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Two Projects in Arkansas/Missouri and Tennessee Win Regional America’s Transportation Awards

by: Jessica Hoover
Interstate 49 Missouri-Arkansas Connector
Interstate 49 Missouri-Arkansas Connector
Hernando de Soto Bridge Emergency Repairs (Photo courtesy of TDOT)
Hernando de Soto Bridge Emergency Repairs (Photo courtesy of TDOT)
Two state department of transportation projects in Arkansas/Missouri and Tennessee won regional awards in the 2022 America’s Transportation Awards competition, sponsored by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), AAA, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The competition recognizes state DOTs for making a difference in their community, with each project falling into one of three categories: Operations Excellence, Best Use of Technology & Innovation, and Quality of Life/Community Development.

“State DOTs are overwhelmingly focused on innovative solutions to address the transportation issues of today and tomorrow, meeting challenges involving climate change, equity, resiliency, and safety,” said Jim Tymon, Executive Director of AASHTO. “The America’s Transportation Awards program shows just how they’re doing that. Whether on foot, in a vehicle, on two wheels, or by rail or transit, state DOTs are continuing to advance a safe, multimodal transportation system.”

Twenty-two projects in the Southern Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (SASHTO) region were nominated by nine states for this year’s competition. The following two projects in the Construction News area were winners of the regional America’s Transportation Awards.

Interstate 49 Missouri-Arkansas Connector (Quality of Life/Community Development, Large Category)
This project won in the Quality of Life/Community Development category, which honors projects that better connect people to businesses, jobs, health care facilities, and recreational activities while encouraging a mix of transportation modes. The Arkansas Department of Transportation (ARDOT) and Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) worked together to complete the final segment of a 290-mile stretch of Interstate 49, connecting Fort Smith, Arkansas, to Kansas City, Missouri.

The $285-million I-49 Missouri-Arkansas Connector project completed the final five miles of I-49 in Missouri and the final 14 miles of I-49 in Arkansas. On the Missouri side of the project, construction also included building two conventional bridges and a diamond interchange. On the Arkansas side, along with constructing 14 miles of four-lane divided highway, ARDOT also built four new interchanges and five new bridge structures.

With more than 20,000 vehicles traveling the I-49 corridor daily, the interstate was plagued with traffic congestion and delays prior to the completion of this project. According to Dave Parker, Public Information Officer at ARDOT, the new corridor has created a safer and faster experience for drivers and will spur growth in the areas surrounding the interstate.

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“We had two states working together for that common goal of getting I-49 complete,” Parker said. “The long-term impacts it will have from that straight shot from central Arkansas to Kansas City just helps to grow that entire corridor even more. This project in the fastest growing area of Arkansas was not only needed, but it also stood out because of the vision, the teamwork, the commitment, and the follow through.”

Hernando de Soto Bridge Emergency Repairs (Best Use of Technology & Innovation, Small Category)
This project won in the Best Use of Technology and Innovation category, which recognizes new technology and/or innovative solutions implemented by a state DOT as part of a transportation project. During a routine inspection on May 11, 2021, inspectors discovered a partial fracture of a tie girder on the Hernando de Soto Bridge, which carries around 50,000 vehicles daily over the Mississippi River between Arkansas and Tennessee. The fractured tie girder was the main tension element in the steel-tied arch bridge, causing the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) to immediately shut down the bridge and initiate a multi-phased emergency repair operation.

“While the cause was unknown at the time, it was imperative that the bridge traffic — both the motoring public and the waterway — be closed for safety concerns,” said Brandon Akins, Civil Engineer Manager for TDOT Region 4. “The quick coordination effort between all stakeholders, including ARDOT, the Coast Guard, TDOT, and others, was a vital part to ensuring the closures went as smoothly as possible for all involved.” Both ARDOT and TDOT share responsibility for the bridge.

Unmanned aerial systems (UAS) were used to determine the extent of the fracture, and a three-phase plan was devised to repair the fracture. Following the repairs and an inspection of the bridge, the Hernando de Soto Bridge was reopened to traffic after only 83 days.

“This project was a major success for multiple reasons,” said Jason Baker, Assistant Chief Engineer for TDOT Region 4. “One was due to the collaboration between TDOT and their federal, state, and local partners. Another was the expedited and innovative contracting, design, and construction that allowed the repairs to be made and the bridge to reopen in such a short time frame.”

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