“Over the years, the four-lane, undivided facility had become congested with heavy turning traffic competing with through traffic,” says Northern Region Group Chief Lauren Little, with the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities (DOT&PF), about the need for the project.
University Avenue connects the University of Alaska Fairbanks with businesses and residential properties. About 17,750 vehicles travel on it daily.
“The addition of the raised median for access control, as well as left-turn pockets at median breaks, was important for mobility as well as safety,” Little says.
The project also involves reconstructing the intersections at Geist Road/Johansen Expressway and Airport Way, replacing the Chena River Bridge, relocating driveways and side streets, and improving utilities and drainage. Crews also widened Airport Way/University Avenue.
Work on the corridor improvements began in 2018, and several segments of the job, about 80 percent, have been completed, including intersection improvements, widening of the avenue between Airport Way and Thomas Street, replacement of the bridge, and utility relocations. Alaska’s short construction season contributed to the project duration.
Several engineering firms were involved in the project, including RESPEC, Kinney Engineering and Michael Baker International, all with offices in Anchorage, Alaska.
“Great Northwest worked diligently to find ways to meet the aggressive project construction schedule while working around old utility systems, without any claims or significant delays,” Little reports.
Little says she considers the CMGC delivery method the highlight of the approximately $75 million project, which had “languished for years struggling with right-of-way acquisition and utility relocations. We worked as a team to identify areas where we had sufficient right-of-way to just start slowly building improvements, and the momentum built upon itself.”
While this was Great Northwest Project Manager Steve Geraghty’s first CMGC project, he’s become a believer in the delivery method, especially for more complicated projects.
“It has worked really well,” Geraghty reports. “I have no doubt this project would never have been built without CMGC.”
The CMGC approach allowed the team to evaluate various options to ensure crews moved forward with the best solution, he adds.
“We vetted a host of design alternatives, developing cost estimates and schedules for each alternative, so that by the time the final design was reached, we knew without question that we had the best design and the best plan for that design,” Geraghty says. “Another key benefit with CMGC was the ability to identify and order long lead materials ahead of construction, and in some cases ahead of final pricing.”
“All of the personal stories tied to the old bridge, makes the replacement neat,” Geraghty says. “The legacy made it a special project for me, and I am very proud to have been part of it.”
The current project replaced the old bridge with a 280-foot long, three-span, decked-bulb tee concrete girder bridge founded on steel pipe pilings, with 36-inch piers and 18-inch abutments. It features pedestrian facilities, a median and shoulders. At 88-foot, four-inches wide, Little reports it “is the widest DOT-owned bridge in Fairbanks. The bridge was constructed over the Chena River and was not considered a marine operation.”
The Chena River Bridge construction schedule was extremely aggressive, Little adds. “We had commitments to the state park to not impact their boat launch for more than one season, and this property in particular has special federal protections, making that a hard commitment.”
Moving buried utilities, including a lift station, and water and sewer mains, while maintaining service to residents and businesses along the corridor was challenging and required close coordination with local utilities, Geraghty reports. Solutions included delivering potable water in tank trucks during shutdowns, boring a new water main under the river and dewatering to permit installation of deep utilities.
The new pedestrian sidewalks on Geraghty “connect the sidewalks on University Avenue to the new Chena River State Recreation Site entrance on Geraghty Avenue, which was moved with the project due to the median closing off the current entrance on University Ave,” Little says. “The project also constructed a new boat launch, campground enhancements and a new paved boat launch parking lot at the Chena River State Recreation Site.”
The state park had environmental protections, which had to be taken into consideration while under construction.
The DOT&PF closed roads during construction. “Due to the tight urban nature of the work and having to work around and install new very deep utility systems, this was the safest and [had the] least impact to the public,” Little says. “Without closures the work would have taken a minimum of an extra year per work package to complete, and in some areas was not technically feasible.”
Maintaining pedestrian and vehicle traffic has presented challenges for the team. “We were able to show the state the full closures were a better option for limiting the impact to the public,” Geraghty says.
The 2022 work included a full closure of Geraghty Avenue and full closure of University between 19th Avenue and the Mitchell Expressway and a lane closure on southbound University Avenue for most of the construction season. The closures were needed to complete the work in one season and dig the five-foot to eight-foot deep excavations that were needed to remove poor soils associated with an old slough channel, according to the DOT&PF.
The project is scheduled for completion in October 2023. Little reports feeling proud of the teamwork among the project stakeholders and relationships built and sustained with property owners along the corridor.
“We started with a diverse group of individuals and built a team that moved mountains along this corridor,” Little says. “I’m also proud of the quality of product we’ve provided for the residents and road users in Fairbanks. In addition to being highly functional, the fit and finish is exceptional.”
Photos courtesy of Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities