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I-69 Rebuild Generates Much Needed Roadway Improvements Between Marshall and Charlotte Counties

by: Larry Bernstein
By the end of the I-69 rebuild in Eaton County, 700,000 tons of asphalt will be laid along the road.
By the end of the I-69 rebuild in Eaton County, 700,000 tons of asphalt will be laid along the road.
Every motorist appreciates a smooth ride, particularly when a road had previously been in poor condition. However, the time when a road is under repair can be frustrating, as it often results in back-ups and or detours. Therefore, the quicker the road repair is completed, the happier motorists are. Completing a road rehabilitation project in as short of a time as possible has been the aim of the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) on Interstate 69 in Eaton County.
Buckle Up
The cities of Marshall and Charlotte are in south-central Michigan and are separated by 22 miles on I-69. The road, which has an average daily traffic count of 19,600 and 28,000 vehicles depending on the section, also leads to Michigan’s state capital, Lansing, which is just northeast of Charlotte.

The pavement along this stretch of I-69 is badly deteriorated pavement and has been a maintenance issue for many years. “This section of pavement is prone to buckling with catastrophic pavement blowouts when the temperatures hit their peak in the months of July and August,” says Mike Meyer, Project and Contracts Engineer for MDOT Lansing Transportation Service Center, who is serving as the Construction Project Manager. “This is cause for emergency repairs and sometimes freeway closures to fix.” 

The project will involve reconstructing the 22 miles of I-69 and removing everything down to the subgrade. A new drainage system is being installed to keep water from getting underneath the road. Drainage improvements include culvert replacements, ditch cleanout, and underdrain installation.

Other project elements include reconstructing six interchanges, sign replacement, guardrail replacements and safety improvements, and improving pavement conditions at two rest areas. Lastly, 26 bridges are being repaired, and one bridge (15 Mile) that crosses I-94 is being completely reconstructed.

Bring on the Asphalt
Over 10 inches of asphalt mixture is being laid along the road. To make MDOT’s aggressive schedule, the team is placing between 3,000 and 4,000 tons of asphalt a day. By the end of the project, they will have put down 700,000 tons.

The old pavement was composed of two layers of concrete pavement separated by a 1-inch layer of asphalt pavement serving as a bond breaker between the two layers. The bottom layer was 9 inches of reinforced concrete, with the top being 7 to 9 inches of non-reinforced pavement.

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“The thick pavement section produced a lot of material that could be reused to produce a new aggregate base for the new roadbed,” Meyer says. “All the concrete pavement is being crushed on-site using a portable crusher.”  

Crushing the materials on the job site is both a time and money savings. Less materials need to be purchased and trucked to the site.

Rebuild Michigan
The $210 million construction budget is being financed with federal (52 percent) and state money (48 percent). The project is part of the Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s Rebuilding Michigan Program, which is focused on rebuilding state highways and bridges that are deemed critical to the state’s economy and carry the most traffic. The Rebuilding Michigan Program is being financed by the sale of $3.5 billion in bonds by MDOT.

Halfway through, the project is on budget. Some of the credit goes to the contractor, Michigan Paving and Materials Company. “The team has been able to think outside the box to come up with solutions to keep the project on budget and on schedule,” Meyer says. “They were able to eliminate a few crossovers that maintained ramp traffic and expediated those sections of reconstruct which resulted in some shared cost savings to the project as well as a float in the schedule to allow room for unforeseen items we may encounter later on.”  

Design-Build Leads to Speed
Typically, a project of this size would have been broken up into four separate projects and done over an eight to 10-year period. However, MDOT is getting the project completed in just three construction seasons. The project is being completed in three phases. Phase one was completed in 2021, phase two is taking place in 2022, and the final phase will occur in 2023. The team is doing similar work in each phase. One difference is that in phase two, the 15 Mile bridge is being replaced.

Design-build is the reason MDOT has been able to condense the schedule for this project. Meyer explains, “Design-build has allowed the overlap of design with the construction phase of the project, which allows the contractor to start construction sooner than a traditional design-bid-build. In the case of this project, the influx of funding from the Rebuilding Michigan Program allowed us to combine four projects into one project built over three years instead of eight. Design-build was the best method to deliver the project from a schedule and cost standpoint.” 

To date, the project is on schedule. In addition to the contractor's contributions, Meyers credits traffic control for allowing the project to proceed as planned.

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“All traffic is being placed on the bound of highway not under construction, which eliminates conflicts and gives the contract full access to the roadway under construction. It also provides a huge safety benefit to the project, not only for the workers, but the motoring public.” 

Because of the Rebuilding Michigan Program and design-build, the driving public will have a smooth ride along the 22-mile stretch of I-69 much sooner than it would have if the project were delivered in a more standard format. That’s good news for motorists.

Soon, the public will enjoy a smoother and quieter ride on an important route for commuter, commercial, and tourism traffic in south-central Michigan.

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