Weaver Road Extension and Bridge: Securing the Safety of a Critical Interchange
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Construction crews encountered their fair share of surprises building the Weaver Road Extension and Bridge in Myrtle Creek, Ore. However, the skilled team is on track to deliver the project a full year ahead of schedule. Douglas County began preparing for the road and bridge’s construction years ago, and had already secured much of the right-of-way as of 2009. The project connects Interstate 5 to Old Highway 99 off of Exit 106, some two miles south of Myrtle Creek. Douglas County identified the project as a priority early on, as providing an extra freeway access point in Myrtle Creek would alleviate pressure from the Myrtle Creek interchange further north along Interstate 5.
The Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) concurred that the Tri-City area of Myrtle Creek, Canyonville and Riddle, Ore., would benefit from a new interchange, as the existing interchange was accident-prone. The interchange’s tight curve required cars to slow down significantly and merge swiftly into traffic on Interstate 5, resulting in significant congestion and collisions. In fact, the interchange was deemed so hazardous that in announcing the project in 2009, Robb Paul, public works director at Douglas County, intimated that ODOT would review the interchange and possibly close it.
In contrast, a new interchange would promote development and free up roadways to enable emergency crews to respond more quickly to accidents in the area. The new interchange would also enable commercial vehicles to completely avoid the hazardous interchange altogether. Preliminary estimates pegged the cost of the project at $20.5 million.
The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) stepped in with a $17.5 million in funds through the Safe Accountable Flexible Efficient Transportation Equity Act – a Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU), a program signed into law in 2005. The act provides critical funding for roadway, highway and public transportation projects deemed to improve public safety, reduce congestion and improve overall connectivity.
But before ODOT and Douglas County could even come close to breaking ground on the project, the agencies needed to conduct a complete environmental assessment in accordance with the Nixon-era National Environmental Policy Act as the FHWA deemed the project a Class 3 environmental project. The county enlisted the help of Oregon’s own Right of Way Associates Inc. to assist with the necessary acquisitions even before the FHWA issued its Finding of No Significant impact (FONSI).
The administration issued its FONSI certificate in 2011 and the search promptly began for an experienced and reliable contractor to oversee the project. The design-bid-build project was released in March 2011, receiving bids in April 2011. Ultimately, the low-responsive bid was by Capital Concrete Contractors (CCC) based out of Aumsville, Ore. CCC signed onto the project in April 2011 and broke ground in June of the same year.
“We do a lot of work like the Weaver Road Extension and Bridge project,” adds Dick McElligott, project manager at CCC. “We’ve certainly had our fair share of challenges on it, but we have always been the kind of company that believes you can’t wait for things to happen; you have to go out there and make them happen.”
This philosophy is reflected in the fact that CCC employs just 25 professionals, but maintains the talent and capabilities to perform everything from paving, grading, as well as bridge construction and pile driving. The company’s extensive expertise made it an especially fierce competitor on the project as the road and bridge’s design required all of these components, though CCC opted to perform roughly 50 percent of the work.
Preparing for Anything
“We had planned on self-performing some of these items like the pile driving and grading, but we were able to find a few local and experienced subcontractors willing to take on those responsibilities,” expands McElligott. This led CCC to focus on providing the entire general contracting and project management duties, while still performing all of the structural and substructural concrete work.
However, progress slowed in the wake of the environmental assessment’s findings that the bridge would cross into land protected by the U.S. Department of the Interior and the Cow Creek Tribe. The proposed design was deemed not to have an impact on any known cultural or archeological resources. Even so, CCC’s contract required the team to take special provisions to protect against the project’s potential impact; bridge construction crews ensure the 300-ton trawler crane exerted only 600 pounds per square foot of pressure in building the bridge.
“It was kind of like walking on your tippy toes with a 300-ton trawler crane,” jokes McElligott. “Ultimately, we installed an engineered crane pad to spread the load so we could comply with that requirement and still deliver and place the 120,000-pound steel girders.” Crews were also required to report any discoveries of archeological sites directly to ODOT and Douglas County.
As of August 2012, the project was on track to be 95-percent complete by winter 2012, almost a year ahead of the project’s original completion of December 2013, according to McElligott.
Furthermore, McElligott attributes the project’s swift progress to one of CCC’s top crews, with the help of a strong team of experienced subcontractors. “The best projects are the ones with the least amount of babysitting,” chuckles McElligott. “There’s no one formula that will work for every project, so we focus on working with experienced, motivated subcontractors. They might not always be the lowest bid, but we have always advised our clients that they could easily spend the difference between the best subcontractor and the lowest bid in change orders and scheduling setbacks.”
Ultimately, the remaining percent of work will determine when the road extension and bridge will open to traffic as traffic, as it includes the thermoplastic traffic striping, which cannot be completed in winter temperatures. Either way, the project is on track to come in on budget for the $11.5 million contract and almost a year ahead of schedule.
CCC will hardly stand around twiddling its thumbs in the next few years, as the company has already begin work on a $6 million contract as a subcontractor on the Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail Transit Project. Whether the company opts to join projects as a general contractor or subcontractor, the team’s extensive experience in the public sector and reputation for delivering projects regardless of the challenges ahead will ensure that Capital Concrete Contractors plays an integral role in securing the future of Oregon’s transportation infrastructure.
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