“This project will put a beltway south of the city and get truck traffic off of Highway 2 through town,” says Curt Mueting, NDOT Construction Engineer for District 1 in Lincoln.
Hwy 2 is a popular route connecting Lincoln to Denver and Kansas City. However, when motorists reach Lincoln, 17 stoplights slow their passage through the city.
The new 11-mile-long, limited-access, east-west highway will allow for the free flow of traffic and access to some of the new development south of the city of Lincoln. The land had been farmland. The new four-lane road will connect N-2 and U.S. 77. The project also includes reconstruction of 2.5 miles of the existing U.S. 77.
Thoughts of building a beltway around Lincoln began in the 1960s, but funding to undertake such a huge project was not available. The Build Nebraska Act provided funds to get the job rolling. The project also received a Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) Grant.
“People in Lincoln really want the truck traffic out of town, and everyone has been supportive,” Mueting says.
Initially, the department planned to let the South Beltway in three separate projects, completed during an eight-year span. However, finishing portions would not offer the benefits of removing through traffic from city streets without the opening of the entire freeway.
NDOT then used a creative funding process, contractor financing, funded through bonds. Hawkins Construction Co. of Omaha was the only bidder and received the contract.
NDOT will pay Hawkins $30 million per year until the $350 million contracted amount is met, in about 10 years.
Consultants Benesch of Lincoln and Schemmer of Omaha designed the project. NDOT designed some of the bridges in house.
“Completing $350 million worth of work while ensuring the free flow traffic on the new alignment in three years is a challenge,” Mueting says. “There is a large quantity of work in a short period of time.”
Crews are building 77 lane miles for the Lincoln South Beltway, including interchange ramps. Work progressed through the winter, including building the structures.
“We don’t have time to shut down with the work that needs to get done,” says Alan Hayes, Estimator for Hawkins, adding, “We knew it would be a tough and complex job.”
The project includes building 21 bridges, including a half-mile long, 65-foot-tall flyover bridge, which will connect the new eastbound Hwy 2 to the existing southbound U.S. 77. Seven piers have been built and the 10-foot-tall girders placed on those piers. A deck pour is scheduled for this summer. In phase two, the balance of the flyover will be built upon completion of the first phase. “It sticks above everything else,” Mueting reports.
The other bridges primarily span existing or new alignment roads. There are a couple of exceptions, including two bridges – one in each direction – above a bicycle and pedestrian trail and two other bridges spanning a creek in both directions. Hawkins is constructing 12 of the bridges, and subcontractors United Contractors of Johnston, Iowa, and Cramer and Associates of Grimes, Iowa, are completing nine of the bridges.
Three of the bridges have steel girders and the rest concrete girders. Each range from two to six spans. All of the foundations are pile-supported footings.
The job includes 41 box culverts: 14 precast and 27 cast in place. The precast box culverts were built off-site in sections and fit together in the field. Using the precast box culverts sped up the construction, Hayes says.
“This is the first time NDOT has allowed the use of precast box culverts,” Mueting reports. “We left that as an option for the contractor.”
Crews are putting in 12,000 linear feet of storm sewer pipe, 33,000 linear feet of drainage pipe, and electrical and fiberoptic lines.
“We’re getting the underground work done,” Mueting says.
Crews are excavating approximately 7 million cubic yards of soil to build the 5.3 million cubic yards of embankment needed for the new highway. Additionally, the job calls for chain link fencing along the route and paving 830,000 square feet of concrete. Some tie-ins with county roads will be paved with asphalt.
Subcontractor Ames Construction of Burnsville, Minnesota, is performing the earthwork and grading for the road. Hawkins and Constructors of Lincoln is performing the paving, cast-in-place walls and other miscellaneous work.
Hayes agrees that communication has been key. The prime contractor has 11 subcontractors responsible for a substantial scope of work.
“Our two main superintendents in the field, Don Valla and Peter Simmons, have done a great job keeping everything in line and moving forward,” says Hayes, who praises the “coordination between Hawkins and the subs and making sure everyone knows what is going on with the upcoming work.”
Hawkins meets weekly with the subcontractors to talk through potential issues and resolve them.
“We also are doing a good job teaming with the DOT personnel on the job,” Hayes says. “It has been a good relationship. We all want to get the work done and do it right. It’s a team effort,, and everyone has been pulling their weight.
NDOT has 25 full-time employees on this project, including project managers and inspectors.
“I am proud of the effort the NDOT staff is putting in and the efforts of the contractors and how well we are doing with communication and collaboration,” Mueting concludes.
The Lincoln South Beltway is on schedule and set to open in May 2023, but work will continue for another year on interchanges, ramps, and tie-ins.
“We’re proud of our field group that took the initiative to stay on schedule and keep pushing to try to get ahead in a crazy year,” Hayes says. “They found unique ways to get things done and keep moving the job forward.”
Photos courtesy of the Nebraska Department of Transportation