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Pennsylvania DOT Improves PA 18 Corridor with Long-Awaited Reconstruction

by: Debra Wood
Crews placing formwork for concrete on I-70 westbound ramp.
Crews placing formwork for concrete on I-70 westbound ramp.
Crews remove the old concrete from the eastbound I-70 ramp on the PA 18 Improvement project in Washington County.
Crews remove the old concrete from the eastbound I-70 ramp on the PA 18 Improvement project in Washington County.
Crews pour accelerated concrete on the westbound I-70 ramp.
Crews pour accelerated concrete on the westbound I-70 ramp.
I-70 Eastbound Ramp 10-17-20: Crews pour accelerated concrete on the eastbound I-70 ramp.
I-70 Eastbound Ramp 10-17-20: Crews pour accelerated concrete on the eastbound I-70 ramp.
Crews pour accelerated concrete on the eastbound I-70 ramp.
Crews pour accelerated concrete on the eastbound I-70 ramp.
Crews break up the old concrete on the westbound off ramp.
Crews break up the old concrete on the westbound off ramp.
Crews placing undercut backfill.
Crews placing undercut backfill.
The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation’s (PennDOT) $10 million PA 18 Improvement Project is enhancing the local road network under and surrounding Interstate 70 Exit 17 at Jefferson Avenue in Washington County, southwest of Pittsburgh.

“The project corridor’s aging infrastructure and effects from years of heavy traffic congestion resulted in deteriorated pavement, drainage, sidewalks, curb ramps and signal equipment,” says Sean P. Sepe, Design Project Manager for PennDOT Engineering District 12-0. “The project needs were to improve overall traffic operations through the corridor.

Additionally, the job will reconstruct portions of Jefferson, East Wylie and West Wylie avenues, the I-70 eastbound and westbound on and off ramps, add drainage, improve the turning radii at all intersections, and provide American Disabilities Act-compliant sidewalks, curb ramps and pedestrian crossings. The work included replacing three traffic signals and adding two new ones. The upgraded signals feature preemption systems to allow emergency vehicles to communicate with the signal and better move along the corridor.

“The project will really improve traffic flow through the city and the off-ramps from Interstate 70,” says Scott Faieta, Assistant Construction Engineer for PennDOT. “For years, Jefferson Avenue and East Wylie Avenue roadways have just been pounded by truck traffic, especially having egress/ingress to Interstate 70, and it’s been next to impossible to adequately repair the roadway and provide smoother traffic flow until this project hit the books.”

Approximately 22,400 vehicles travel on PA 18 in this area daily. The PA 18 corridor is a major north-south road in western Pennsylvania. This project aims to improve traffic flow and safety.

PennDOT Connects
The project is part of the department’s PennDOT Connects program, which began in July 2016 and commits to early collaborative planning and transparency, including electronic access to department plans and information.

“PennDOT Connects promotes close coordination and partnership with local agencies/communities, such as the city of Washington, county of Washington, local schools, transit agencies and business stakeholders,” Sepe explains. For example, PennDOT and a convenience store and gas station coordinated an intersection realignment, traffic signal location and proposed site redevelopment throughout design and construction.

Sepe reports he is proud of the way that all agencies, the city, the county, the contractor and PennDOT worked together during design and construction to provide the public with all of the needed improvements to this area within the budget constraints.

The original project began as a signal improvement job, but after close collaboration with the municipalities, PennDOT learned about additional needs and the scope of work increased. PennDOT and city of Washington collaborated to obtain funding grants to be able to provide the public even more improvements than were originally scoped.

“Everyone worked together and were on board with doing the best we could do with the site,” says Steve DeLong, Vice President and Project Manager with design consultant Johnson, Mirmiran & Thompson, of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

The project team also coordinated road closures with the city of Washington and local townships, emergency agencies, school districts, and the state’s traffic reporting system.

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“The general public and business owners have been great to work with and are looking forward to the improvements,” Faieta says. “Department design and construction staff, and the contractor’s staff have communicated very well with property owners, businesses, the school district, and the city of Washington on project details and changes.”

Construction Challenges
Plum Contracting of Greensburg, Pennsylvania, received the PennDOT contract and began work in April 2020. The same contractor received a design-build contract to build additional concrete curb ramps, sidewalks and driveway adjustments between the intersection with Jefferson and Wylie and Jefferson and SR 844, after the city of Washington received a grant to complete that additional work. The contractor will construct a total of 45 concrete curb ramps for the entire project.

Complex utility relocations early in the project presented challenges and delayed the start of construction. That included 1,100 feet of waterline, 2,100 feet of sewer line, and 1,600 feet of a Verizon conduit duct bank.

“Due to the utility relocation issues, the contractor has had to work out of phases and jump around the project to areas that are available to work,” Faieta says.

All utilities within project limits were impacted, Sepe reports.

“The challenge was incorporating the utility relocation durations in the construction schedule as well as other construction activities,” Sepe adds.

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The project required performing subgrade undercuts for the new proposed pavement, while dealing with existing clearances of underground utilities and on Jefferson Avenue, old trolley rails, and leaking underground fuel storage tanks, Faieta says. On-site testing confirmed the contaminated soils, and crews removed those soils and hauled them to a proper disposal site. The team added geotextile and stone to create a strong base for the road.

The work took place adjacent to high-volume traffic. Much of the construction activity happened during weekend closures. Vehicles were often detoured to city streets or the interstate. The SR 18 and Wylie Avenue intersection needed multiple phases.

“One of the main challenges was constructing the project in a very busy urban environment with heavy traffic volumes,” Sepe says. “Traffic management involved several phases over multiple construction seasons to complete the project while maintaining traffic and access to businesses.”

Plum Contracting is using a GPS Topcon system on its dozer for rough grading and a GPS Trimble system on a skid steer for fine grading to within millimeters, reports Jefferey L. Corazzi, the onsite construction manager for PennDOT.

The ramps are paved with concrete, and the city roads have bituminous pavement. The team used an accelerated concrete mix to enable traffic to return within hours.

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Once the I-70 eastbound ramp was opened with the traffic signals installed, traffic in the area improved significantly, Corazzi adds.

The project is expected to complete in summer 2023.

“This project was overdue, and the general public will certainly appreciate the smoother ride through the area,” Faieta concludes.

Photos courtesy of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation

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