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Three Crews Working Simultaneously and Utility Surprises Require Constant Scheduling Adjustments in Toledo’s I-475 Widening Project

by: Julie Devine
Subcontractor coordination was a constantly moving puzzle for the construction team on the I-475 expansion in Toledo, Ohio. (Photo courtesy of the Ohio Department of Transportation)
Subcontractor coordination was a constantly moving puzzle for the construction team on the I-475 expansion in Toledo, Ohio. (Photo courtesy of the Ohio Department of Transportation)
Photo courtesy of the Ohio Department of Transportation
Photo courtesy of the Ohio Department of Transportation
Photo courtesy of the Ohio Department of Transportation
Photo courtesy of the Ohio Department of Transportation
Before the international Solheim Cup golf tournament comes to Toledo, Ohio, at the end of August 2021, Miller Bros. Const., Inc. (MBC), of Archbold, Ohio, needs to expand 2.2 miles of Interstate 475 (including four bridges) from four to six lanes, add a new interchange, widen over a mile of the street below, and build four new roundabouts.

To complete the accelerated, $45 million project while maintaining traffic and working around a tangled web of decades-old utilities, MBC relies on three carefully orchestrated crews working simultaneously.

Funded by federal, state, and local sources, the project is one of three that will ultimately widen an 8.5-mile section of I-475 on Toledo’s west side to meet growing transportation needs and boost economic development. The Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) awarded the project’s low-bid contract to MBC in October 2019 and crews started work a month later.

Coordination Puzzles
Because of the golf tournament, “There’s a real push to accelerate the construction to finish on or ahead of schedule,” said Dan Meyer, MBC’s Roadway Project Manager.

At the end of 2020, work was at least a month ahead of schedule, thanks to good weather and constant coordination.

“Almost half the work is subbed out to other subcontractors,” Meyer said. “Trying to get them scheduled so we can stay on schedule is always a challenge. Our superintendent usually talks to a subcontractor a month ahead of when we need them, then he continues to verify and adjust as the work gets closer.”

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Throughout the project, “We’ve had three crews working – one on I-475, another at the new interchange where the top portion on I-475 meets Dorr Street, and another down below on Dorr Street proper,” Meyer said. “All the crews work at the same time. Our superintendent directs where they go and what they do, and the crews coordinate with each other.”

MBC uses Critical Path Method scheduling as a guide. However, “The schedule changes day-to-day and sometimes hour-to-hour,” Meyer said. “Many of the subcontractors need to work in all three parts, but they don’t necessarily have the manpower to put a crew in each section. We have to determine which part is most critical at the time and have them start at that location. Once they finish that work, they move to the next location.”

Utility Surprises
In addition to the complex scheduling, the work on Dorr Street involved major utilities challenges. “Dorr was an existing two-lane road with utilities growing over the decades,” said Dan Kelsey, ODOT’s Project Manager. “We’re widening it significantly to a five-lane road with two lanes in each direction and a center turn lane.”

As part of their work, MBC installed sanitary sewer, storm sewer, and water lines. “The roadway already included gas lines, water lines, electric, AT&T, and fiber lines,” Kelsey said. “The ground looks like a bowl of spaghetti sometimes when you open it up. With some of the utility records dating back 20 and 30 years ago, we didn’t always know exactly what we would find.”

For instance, “In one situation, we hit an unmarked water line and flooded our whole excavation,” Meyer said. “We had to pump out the water, then remove some of the pipe and flush it out because it got buried with sand.”

Crews encountered another obstacle on the south side of Dorr Street, with gas lines at an unexpected depth. “There were two major lines – one 8-inch and one 10-inch,” Kelsey said. “We couldn’t stop construction and wait for the gas company to move those large supply lines. In order to keep the project moving on time and on budget, we had to reconfigure our storm drainage design to go around the gas lines.”

Community Gateway
As the work continues, “There are a lot of people excited about this project,” said Rebecca Dangelo, ODOT’s District 2 Public Information Officer. “It’s been decades in the making. Prior to adding the Dorr Street interchange, this corridor was part of the longest portion of I-475 around the Toledo area that didn’t have an exit. When we tried to determine how to get this project done, we got significant local involvement. There are even some private partnerships within the local funding.”
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That support helped add unique features that create a gateway to the nearby University of Toledo and the area. For example, the project includes three lighted, wayfinding piers – one each on the northbound and southbound exit ramps, and a smaller one on Dorr Street as drivers enter the City of Toledo.

“They’re an obelisk-looking structure, about 25 feet tall,” Kelsey explained. “They’re basically signs that say ‘Welcome to Toledo, Springfield Township this way, University of Toledo that way.’ The brick facia matches the building facades at the University of Toledo.”

To build the piers, “We needed a unique subcontractor, more of a building trades company,” Meyer said. “The piers require brick layers and some drywall, with decorative stone on the outside. We don’t do that work, and none of the subcontractors we normally use do that, so we hired A.A. Boos (of Oregon, Ohio).”

Another unique feature will be built into the bridges over Dorr Street. “We’re using form liners cast into the parapet walls to make it look like a stone pattern, and lettering that spells out ‘Welcome to Toledo’ on the southbound structure and ‘Welcome to Springfield Township’ on the northbound structure,” said Isaac Burns, MBC’s Structures Project Manager.

New Materials and Tight Timeframes
For the project’s four bridge decks, ODOT specified glass fiber reinforced polymer (GFRP) rebar. “Traditionally, our bridge decks are constructed of steel reinforcement bars,” Kelsey said. “This is our district’s third project to use the GFRP bars, with the intent to get a longer lifespan because of the corrosion resistance. They’re also about 75 percent lighter than traditional reinforcing steel so they’re much easier to install.”

However, “Linear footage-wise, there’s more fiberglass bar than we typically have with steel,” Burns said. “The added quantity results in some more time to tie it, but the lightness factor offsets that.”

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Throughout the project, MBC maintained traffic, except during roundabout construction on Dorr Street. They already converted two intersections to roundabouts during separate 45-day road closures. This spring they’ll construct the final roundabouts, part of a dog bone configuration at the bottom of the I-475 ramps. The contract calls for a 60-day road closure to complete both roundabouts.

With that tight window, “It’ll be a challenge because those two roundabouts have a lot of unique items, including decorative brick pavers, decorative stamped concrete, and landscaping,” Meyer said. “We’ll need to do some good scheduling and notification to our subcontractors.”

MBC aims to open the new interchange and expanded roadway on I-475 and Dorr Street by August 1, 2021. After that, they’ll finish landscaping and other work off the roadway by November 2021.

Three Phases of Widening
ODOT divided I-475 widening on the west side of Toledo, Ohio, into three separate, low-bid contracts:
  • Project A – MBC widened five mainline bridges and 1.2 miles of I-475, finishing the $68.6 million project in 2017.
  • Project B – MBC started the $45 million construction in November 2019 and is on schedule to open the new interchange and roadway to traffic in August 2021.
  • Project C – $107 million construction to add an interchange at U.S. 20A and widen four miles of I-475 is scheduled to start in 2022 or 2023.

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