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I-70 Bridge Renovation Project Underway in West Virginia

by: Mark Bird
An aerial shot of reconstruction on I-70 in Ohio County, West Virginia.
An aerial shot of reconstruction on I-70 in Ohio County, West Virginia.
At just over 14 miles long, West Virginia's segment of Interstate 70 is the shortest among all the states the highway crosses on its route from Utah to Maryland. Even so, the portion of I-70, which crosses the northern panhandle of West Virginia through Ohio County and the city of Wheeling, is a heavily used corridor. A steady volume of traffic has generated a great deal of wear and tear on the state's I-70 segment, perhaps especially on the bridges along the route. Now, an extensive West Virginia Department of Transportation (WVDOT) project is addressing the deficiencies of those bridges.

With the I-70 Bridges Corridor Renovation Project, WVDOT has bundled the replacement or rehabilitation of 26 bridges into a single contract in order to accelerate project completion and minimize traffic impacts. The bridges are located along a 6.74-mile segment of I-70 in Ohio County, which has an average daily traffic count ranging from 30,400 to 59,600 vehicles.

The project – which started in Fall 2019 and is slated to be complete by Summer 2022 – was included as one of the improvements in the $1.6 billion Roads to Prosperity statewide bond referendum. The contract for the $214 million project was awarded to Swank Construction Company of Kensington, Pennsylvania, in 2019. Other project partners include prime designer Stantec; design firm HDR, a major sub-consultant; consulting, engineering and construction management firm TRC; and quality assurance services consultant Mead and Hunt.

The two spans of the Fulton Bridge over Wheeling Creek are being completely replaced as part of the I-70 Bridges project, due to a combination of rusting steel and eroding concrete. Repairs on the other affected bridges include a combination of new decks or new deck overlays, concrete substructure repairs, steel repairs of areas with section loss or cracking, elimination of deck joints, new coating systems, and other miscellaneous maintenance repair items.

The Fulton Bridge replacement was scheduled as part of phase one of three project phases, providing the contractor the opportunity to do most of the westbound bridge rehabilitation work – building new bridge decks or overlaying an existing deck and making any necessary steel or substructure repairs – at the same time. The project schedule was also designed to minimize lane closures and traffic disruption.

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As Ruth Tane, ‎Public Involvement and Strategic Communications Coordinator at HDR, explains, “The team inspected potential options, particularly related to the Fulton Bridge. We looked at each bridge on the project individually, and considered the Fulton Bridge the controlling bridge for the project – the one that everything else was planned around. We planned from west to east to create one cohesive work zone, and divided the area into sections A, B, C, D, representing special criteria in each segment for how many lanes needed to be open. Local and thru traffic detours were developed based on previous rehab of the Wheeling Tunnel; we knew that these detours worked well.”

Project Designed to Address Multiple Bridge Structural Deficiencies
The need for the project arose from 2013 inspections that revealed that three of the I-70 bridges were structurally deficient and others were rated from fair to poor, with areas of heavy rust pack, corrosion, section loss, spalling, and cracking, as well as substandard pedestrian facilities.

As Tane relates, “Inspections which must be done every two years on every bridge in the State’s inventory identifies and lists deficiencies for each bridge inspected. In addition, bridge ratings – structural analyses that indicate the safe load-carrying capacity of a bridge – are periodically done for each bridge. This was the case for the bridges associated with this project. The inspections and load ratings indicated that many of the bridges along the I-70 corridor needed work.

“Beginning around 2014, the Department of Highways (DOH) initiated three projects focused on the bridges in various parts of the corridor. Those projects included more in-depth inspections and measurements, studies and the development of recommendations on the types of repairs that needed to be done. Over time, for various coordination and funding reasons, the three projects were combined and several additional bridges in between were added into one large project. This made traffic control and other logistics easier to implement and manage than if there were multiple projects.

“Ultimately, the project became, at the time, the largest single project let by the DOH.”

Funded by Governor's Program
The I-70 Bridges Corridor Renovation Project is funded through the Roads to Prosperity Constitutional Amendment, which allows the issuance of up to $1.6 Billion of General Obligation (GO) Bonds paid for by a 3.5-cent increase in West Virginia's motor fuel tax, a one percent increase in motor vehicle sales tax, and increases in other Department of Motor Vehicle fees. This statewide bond referendum was approved by 73 percent of West Virginia voters in October 2017.

The Roads to Prosperity program and initiative – envisioned by Governor Jim Justice as a way to drive West Virginia forward to more jobs and better infrastructure – is the centerpiece of his vision for West Virginia’s economic recovery. Under the program, the state has embarked on
its largest-ever infrastructure program, encompassing more than 600 projects spread across all 55 counties.

The program is expected to generate approximately $2.8 billion for highway and bridge construction and maintenance all across the state. The state also plans to augment the Roads to Prosperity program with $700 million in highway bonds backed by toll increases on the West Virginia Turnpike, and up to $500 million in Grant Anticipation Revenue Vehicle (GARVEE) bonds, an option used by states to secure funding for highway projects quickly with the promise of future federal funds to pay off the bonds.

The I-70 Bridges Corridor Renovation was the first Roads to Prosperity project to be procured by WVDOT.

Careful Project Planning Helped Address Challenges
In planning the Fulton Bridge replacement – a primary component of the overall project – the final design selected was the most efficient and cost-effective option, says Tane. “The design included an investigation of various combinations of number of spans, span lengths, and anticipated substructure and superstructure configuration and cost. The individual spans are significantly longer than the old bridge spans were; the longer spans used on the new bridges resulted in less construction required within the limits of Wheeling Creek.

“In addition, in order to minimize the closure time for I-70, portions of the pier foundations and columns were designed to be constructed underneath the old bridge while it was still in service. Other portions of the piers were fabricated off-site and lifted into place, again helping to minimize closure time.”

West Virginia Division of Highways Area Engineer Mike Witherow adds that the Fulton Bridge plans included some innovative aspects in an effort to minimize the duration of the I-70 closure. “The reinforced concrete caissons and rock socket pier foundations were situated just outside the limits of the existing structure to allow construction of the foundations prior to the closure of the interstate. This required design and construction of larger pier caps to span greater distance between the pier columns; however, it allowed for the time-consuming foundation work to be completed ahead of time.”

Witherow comments that the project has addressed challenges related to a long work zone and restrictions on how long the Fulton Bridge could be closed – both issues required extensive planning. As to working on such a project in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, he reports, “Swank initially made and is continuing to make extra safety precautions to prevent COVID-19 spread and outbreak. They coordinated with their crews to minimize exposure due to commuting, overnight lodging, and spreading out as much as possible during working hours.

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“They have experienced some delays in receiving necessary materials. Many of their suppliers and fabricators experienced shutdowns due to COVID-19 outbreaks as well as slower production due to following guidelines. One positive note, however, during the last construction season, lower volumes of traffic recognized to be a result of COVID-19 restrictions aided in less congestion throughout the local detour along U.S. 40 during the I-70 west closure.”

Project Means Significant Safety Improvements on Busy Route
The I-70 Bridges Corridor Renovation Project is destined to bring many enhancements to the busy West Virginia highway. Repairing the structurally deficient components of the existing bridges means a significant safety improvement. The many years of service the existing bridges had seen resulted in significant deterioration of some of the substructure units – the concrete piers and abutments – and corrosion of some of the steel members – girders and bracing – as Tane points out.

“This was especially true near open joints in the bridge decks where water and salt could leak onto the structure from the deck above. Cleaning and patching of concrete, and cleaning, removal and replacement of badly deteriorated steel, and strengthening of deficient members with new steel plates will extend the life of the bridges for many years.

“Complete replacement of the Fulton Bridges, which were in especially bad condition, was important. The old Fulton Bridges were considered to be fracture-critical, a designation given to structures that don’t have redundant load paths. There were components on those bridges whose failure would have been expected to result in a partial or full collapse of the bridge. The new Fulton Bridges are redundant structures in accordance with the most current design standards.

“The new decks that are being installed on all of the bridges – new and rehabilitated along with the taller barriers along the edge of the deck – will greatly improve the ride quality, which should have a positive impact on safety.”

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