In Michigan’s Eaton and Calhoun counties, a combination of well-timed funding and accelerated construction techniques is allowing the state to complete a massive reconstruction project in a third of the time originally planned.
The $210 million project will rebuild 22 miles of I-69 between Marshall and Charlotte, MI during three construction seasons from 2021 to 2023. Through bundling projects and using cost-effective, quick to construct materials like asphalt, the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) is able to drastically reduce user delays for the motoring public and save money on this needed overhaul to I-69.
The project involves not only reconstructing the entire roadway, but also reconstructing 6 interchanges, repairing 26 bridges, and many additional improvements. In 2021, MDOT focused on rebuilding northbound and southbound I-69 from Ainger Road in Olivet to Island Highway in Charlotte, Eaton County.
According to Mike Meyer, Project and Contracts Engineer for MDOT Lansing Transportation Service Center, the I-69 project was originally planned to take place over 8 years. When Gov. Gretchen Whitmer implemented the Rebuilding Michigan program on the state’s highways and bridges in 2020, MDOT was able to take advantage of bond funding and bundle projects into an accelerated three-year timeline.
“This Rebuilding Michigan plan basically helped advance and condense this contract into a single contract by utilizing our design-build project delivery method,” Meyer said.
This innovative contracting method allows the department to overlap design and construction phases by working directly with one design-build contractor. In this case, MDOT’s prime contractor partner is Michigan Paving & Materials, a CRH Co. Subcontractors include Hoffman Bros., Michael Baker International, and Anlaan Corporation.
Meyer explained that Michigan Paving & Materials was selected through an alternate pavement bid process. Bidding contracting teams could specify either concrete or asphalt given MDOT’s parameters. MDOT then selected the winning bidder after conducting a Life Cycle Cost Analysis (LCCA) to determine the pavement’s cost-effectiveness over time. Michigan Paving & Materials’ choice of asphalt proved to be the best option.
As the largest asphalt paver in west Michigan, the company has three asphalt plants within 30 miles of the project site along with vertical integration of its materials. Rick Thompson, Innovative Contracting Manager at Michigan Paving & Materials, said these extensive resources have helped the company meet the expedited paving schedule.
“The scale and size of the job fit our company very well,” he said.
Paving the Way
During the repaving process, workers replace two layers of concrete pavement with all new subgrade, drainage and about 10.5 inches of asphalt mixture. Paving crews are moving quickly, placing about 3,000 tons of asphalt a day. By the end of the project, 700,000 tons of smooth asphalt will cover the stretch of I-69.
A portable crushing plant on site efficiently breaks down the existing concrete road to recycle as part of the new road’s aggregate base.
“There's definitely a cost savings there as the contractor doesn't have to purchase new material in order to meet the specifications of the contract,” Meyer said.
Thompson said asphalt pavement brings a number of advantages, including smooth rideability and easy long-term maintenance. The speed of construction asphalt allows for also means that it’s ready for drivers as soon as it cools.
The Road Ahead
Just one construction season into the project, the benefits of the new roadway are already noticeable. What Meyer said was previously “probably the worst section of freeway in my area”—prone to buckling and pavement failure on hot summer days—is now transformed into a smooth, reliable ride. In fact, Meyer said MDOT has already received several compliments from happy residents on the improved section of roadway.
MDOT expects the new asphalt pavement to last more than 25 years with minimal mill and pave maintenance as needed. When the entire project is complete at the end of 2023, Michiganders will be able to enjoy 22 miles of smooth asphalt pavement, providing a safer ride for years to come.