Like most road construction jobs, the approaching deadline obviously is a factor. But in this case, safety has been the bigger concern: There is no concrete barrier or other safety measure in place to protect workers from the daily interstate traffic. This is a major reason why the team has been striving to stay on track and finish by the rough deadline of the fall of 2010.