AI Engineers Inc.
March 2015 marks the completion of an exciting development for the state of Connecticut, the city of Hartford and surrounding communities. The long-anticipated CTfastrak bus rapid transit system opens to the public, providing 9.4 miles of bus-dedicated roadway, free of traffic and commuter congestion. Based in Middletown, Connecticut, AI Engineers Inc. (AI) has been an integral player in the project, helping to pave the way for CTfastrak.
Since 1991, AI has provided comprehensive construction inspection and management, civil engineering, surveying, bridge safety evaluations and building systems engineering incorporating sustainable design for a range of federal, state, municipal and private clients throughout the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states.
The lion’s share of AI’s work lies in infrastructure projects – bridges, highways, transportation and transit systems, airports and utility infrastructure.
Clearing up commuter congestion with Contract 1
When the wheels began turning for CTfastrak in October 2013, AI was selected to provide construction administration, engineering and inspection for Contract 1 (C1), the first of five concurrent projects that make up the massive CTfastrak undertaking.
“CTfastrak is a Connecticut Department of Transportation [CTDOT] funded project and CTDOT is one of our largest clients at AI,” tells Leon Alford, PE, resident engineer at AI. “We’re working as an agent to CTDOT; a role we proudly assume quite often.”
Given the size of the project and the desired completion time frame, mainline construction was separated into five contracts with construction beginning in spring 2012 with the entire system scheduled to go online in March 2015.
“In Hartford, a particular section of I-84 is congested,” tells Alford. “There are long-range plans to upgrade the route, but CTfastrak is part of an effort to alleviate the congestion. The project provides a public transportation alternative servicing 11 stops to central Connecticut commuters.”
AI provided construction administration, engineering and inspection for the scope of C1 with construction costs reaching $28 million. C1 runs approximately 0.5 mile and includes the construction of the first section of the CTfastrak guide way.
“This section extended from Main Street to Stanley Street in downtown New Britain, Connecticut,” details Alford.”The guide way begins at Main Street and includes construction of the New Britain Passenger Station, the largest of the CTfastrak stations on Main Street adjacent to Columbus Boulevard.”
Major structural components of this project included the demolition of an existing 40-year-old railroad bridge, spanning the Route 9 and 72 Interchange. “The abandoned bridge was removed and replaced with a new 635-foot, five-span bridge to provide access for the bus way and a nearby 12-footwide multiuse trail for non-motorized vehicles, such as bikes, strollers, walkers and runners,” tells Alford.
Also in AI’s scope of work were modifications to the Route 72 exit ramp, the Route 9 entrance ramp, as well as Route 71 (Truman Overpass). All routes were made to accommodate vehicular movement both to, and around, the new station. C1 also includes five retaining walls, where this portion of the CTfastrak project adjoins Contract 2 (C2) to the east.
The green-friendly New Britain Station
One of the largest components of AI’s contract was completing the engineering and inspection of the New Britain Passenger Station, featuring many state-of-the-art technologies, such as real-time bus-arrival signs and complementary Wi-Fi for riders.
“The construction of the largest of the 10 CTfastrak stations was part of C1 in downtown New Britain,” tells Alford. “This passenger station also includes a supervisor’s building.”
The station is also equipped with smart-ticket technology and pre-pay ticket vending machines, as well as GPS tracking that will allow riders to see accurate, real-time, bus arrivals.
“Innovative level curbing for articulated buses and platforms will provide easier and faster boarding for all passengers,” adds Alford.
Not only is the design functional, but also aesthetically pleasing as an attractive green building in the community. Sustainable components include photovoltaic solar panels, energy-saving LED lighting, bike racks and a green landscape. The station’s 400 foot-long, six-bay, arched canopy has more than 100 photovoltaic solar panels that will help power the new transit station, as well as provide excess power back to the grid.
Clear coordination, on the fast track to completion
However, a project of such size and scope, doesn’t go off without a hitch, according to Alford. “Because this is really the first of its kind in Connecticut, there was a bit of a learning curve,” he shares. “AI had to coordinate with multiple designers, considering all the factors of the new concept in the urban environment over limited-access highway.”
The major challenges of C1 were the staging and maintenance of heavy traffic on all sides of the project site. The construction of the guide way under the existing Route 71 overpass required careful protection of the existing foundations, including temporary shoring with tie-backs, as well as a permanent retaining wall with ground anchors installed between the existing structure’s own piles.
To deliver the project on time, AI’s crews were often working around the clock. Night-time work included both demolition of the abandoned railroad bridge and construction of the new CTfastrakBridge over Route 9.
“Coordination with design teams, municipalities and the public, as well as structural challenges were all met and we completed our contract on-time by Sept. 30, 2014,” assures Alford. “The entire CTfastrak system is set to open to the public March 28, 2015.”
CTfastrak is a prime example of the value in upgrading abandoned, underutilized infrastructure, transforming it into a modern transportation facility that will serve the community. Furthermore, the project has gone off without massive property acquisitions or disruption to existing neighbourhoods. AI Engineers Inc., along with numerous other firms, has helped to seamlessly integrate CTfastrak into greater Hartford’s commuter structure.
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