The base's population and level of activity, expected growth throughout the area, and high traffic levels along two interstate highways in Bossier Parish are the impetus behind a major Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (LaDOTD) project currently nearing completion. The $77.4 million I-20/I-220 Barksdale Air Force Base Interchange Access Project will create a new access road into the military installation, extending southward from the existing I-20/I-220 interchange in Bossier City.
The new access road – along with a new base entrance gate being constructed by BAFB in a separate project – addresses projected population growth and increased traffic counts, and will alleviate traffic congestion at other base entrance points. It will also improve access times for Barksdale employees and their families, providing easier commutes to schools and other attractions.
Significantly, the project will provide a new entrance into BAFB that does not cross a railroad track. All current entrances are blocked if a train is passing through, creating significant congestion and traffic issues for vehicles trying to access or exit the base. And, as Erin Buchanan, LaDOTD Public Information Officer, points out, “The new interchange, roadway, and entrance gate will also enhance the ability of first responders to access BAFB when necessary.
“The project route includes an interchange between two heavily traveled interstates in Bossier Parish, I-20 and I-220,” Buchanan continues. “The project includes modifications to the existing interchange to include new ramps and a new roadway (LA 1267) extending south of the interchange toward Barksdale Air Force Base.
“In the vicinity of the I-220 interchange in Bossier Parish, I-20 services approximately 44,600 vehicles per day. “I-220 near the interchange services approximately 21,900 vehicles per day. The project takes into account a projected 50 percent or more increase in traffic count with the completion of the interchange and entrance gate.”
The I-20/I-220 Barksdale Air Force Base Interchange Access Project has been funded through GARVEE bonds and funding contributions from the Northwest Louisiana Council of Governments (NLCOG), the Parish of Bossier, and City of Bossier. NLCOG committed $12 million, and the Parish of Bossier and City of Bossier committed $3 million each.
As Buchanan explains, “Grant Anticipation Revenue (GARVEE) Bonds are special bonds that will be repaid over 12 years using federal funds allocated to Louisiana. The use of GARVEE Bonds is a relatively new funding method for Louisiana, as LaDOTD seeks to identify and utilize innovative funding streams in order to move projects forward, particularly projects that have been in development or in some stage of planning for numerous years.”
Buchanan reports, “Currently, the project is approximately 90 percent complete, with construction work ongoing on the new cloverleaf ramps, bridge work on the overpass over I-20 as part of the new LA 1267, roadway patching on portions of I-20 and I-220 within the project limits, and associated work. The new bridges will eventually be painted, and permanent striping, signage and roadway lighting are still left to be installed. At this time, we’re anticipating a summer 2022 completion.”
The new East Gate complex at BAFB will dramatically increase safety and efficiency of movement into and out of the east side of the base, states Murray Viser, President and COO of Barksdale Forward, Inc. (a non-profit organization which works to promote Barksdale Air Force Base by educating the community about the social, cultural, and economic benefits of the base). “The new East Gate is the result of a partnership between the State of Louisiana and the communities of Bossier and Caddo Parishes. The new gate will provide better ingress and egress for families living on Barksdale Air Force Base to and from the local communities as well, and serve as a new commercial gate to allow for better force protection for large trucks coming onto Barksdale.”
According to Eric Tillstrom, PE, 2 CES Engineering Flight Chief at BAFB, “The 2nd Civil Engineer Squadron is the project owner and Naval Facility Engineering Command Southeast is the construction agent on the project. Contract award and construction are dependent upon when fiscal year 2022 appropriation is received.
“Barksdale will gain a safer and higher capacity gate that accommodates personnel and contractors much better, and the community will realize easier access to the base and an incentive for area development,” he continues. “This project garnered tremendous support from the Louisiana Governor, the legislature, the City and Parish, and the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development. From the beginning, it was a joint effort with Barksdale to plan and execute such a large, challenging project. Everyone looks forward to reaping the benefits for decades to come.”
Environmental clearance from the Federal Highway Administration was authorized in August 2018; this is also when the design phase of the project was granted FHWA authorization. Clearance for the construction phase was gained in April 2019. Bid opening for the project took place in March 2019, the contract with James Construction Group was executed in April 2019, with a groundbreaking ceremony that took place in May 2019. Construction began in August 2019.
The road project has proceeded on schedule, according to BEAST Engineering's Michael Murphy, P.E. “There have been several change orders which extended the project timeline. Some of these changes include patching spalls under the deck of the existing fly-over ramps, sandblasting and painting the steel girders on the fly-over ramps, and replacing the four expansion joints with a finger joint expansion system on the 1,781-foot fly-over ramp.
“This project is using normal construction practices for the roadway and bridges. The largest items of work were the 30, 48-inch drill shafts, ranging in depth from 82 feet to 90 feet, on the two bridges crossing over I-20, as well as the eight 60-inch by 80-inch drill shafts and the 170-foot Bulb Tee girders on the two bridges spanning the Kansas City Southern railroad tracks.”
Murphy adds that the project is operating under a tight schedule, and access to the site was off the major I-20/I-220 interchange. Work has taken place on both the eastbound and westbound lanes of I-220, in the median of I-20 eastbound and westbound, as well as south of I-20. “The best locations for exiting along I-20 and I-220 onto the construction site were identified, in additional to the optimum locations for entry back onto the interstates. This was especially important for equipment such as the larger, slower-moving trucks – such as dump trucks, concrete trucks, delivery trucks, etc.
“The lane closures on the interstates were restrictive, so there were times when night work was required in order to hang girders over the interstate, decking and pouring concrete, painting, and other associated work. Anytime work was necessary over the interstate, that work was conducted at night. The contractor used lane closures and rolling road blocks for traffic control.”
He reports that before geotechnical exploration and construction of the 48-inch drill shafts and 30-inch PCC piles could begin, the project had to be surveyed for unexploded ordinances (UXOs). The area was a practice bombing range at BAFB during WWII.
“We also wouldn’t have been able to ever turn dirt on the project without the financial commitment from our partners in local government. These agencies’ steadfast support of improving access and security for the thousands of people who enter and exit Barksdale Air Force Base every day is priceless.
“This particular project is special in a number of ways. In 2019, we took time to celebrate the beginning of another major infrastructure improvement for northwest Louisiana – but this is not just any project. We’re connecting two heavily traveled interstates with one of the largest military installations in the nation. BAFB has been a critical community partner for nearly 90 years, and their presence in the region is continually welcomed and celebrated.”