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I-96 Rebuild in Kent County Brings Increased Life Span to Heavily Used Roadway

by: Larry Bernstein
Crews use a John Deere 470G Excavator during utility work on a section of I-96 in Kent County.
Crews use a John Deere 470G Excavator during utility work on a section of I-96 in Kent County.
The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) has been working on two projects in Kent County. In a statement, Governor Gretchen Whitmer said, “These projects in Kent County will improve ride quality, reduce congestion, and extend the service life of this critical roadway.”

Located in western Michigan and part of the lower peninsula, Kent County is one the four largest counties in the state by population and includes Grand Rapids. The focus of both projects is I-96, which runs over 190 miles east-west across the state and is a vital artery for many people to get to work, to recreational activities, tourist destinations, and more.

A Long-Awaited Restoration
The first project will repair a 2-mile section of I-96 east of Grand Rapids. “It has been closely monitored for several years due to the deteriorating concrete pavement resulting from our freeze/thaw cycles, heavy traffic volumes, and increased truck traffic entering and exiting metro Grand Rapids,” said Elaina Chase, Assistant Construction Engineer for the MDOT Grand Rapids Transportation Service Center. Over the past several years, MDOT has regularly conducted maintenance projects to increase the longevity of the segment.

With the funds secured, MDOT is implementing a more long-term solution. The deteriorated concrete is being removed. The team is putting down a hot mix asphalt (HMA) inlay and the existing aggregate and sand subbase layers will remain intact to reduce costs.

Beyond extending the life span of the roadway, the project will improve the ride quality of this segment and increase the mobility and safety of the I-96 corridor and M-6 interchange.

The second project is on the outskirts of the first project. MDOT completed an environmental assessment on the section in 2005. One of the recommendations was to complete an interchange. The Grand Region acquired Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality funds to construct this project for the fiscal year 2021. 

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Multiple construction elements are part of the second project. They include the construction of a new on-ramp, a weave merge lane, a median crossover/indirect left for traffic to access the new ramp, and modifications to another ramp to reduce traffic speed in anticipation of a full access interchange.

“This project will provide access to eastbound I-96 by diverting traffic from the already congested East Beltline Avenue and I-96 interchange,” said Daniel Roberts, an Assistant Construction Engineer for the MDOT Grand Rapids Transportation Service Center. “The ramp will also pick up traffic from the adjacent secondary roads which carry traffic bound for I-96 that have to use the Cascade Road Interchange or East Beltline Avenue Interchange. It will provide a greater access interchange to I-96 at M-21.”

It's expected that the project will reduce congestion and improve the overall operation and flow of traffic.

Keep It Moving
With the two projects, a lot of construction is taking place in the area. Along the project area, the average daily traffic count of I-96 is approximately 40,000 vehicles west of M-6 and 50,000 east of M-6. On M-21 west of I-96, approximately 11,000 vehicles use it daily and 22,000 vehicles use M-21 east of I-96. The average daily traffic count on I-96 is 61,000 vehicles east of M-21 and 76,000 vehicles west of M-21.

“Modifying our maintenance of traffic plan was necessary for conducting operations on westbound I‑96,” Chase said. “Coordination between the contractor and the Kent County Road Commission was key to develop a plan that allowed us to complete the project on schedule.”

The ramp from westbound I-96 to westbound M-6 was closed for approximately eight weeks to maintain the schedule.

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On the second project, the challenge to keep the project moving forward has come due to supply chain issues. Those issues have impacted the watermain and manhole covers. The Grand Rapids water department helped with some stockpiled watermain parts that will be replaced as they get delivered.

“Due to the supply issues, modifications to the types of drainage structure covers were required to maintain schedule,” Roberts said. “A pocket of unexpected soil conditions was encountered, which required additional geotechnical investigation and plan modifications to provide for the integrity of the ramp for the life of the pavement.”

A Wealth of Experience
Kamminga & Roodvoets is serving as the prime contractor for both projects. They have worked with MDOT on many projects in the past in the region, including others along I-96. Both project managers think highly of them. “They have construction experience in management of large projects and dealing with unforeseen issues during construction,” Roberts said.

Both projects began in late April. The first project is scheduled to be complete in November. The team is confident it will complete on time. Cooperative weather conditions have allowed the Kamminga & Roodvoets to stay on schedule and they have been able to work efficiently throughout the job with multiple subcontractors.

The second project is scheduled to be complete in September. However, the project is a bit behind schedule. “The geotechnical and plan modifications and coordination with other projects in the area have increased the overall project schedule,” Roberts said.

The construction budget for the first project is approximately $17.6 million, with the typical 80/20 split between federal and state funding. After removing the existing pavement on eastbound I-96, the team discovered aggregate issues. The aggregate subbase layer had reduced thicknesses in some areas, so additional aggregate was added to meet current standards. Because of this, the project is slightly over budget.

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The original contract for the second project was just above $4 million and is being funded via the same 80/20 split. Again, the project is slightly over budget due to unexpected soil conditions.

Upon completion of the I-96 projects, drivers through Kent County will experience improved ride quality due to the new pavement. The area will also be safer due to the new pavement and the ramp and weave merge lane. Access to I-96 will be improved, which will help reduce congestion on secondary roads in the area. Both projects contribute to an increase in mobility for the driving public.

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