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Concrete General Inc., Reconstructs I-70 Bridges Over MD 65 for Safer Truck Travel

by: Larry Bernstein
A crew member for Concrete General Inc., smooths a section of concrete on the I-70 bridge over MD 65.
A crew member for Concrete General Inc., smooths a section of concrete on the I-70 bridge over MD 65.
The Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) is currently at work on a project in Washington County, which borders Pennsylvania. The project is part of an initiative by former Governor Larry Hogan to address poorly rated structures across Maryland. Nearly 70 bridges across the state are getting upgraded due to the initiative. Four structures are being upgraded on the I-70 or Eisenhower Memorial Highway Bridges over MD 65, known as Sharpsburg Pike and CSX project.
Ending Weight Restrictions
The work area goes through Hagerstown, which has a population of approximately 45,000 and is the county seat of Washington County. The metropolitan area includes a rapidly growing commercial district. The average daily traffic count on I-70 in the area is just below 70,000 vehicles with 17 percent being truck traffic.

Of the four structures, one is poorly rated, and the others were reaching the end of their useful service life. The westbound bridge over MD 65 was weight restricted. “Trucks with heavy loads needed to exit the highway cross MD 65 and enter I-70 again using a police escort,” says Chris Perkins, an Area Engineer with MDOT.

The structures over MD 65 are also being widened to accommodate for future growth. The eastbound structure is being widened from 45.5 feet to 62 feet, 3 inches, while the westbound structure will increase to 68 feet from 38.5 feet to accommodate future interchange upgrades.

Similarly, the structures over the CSX rail are being increased. The eastbound structure is being widened from 33.5 feet to 55.5 feet. The westbound structure is variable width and upgrades included adding a combined shoulder width of 5 feet to the existing shoulders providing a 10-foot median shoulder and a 9.5-foot outside shoulder.

The project was broken up into phases. Phase one began in the fall of 2018, and was complete in the spring of 2020. It focused primarily on preliminary work, including stormwater management facilities, signing, lighting upgrades, and shoulder reconstruction to accommodate temporary traffic during the phase two project.

Traveling Impact
“There was no way to perform the work on the structure over MD 65 without detouring,” Perkins says. The team explored ideas to limit the duration of the detour. They considered the time of year and the fact that the only way to get to a tourist destination in the area was via the road being worked on.
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Ultimately, they added an incentive/disincentive clause to the contract to limit the work to 150 calendar days and limit the time of year to avoid the holiday rush. The prime contractor for phase two, Concrete General Inc., out of Gaithersburg, Maryland, was restricted to beginning after January 1 to avoid holiday and shopping traffic to a local shopping center. The incentive was $13,000 per day with a maximum of 20 days. C. William Hetzer, Inc., was the prime contractor for phase one.

The contractor completed the work in 123 days, thus earning themselves the full incentive. During those 123 days, travelers utilized an approximately 5.5-mile detour. This added 6 to 7 minutes to the commute.

The team also had limited workspace with traffic as the highway has narrow lanes. “Crews were working on both sides of traffic, which made the work more difficult,” Perkins says. To accommodate and protect crews, an Automated Speed Enforcement Vehicle was used to aid in controlling speeds throughout the work area. “We were also able to work with the contractor to provide multiple locations for this vehicle to sit, which made an impact on the speeds of motorists,” Perkins says.

COVID-19 and its complications added to the challenge of meeting the goal of minimizing the impact to travel. “Materials required more lead time and the workforce was limited,” Perkins says. “Many illnesses would eliminate an entire crew at once.”

To overcome this, Concrete General was proactive in securing materials ahead of time to account for additional lead times. They explored alternative sources and changed as necessary. They also were able to bring different crews or move their existing ones to cover critical activities to the best of their ability.

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“This delayed the start of the project and some time was lost, but it was minimized as much as possible,” Perkins says. The contractor and state workforce were deemed essential and continued working throughout the pandemic.

Experience and Commitment
Concrete General has performed many projects for the State of Maryland and has extensive experience with bridge and roadway construction. “They have the workforce and equipment to tackle projects of this magnitude and hold themselves to a high standard for the products that they deliver,” Perkins says.

The contractors’ commitment has helped keep the project on schedule despite the challenges noted earlier. Phase one did experience some delays early on, so a time extension was granted. The team met the new completion date.

Phase two, which began in the spring of 2020, is currently on track for substantial completion in spring 2023. The keys to keeping the project on the schedule are continuous partnering and responding promptly and at the lowest level to questions and concerns. “Our staff, as well as the contractor, is constantly looking ahead to see potential issues and we strive to find a solution prior to the issue impacting the schedule,” Perkins says.

Funding for the project was provided by the federal and state government via an 80/20 split. The project is currently on budget.

The I-70 Bridges over MD 65 and CSX are nearly complete. Commuters will be traveling on new highly rated structures and oversize/weight loads will no longer need to exit the roadway when traveling westbound over MD 65. The location is now upgraded to accommodate future improvements at this interchange to increase safety and mobility.

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