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Pennsylvania’s I-90 Reconstruction Project Will Improve Safety, Smoothness, Efficiency

by: Mark Bird
Crews repave a section of I-90 in northeastern Pennsylvania. I-90 is a heavily traveled roadway that runs from the Ohio border to the New York border.
Crews repave a section of I-90 in northeastern Pennsylvania. I-90 is a heavily traveled roadway that runs from the Ohio border to the New York border.
In northwestern Pennsylvania, Interstate 90 runs through Erie County from the Ohio border to the New York border. It is the primary west-east highway for the area surrounding the city of Erie, and serves as a gateway into Pennsylvania for many tourists. Originally constructed at the end of the 1950s, however, I-90 in the state has experienced a great deal of wear and tear. Now a multi-year Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) project aims to improve safety, smoothness, and efficiency along the heavily traveled route.

The Interstate 90 Reconstruction Project will improve and preserve 11-plus miles of the highway in western Erie County. The project was developed to address the identified deficiencies of the existing I-90 corridor, including narrow shoulder widths, low vertical clearance, poor roadway and bridge conditions, and the need for guiderail upgrades.
The primary construction contractor is Glenn O. Hawbaker, Inc. of State College, Pennsylvania; subcontractor for bridge work is Mekis Construction of Fenelton, Pennsylvania. A feasibility study for the bridges, to determine if any were redundant and could be removed, as well as the wetland studies and the permitting, were done by McCormick Taylor, Inc. of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and their team of subconsultants:

  • American Geotechnical & Environmental Services, Inc.
  • The Markosky Engineering Group, Inc.
  • RIG Consulting, Inc.
  • EnviroScience, Inc.

PennDOT employees completed all other design work in-house.

The first year of the $37.6 million project wrapped up in mid-November 2019; it included the removal and replacement of the Huntley Road (Route 3012) Bridge in Springfield Township, Erie County – the new concrete bridge, which offers a higher clearance height for traffic on I-90, opened in October 2019. Preservation work from mile marker 10.5 to mile marker 18 in Girard and Fairview townships and the creations of high-speed crossovers needed for the second year of the project was also completed during the 2019 construction season. Other first year components include:

  • Construction of western crossover (continues in 2020)
  • Construction of eastern crossover (continues in 2020)
  • Route 6N overpass (SR 3006) (near Exit/milepost 3) paving with structure waterproofing
  • Right of way fence replacement (continues in 2020)
  • Guiderail replacement (continues in 2020 and 2021)
  • New signing, including sign structure removal and replacement, pavement markings and delineation (continues in 2020 and 2021)

Work restarted in May 2020 and completion is expected in May 2021. This second year of the project includes of 3.5 miles of I-90 – extending from the Ohio/Pennsylvania state line to just east of the Route 6N exits in Springfield Township, Erie County. Among the specific components are:

  • Reconstruction of eastern miles 0 to 3.5
  • Reconstruction of western miles 0 to 3.5
  • Welcome Center (eastbound) ramp and parking lot rehabilitation including updated curb ramps
  • Removal of the remaining Pond Road structure abutments
  • Drainage work
  • Digital Message Board replacement and relocation
  • Road Weather Information System site relocation
  • New mainline vehicle weigh-in-motion counter site

As PennDOT Design Project Manager Rod Fasenmyer relates, “The first 3.5 miles of Interstate 90 in Pennsylvania were originally constructed in 1959 and have been resurfaced three times. The original pavement consisted of a 10-inch depth RCCP on an 8-inch depth subbase on a compacted subgrade. In 1977, the pavement was reconstructed by placing a seven-inch depth CRCP on a 1-inch depth bituminous bond breaker on the existing 1959 RCCP. Almost immediately, multiple failures began to occur in the 7-inch CRCP and numerous patching contracts were required to repair the pavement. In 1996, the section was overlaid with a 3.5-inch depth bituminous overlay, and in 2007 this section was milled and resurfaced.

“This project is part of a larger plan to reconstruct or preserve the first 18 miles of Interstate 90. Two additional projects were created out of the plan and have since been combined into on future contract. Work on this second, combined project will include reconstruction of miles 3.5 to 10.5, as well as a new bridge and the construction of two teardrop roundabouts at the interchange with Route 18.” Awarding of the contract for this next project is expected this fall, Fasenmyer reports.

A third contract for future work to reconstruct the interstate from mile 10.5 to mile 18 is also in the design stage.

First Year of Project Focused on Bridge Replacement, Road Preservation
Replacement of the Huntley Road Bridge in Springfield township was a primary focus of the first phase of the project. The old bridge, built in 1959, was classified as functionally obsolete due to the vertical under clearance being less than required for interstate traffic. Following the emergency removal of the nearby Pond Road Bridge, the chances of the Huntley Road structure being struck by over-height trucks and loads increased, as did the need to replace it with a taller structure.

The Pond Road Bridge, also constructed in 1959, had been damaged by several over-height vehicle strikes over the years. An incident in 2014 required major repairs, and the bridge was reduced to one lane. A routine inspection of the structure uncovered severe damage to a facia beam, and the bridge was closed in March 2018 and demolished soon thereafter.

The new Huntley Road Bridge structure is a 2-span, integral abutment, spread box beam bridge. It replaces a 4-span, steel I-beam bridge. The minimum vertical under-clearance of the old structure was 15 feet, 1/2-inch and the minimum vertical under-clearance of the new structure is 16 feet, 10-5/8 inches.

“Erection of the new bridge began by driving 14-foot concrete piles at abutment 1 and abutment 2,” relates PennDOT Construction Project Manager Nate Nunez. “The footers at abutment 1, abutment 2, and pier 1 were formed and poured. They then poured pier columns and abutment stems. Once this work was complete the contractor set prestressed concrete spread box beams by utilizing a slider beam and dual cranes. After the beams were set the contractor placed steel deck forms, tied epoxy coated reinforcement, poured the concrete deck, and slip formed the parapet walls.

“Finally, they placed an elastomeric membrane waterproofing system over the new deck prior to the bituminous overlay. The increased height of the new Huntley Road Bridge was done with geosynthetic reinforced soil slopes Type A.”

Regarding the preservation work from mile marker 10 to mile marker 18, Fasenmyer explains, “The project included a bituminous overlay from miles 10.5 to 18 that was needed to provide a good riding service until that section can be reconstructed in the mid-2020s. The eastern highspeed crossover which was constructed will be left in place for use during the next project.”

During the milling and paving of lanes in both directions, the contractor milled an average of 4-foot depth eastbound and 5-1/2-foot depth westbound, says Nunez. “They then rubbilized the existing concrete pavement. Once rubbilization was complete they swept the existing concrete surface. They paved with variable depth base course, 5-foot base course, 3-foot binder course, 1-1/2-foot SMA wearing course to achieve the design structure, slope, and elevation of the new roadway.

After milling all bituminous material, a subcontractor, Pavilion Drainage Supply Co., Inc., was brought in to complete the rubblization of existing concrete pavement. They used dual Wirtgen guillotine type drop weights to complete this work.”

Addressing the COVID-19 Pandemic and Other Project Challenges

Like construction projects across the country, the Interstate 90 Reconstruction Project has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. “The first year of the project moved forward without any notable delays,” says Doug Fry, PennDOT Assistant Construction Engineer. “The contractor planned on restarting this year on March 30, but the COVID-19 mitigation efforts in place throughout Pennsylvania delayed the restart to May 4.”

PennDOT Press Officer Jill Harry adds, “The Average Daily Traffic for this portion of the interstate was approximately 25,200 in 2019. We are projecting that will increase to approximately 38,700 by 2039 with 42 percent truck traffic. However, COVID-19 has caused decreased traffic volumes on roadways across the state. The traffic volumes in the I-90 work area has decreased 25 to 35 percent throughout the second year of the project.

PennDOT safety protocol was put into place at construction site across the state. Contractors submitted their health and safety plans to address items such as masks guidelines, social distancing efforts, and temperature scans. PennDOT and the contractors, including those at the I-90 project, are continuing to partner to keep our employees safe and healthy.”

As for other construction challenges, Fry says the preservation section was paved under lane restriction closures conditions, causing some safety concerns – with traffic only separated by a channelizer. “To help address some of those types of concerns, I-90 has been among the Pennsylvania projects approved for the use of the automatic work zone camera program PennDOT started in 2020.

Another one of the challenges was dealing with the high traffic volume and the need for closures during the bridge demolition process. The year before, we had to do an emergency removal of another bridge in the same section of Interstate 90. From that experience we learned better how to handle the challenges of detouring highway traffic so close to the state line. For the Huntley Road Bridge removal and construction, we opted for nighttime rolling closures and lane restrictions to minimize the amount traffic queued up behind the work area.”

A Crucial Corridor
Reflecting on the extensive, multi-year Interstate 90 Reconstruction Project, PennDOT District Executive for the Northwest Region Brian McNulty comments, “Interstate 90 is an important highway not just for Erie County residents, but the entire tri-state area. The high percentage of truck traffic is a demonstration of how crucial the corridor is to the movement of goods through the Lake Erie region. The preservation and reconstruction of the interstate is an investment not only into our transportation system but also the communities along the corridor and the economy of Erie County and the surrounding area.”