Shortening time, not lives

SCDOT attacks accelerated construction project with heightened safety measures

David Henderson, P.E., Contributing Author / July 17, 2003

Imagine refinishing all of the hardwood floors in your
house, while still living in it. That's very similar to what we are doing
during the reconstruction of I-385." 

This statement is frequently made by Area Manager Randy
Green as he addresses community groups interested in their project. Green is a
member of the South Carolina DOT Construction Resource Managers (CRM-West)
team, responsible for providing information to the media and community about
the department's accelerated projects in upstate South Carolina. I-385 is
currently one of the largest components of a program of accelerated highway
improvements, which SCDOT refers to as the "27 in 7 Program." This
program will provide in just seven years what would normally take 27 years to
plan and construct through traditional means.

The I-385 Improvements Project is widening 5.8 miles of
interstate between I-85 and downtown Greenville, S.C. Serving an urban
corridor, including nearby major corporations such as Michelin Tire and BMW,
I-385 averages more than 60,000 vehicles per day. Engineers are expecting a 50%
increase to over 92,000 by 2020. By adding more lanes and upgrading the
interchanges, SCDOT will provide the needed capacity for I-385 to operate more
safely and efficiently.

The interstate will be widened from four to six lanes and in
some places to eight. Eight bridges are being replaced or improved, and
interchange ramps and intersecting streets are being upgraded. style="mso-spacerun: yes">  

Auxiliary lanes will be added to the outside of I-385
between I-85 and Roper Mountain Road and between Haywood Road and Pleasantburg
Drive. Motorists traveling between these interchanges may stay in the auxiliary
lane, not forced to merge with traffic in the through lanes. The widening
project also includes the installation of double concrete median barriers to
prevent crossover collisions and to provide for a landscaping planter,
enhancements to the intelligent transportation system (ITS) and new permanent
electronic message boards.

Upstate GRID, part of the South Carolina State
Infrastructure Bank, is making all of this possible by financing the $132.5
million project, which should be completed by the end of 2004.

Traffic control and work-zone considerations were a major
part of the early planning for this project. I-385 is the major artery for
travelers into downtown Greenville to work, shop and enjoy attractions at the
Bi-Lo Center Coliseum and Peace Center for the performing arts. Both centers
are located near the northern end of I-385, as is the Law Enforcement Center
housing both the Greenville County Sheriff and Greenville City Police
Departments. Emergency medical services and fire department facilities also are
located nearby and need access to I-385 and intersecting streets for call

Project phasing and detour plans were developed with
sensitivity for these stakeholders and practicality for the construction
operations. Several public information workshops were held, in addition to
required public hearings, to present options and solicit input from the general
public, utilities and local officials. Several decisions were made regarding
work phasing restrictions at adjacent interchanges and lane closure times on
the I-385 mainline:

* Two lanes in each direction of I-385 must be available for
traffic during all stages of daylight construction;

* Single-lane closures and detours are permitted only
between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m., Sunday through Thursday; 

* No lane closures are permitted during inclement weather,
holidays or when a major function is held downtown. The closure restrictions
are enforced with a stiff liquidated damages provision of $2,900 per 15 minutes
of unallowed lane closure time; and

* The project sequence schedule was developed to concentrate
work in alternating interchanges to minimize traffic impact and provide relief
routes for interchanges under construction. 

The mainline work was sequenced to allow median work zones
to be established early in the construction. Approximately 7 ft of the shoulder
along the existing travel lanes was milled out and replaced with full-depth
pavement to make room for shifting traffic toward the outside. This allowed
enough room within the median to use temporary concrete barriers to establish a
median work zone approximately 38 ft wide. This approach allowed many of the
existing outside guardrails and barriers to remain in use and minimized impacts
to existing storm drainage components. The drainage work, permanent concrete
barriers, sign foundations, ITS, paving and median planters could be
constructed within the temporary barriers during daylight hours. As the median
work was completed, the temporary barriers were removed and traffic shifted
back toward the median, and outside work zones were established with the same
temporary concrete barriers. Improvements were then finished on the outside
behind the protective temporary walls.

Temporary guardrails also were included in the project scope
to be used wherever traffic shifts caused clear space dimensions to fall below
the minimum required for driver recovery.

Rob Loar, project manager for Blythe Construction, stated
that the coordination and review team created to evaluate detour, traffic shift
and sequence plans made many improvements toward work-zone safety for both
workers and motorists.

A major initiative to improve function and safety of the
Haywood Road interchange during construction was spearheaded by SCDOT Program
Manager Christy Hall. She worked closely with local merchants, property owners
and city officials to accomplish a 28-ft shift of the new interchange bridge to
allow the creation of left-turn lanes from Haywood Road during both stages of
new bridge construction. This shift was accomplished with minimal impact to
right-of-way and existing structural design. The benefits included an
improvement of non-peak traffic flow of approximately 80%, less initial
demolition of the existing bridge and more working space for the construction
crews. As a follow-up to this shift, Blythe proposed phased construction plans
for each ramp and eliminated closures except for nighttime paving operations.
This proposal was also incorporated into the interchange plan revisions.

Personnel from SCDOT, CRM-West, FHWA, Greenville City,
Greenville County, state and local law enforcement agencies and the designers
met several times to develop plans for emergency response and to confirm
jurisdictional responsibilities. FHWA Operations Engineer Tad Kitowicz'
recommendation to assign a full-time traffic officer as part of the
construction contract was incorporated into the project scope. style="mso-spacerun: yes"> 

The Greenville County Sheriff's Department Traffic Division
provides the full-time officers, since their jurisdiction covers the entire
length of the project. Additional deputies are provided to assist with lane
closures and detours as needed. Greenville City police officers provide
additional speed enforcement and crash investigation within city limits. The

South Carolina State Highway Patrol provides these same
services outside city limits. These agencies have done an excellent job of
driver behavior modification to increase project safety. Frequently, Greenville
Police used a vest- and hard-hat-clad officer for radar monitoring in the work
zone. This has proven to be one of the most effective means to slow drivers as
they motor through the zone. Statistics consistently show that crash fatalities
and serious injuries dramatically increase as speeds exceed 55 mph.

Planners recognized early in the project that a full-time
towing service would be beneficial for quickly clearing disabled vehicles from
the work-zone confines. There are many project locations where no shoulder
exists for emergency pull-off. Rapid clearing of the roadway reduces the
likelihood of secondary crashes due to traffic back-ups. Full-time wrecker
service, provided at no cost to the motorist, and a disabled vehicle storage
area were added to the contract scope at the start of construction. style="mso-spacerun: yes"> 

Randy Green works closely with SCDOT Communications Director
Pete Poore to get the word out about project activities and the new road
benefits. Green is responsible for updating the I-385 pages on the SCDOT
website ( /Projects/I-385) and providing current information to
the Greenville City cable channel and road condition hotline (864/467-ROAD). He
and other team members frequently provide interviews and live updates for local
radio, television and newspaper stories.

All inspectors employed by CRM-West and Blythe's construction
supervisors on the I-385 project were trained in the latest requirements for
work-zone setup and approved traffic control devices. 

The Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD)
establishes minimum criteria for the project signs, pavement markings,
reflectors, signals, barricades, message boards, protective barriers and
guardrails. The project used raised pavement markers and post delineators as
channeling devices more extensively than recommended by the MUTCD. Portable
electronic message boards were used extensively due to constantly shifting work
operations and work-zone configurations.

Even though many protected work areas were established to
separate workers and motorists, significant risks still exist with contractor
equipment and operations. All workers and inspectors are required to wear
appropriate personal protective equipment such as high-visibility vests, hard
hats, safety glasses and sturdy footwear. Back-up alarms and flashing lights
are used on construction equipment and vehicles.

Each month the project management team performs a
comprehensive inspection during both daylight and nighttime conditions. This is
in addition to weekly work-zone inspections required by the department. Night
shift inspectors evaluate the effectiveness of traffic control devices and
initiate corrections or improvements as required. 

The SCDOT Quality Management Audit Team visits the project
quarterly. Work-zone safety is a major area of audit concern. Their comments,
observations and recommendations are welcomed and acted upon after each visit.

The I-385 project also has participated in an ongoing
SCDOT/Clemson University study focusing on safe night and weekend work-zone
operations. Many recommendations regarding lighting, signage and pavement markings
have already been implemented.

The I-385 project has had no worker injuries related to
motorist intrusions into the work zone. Protective barriers prevented worker
injuries or fatalities several times during the first two years of
construction. The photo on p 32 of a crash impact on the temporary barrier wall
shows just how close four workers were to catastrophe. The driver who lost
control of her truck in this crash exceeded the posted speed limit and was
apparently distracted. 

About the Author

Henderson is CRM-West's resident construction manager for the I-385 improvements.

Related Articles

Idaho asset inventory helps track highway components statewide
Image: Idaho Transportation Department
Idaho's highway assets have recently been digitally recorded and catalogued statewide through a process that is being called a "technological game-…
August 02, 2021
Revitalizing Main Streets projects in Boulder
Revitalizing Main Streets projects in Boulder. The concrete barriers are a part of the infrastructure upgrades to better serve the need for expanded outdoor dining and walkability areas along Pearl Street in Boulder.
The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) in collaboration with its planning partners at the Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG)…
July 19, 2021
Recommended practices for the installation and removal of lane closures on multilane highways
Image: Minnesota DOT
We all have seen lane closures. They are often a necessity for construction and maintenance operations, and may result in reduced capacity,…
July 07, 2021
Over the last several years, uttering the phrase, “It’s infrastructure week,” often elicited chuckles and smirks from transportation advocates,…
July 07, 2021