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Hawkins Construction Company Partners with Nebraska DOT to Convert US 75 Into Four-Lane Expressway

by: Mark Bird
Hawkins Construction Company works on a U.S. 75 bridge as part of the Murray-Plattsmouth Project in Nebraska.
Hawkins Construction Company works on a U.S. 75 bridge as part of the Murray-Plattsmouth Project in Nebraska.
After three decades of planning, a project now underway in Nebraska will significantly upgrade an important traffic corridor between Omaha and Nebraska City. The Nebraska Department of Transportation's Murray-Plattsmouth Project will reconstruct approximately 6.83 miles of U.S.34/U.S. 75 located in Cass County, widening the existing U.S. 75 into a four-lane expressway between the towns of Murray and Plattsmouth – increasing capacity and improving the condition of the existing roadway.

In addition to reconstruction and expansion into a divided roadway with raised medians and turn lanes, a bridge over Union Pacific Railroad (UPRR) tracks is being replaced as part of the project.

U.S. 75 is the primary route south out of Omaha to southeastern Nebraska and northeast Kansas. A majority of the traffic on the route is heavy truck and commercial traffic. The area that this route passes through is mostly rural agricultural, with the northernmost part of the project extending into the town of Plattsmouth. This stretch of U.S. 75 is also a critical link for several public and private school systems.

NDOT's expansion of U.S. 75, and specifically the Murray-to-Plattsmouth segment, is designed to address the fact that in the next 20 years, vehicle counts in the area are expected to increase by approximately 25 percent. The 2018 average daily traffic (ADT) was 9,630 vehicles; the projected 2038 ADT is 11,505.

In addition, the highway upgrade is expected to provide time-savings benefits to commuters in the Omaha area, promote economic opportunities, and enhance roadway safety. When the project is complete, the route’s crash frequency is expected to be reduced by 21 percent.

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Construction on the Murray-Plattsmouth Project began in July 2021, and is projected to be complete at the end of 2023. The contractor is Hawkins Construction Company. Wilson and Company is the consultant designer and the grading contractor is Pink Grading Inc. The estimated $44.4 million project is presently about 10 percent complete, with grading and bridge work the main focus at this point in its planned three-phase schedule. The NDOT project manager is Mike Fox; at Hawkins Construction, Scott Hildebrand is the Paving Project Manager and Ryan Scranton is the Bridge/Box Project Manager.

Phase 1, which includes construction of the northbound lanes of U.S. 75, is tentatively scheduled to be complete in the fall of 2022. Phase 2 – the demolition of the existing highway and the construction of new outbound lanes – is tentatively scheduled for completion in late Summer 2023. Phase 3, which includes the paved median surfacing and turn lanes between the northbound and southbound lanes, is scheduled to be complete in December 2023.

Federal Grant Helped Fund Long-Planned Project
Plans to improve U.S. 75 began in the 1970s, when regional leaders determined that a four-lane freeway was needed to optimize the corridor between Omaha and Nebraska City. As Hildebrand relates, “The Nebraska Legislature approved the development of a 600 mile Expressway System in 1988, which included the segment of U.S. 75 from Plattsmouth to Murray. After 30 years of planning, in December 2018 NDOT received a $20 million federal grant through the Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) program, providing nearly half of the project's total cost, which also received state funds.”

The U.S. Department of Transportation's BUILD program funds investments in transportation infrastructure, including transit. The Federal Transit Administration acts as the administering modal agency for BUILD projects that directly impact public transportation. The Murray to Plattsmouth Project received state funding for construction under the first 10 years of the Build Nebraska Act, which was passed in 2011 to expand the statewide expressway system and federally designated high-priority corridors, and to preserve the state's existing transportation system.

Hildebrand comments, “When this project is completed, it will improve traffic service to the major growth center of Omaha and serve as a direct connection to the interstate system in this urban center. Also, it will provide adequate capacity for good traffic service in areas where congestion now occurs, provide the entire corridor area with a safer means of travel then presently exists, and provide convenient access to and from neighboring communities.”

Bridge to be Constructed in Multiple Phases
The existing bridge spans one track of the Union Pacific Railroad (UPRR), which is a north-south connector, and is a key connection southerly for UPRR as it crosses the Platte River in Plattsmouth, Nebraska. The original bridge steel girder spans were, respectively, 55 feet, 65 feet, and 55 feet, with a total bridge width of 34 feet. In 2008/2009, Hawkins Construction completed a re-decking project for NDOT on the original bridge.

The new bridge under construction mirrors the phasing of the roadway construction – it is being built in multiple phases to keep northbound and southbound U.S. 75 traffic flowing. The new bridge spans are, respectively, 90 feet, 110 feet, and 99 feet.

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Phase 1 of the new bridge construction involves sawing the existing easterly overhang off the existing bridge to allow immediate-adjacent new bridge construction. Phase 2 will require the complete removal of the existing steel girder bridge and the removal of approach embankments to length the new bridge.

Phase 3 of the project will likely involve any remaining bridge concrete median construction and the preparation of the bridge surface for NDOT’s preservation program – NDOT has recently advocated, on nearly all new construction projects, for the incorporation of bridge deck membranes covered by asphalt. Upon installation of these membranes, an asphalt contractor overlays the bridge with various thicknesses of wear surfaces. The transition from the existing roadway to this overlay is completed by the asphalt contractor with tapered grinding inlays.

Nearly every aspect of bridge substructure and superstructure on this project requires significant UPRR partnering and oversight as the bridge construction greatly influences the UPRR right-of-way or area of influence.

Examples of the quantities of materials to be utilized in construction of the new bridge/box illustrate its size and scope:

  • Substructure concrete: 976 cubic yards
  • Superstructure concrete: 1,292 cubic yards
  • Approach concrete: 737 cubic yards
  • Total embankment removal and shoring excavation: 20,806 cubic yards
  • Bridge slope protection: 2,260 square yards

Regarding the roadway component of the Murray-Plattsmouth Project, Hildebrand says, “The majority of the roadway is 10-inch doweled concrete pavement on a 4-inch foundation course on top of lime-stabilized subgrade. We are in the process of setting up our batch plant on site, which is a brand new Rex Con Model S, and will be used to batch the 87,000 cubic yards of paving concrete required.”

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He reports that in this initial stage of the project, NDOT has addressed a few challenges, including one less-common issue. “We had some challenges early on with significant portions of the project being unavailable due to birds nesting in the trees which needed to be cleared. We had to wait until the birds had fledged and had a state biologist verify before trees could be cleared.

“Currently, the project team is working with utilities which are in conflict throughout the 7-mile corridor. The labor shortage as well as availability of conduit and a specialized type of fiber-optic cable has put some relocation work significantly behind schedule.”

It may have taken 30-plus years to come to fruition, but Nebraska’s Murray-Plattsmouth Project is now poised to make a significant impact on a growing and heavily-traveled part of the state. As U.S. 75 evolves into an expressway, the corridor will see much-enhanced traffic capability, improved safety, and expanded economic development opportunity.

Hildebrand comments, “The project will increase safety and capacity for users traveling between Omaha and the communities of southeast Nebraska. It is also another large step forward in completing the long-planned freeway link between Omaha and Nebraska City. “

Project Statistics
  • Concrete Paving: 408,000 square yards
  • Excavation: 860,000 cubic yards
  • Pavement Removal: 240,000 square yards
  • Pipe Installation: 5,200 linear feet
  • Lime Stabilization: 6,100 tons
  • Pipe Underdrain: 76,000 linear feet
  • Box Culverts: 7 total

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