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Volkert and James Construction Group Overcome Unexpected Challenges to Complete $72.9M On the Greaux I-10 Widening Near Baton Rouge

by: Julie Devine
Crews place girders during bridge construction on I-10 as part of the On the Greaux project.
Crews place girders during bridge construction on I-10 as part of the On the Greaux project.
Despite months of wet weather, heavy traffic that prevented weekday closures, extra safety measures to combat COVID-19, and even a plane crash on the jobsite, the design-build team led by James Construction Group of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, completed the $72.9 million Interstate 10 On the Greaux widening project on schedule in October 2020.

The project widened I-10 from four to six lanes in a six-and-a-half-mile segment between Highland Road in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and La 73 in Ascension Parish, Louisiana. Crews constructed the additional travel lanes (one in each direction) on the inside of the interstate, within the current footprint.

Three bridges also required varying degrees of work. At the I-10 overpass above Highland Road, crews built a new, larger structure to replace two existing bridges. On the bridge that carries La 928 (also known as Bluff Road) over I-10, they replaced a damaged girder and raised the entire structure nine-and-a-half inches to accommodate new interstate standards. Over Bayou Manchac, they added an additional 12-foot lane and 14-foot-wide shoulder in each direction of the I-10 concrete slab span bridge.

Design-Build for Faster Travel
The On the Greaux project aims to reduce congestion throughout the area. “This portion of I-10 is a critical freight corridor for Baton Rouge and New Orleans and a daily commuter route for thousands of residents,” said Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (LaDOTD) Secretary Shawn D. Wilson in a statement. “Increasing the capacity will mitigate traffic congestion and encourage economic development in the region.”

To complete the work as quickly as possible, LaDOTD chose design-build delivery. They first asked contractors to submit technical proposals. After narrowing the field, finalists provided a price and time proposal.

“Those proposals were put in a formula and the low bid was calculated,” said Gordon Nelson, Project Manager for Volkert, Inc., based in Baton Rouge, La. LaDOTD hired Volkert as Owner’s Representative in August 2017 through a qualifications-based process.

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The design-build team led by James Construction Group received their Notice to Proceed in August 2017 and started design. Construction began in March 2018.

Raising and Replacing
In the summer of 2018, the contractor closed the La 928 bridge over I-10 to complete the necessary work. “That overpass is the main connection to a school, so we had a two-month window to raise that bridge while school was out,” Nelson said.

Crews first removed the damaged girder and replaced it with a new, 91.5-foot-long, 40-ton concrete girder. They then jacked up the bridge to provide the required 16.5 feet of clearance. After working day and night, they reopened the La 928 bridge two weeks ahead of schedule.

At the Highland Road overpass, the design-build team opted to replace the two existing, two-lane, eastbound and westbound bridges with one larger structure.

“As part of the performance specifications, we required a 190-foot clearance under that bridge for a future interchange project,” Nelson said. “That required no columns in the median on Highland Road, so they chose to build one bridge with steel girders.”

Construction of that bridge took place in three phases. “In stage one, they built the new overpass in the middle, then moved westbound traffic onto that new portion,” Nelson explained. “Then they tore out the existing westbound I-10 bridge and built the new westbound portion. After that, westbound traffic moved onto that portion and eastbound traffic moved onto the middle section of the new bridge. In stage three, they removed the old eastbound bridge and built the eastbound portion of the new structure.”

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To achieve the required 190-foot clearance, the new bridge features 13 steel girders weighing a total of 1.5 million pounds. An additional 1,785 linear feet of precast, prestressed concrete girders – as well as structural steel, substructure concrete, and 1,200 cubic yards of concrete for the deck – complete the structure. The new bridge provides three 12-foot travel lanes in each direction, 10-foot-wide outside shoulders, and 19-foot-wide inside shoulders, separated by a concrete barrier.

Concrete at Night, Dirt in the Day
Throughout all the bridge and travel lanes work, the contractor needed to keep two lanes open in each direction on weekdays in order to accommodate 95,000 vehicles traveling through the corridor.

“That meant a lot of coordination and planning to complete as much work as possible during nighttime lane closures,” Nelson said. “Crews did all the concrete paving and bridge pours at night because heavy traffic during the day prevented them from getting concrete trucks and other equipment in and out of the jobsite.”

The project’s day shift usually focused on dirt work. However, “In 2019, we had almost five months with a lot of rain,” Nelson said. “The contractor couldn’t haul embankment material and construct the dirt, and a lot of the widening to the inside involved setting up embankments and base work. At that point, the contractor spent more time on concrete work until they could do the dirt work, but the wet weather slowed their progress. The following year when it was drier they were able to catch up.”

Another unexpected challenge occurred in 2019 when a single-engine plane crashed onto the project site. “It bounced off an 18-wheeler in the eastbound traffic lanes, then went into the woods,” Nelson said. “No one got hurt, but after the crash we covered the plane with a tarp so people wouldn’t be rubber-necking. In the evening, we closed the eastbound lanes and detoured traffic while the plane was removed.”

To accomplish that, “The plane’s owner brought in a big tow truck with a crane that usually handles 18-wheelers,” Nelson explained. “They put a sling around the plane, lifted it up, and put it on a flatbed truck, then took it off one of the interchanges where they were able to disassemble it.”

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Despite the excitement, the incident didn’t hold up construction work, Nelson said. In fact, even with the COVID-19 pandemic in the last months of the project, all six I-10 lanes opened on schedule, including repairs and patching on the original four travel lanes. Crews finished final punch-list items in December 2020.

Photos courtesy of lambert-media.com

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