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Alabama DOT and Ikaros Widen Congested US 82/McFarland Boulevard

by: Debra Wood
Ikaros began the widening of U.S. 82/McFarland Boulevard by widening to the middle of the roadway.
Ikaros began the widening of U.S. 82/McFarland Boulevard by widening to the middle of the roadway.
Aiming to decrease congestion along U.S. 82, the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) has embarked on a $33.9 million widening of the road in Tuscaloosa County.

“This is a capacity project,” says Terence Williamson, Project Manager for ALDOT. “This is to handle the load from growth.”

Tuscaloosa County has grown by about 10,000 people since 2020 and more than 42,000 people since 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The project is just north of the University of Alabama, and Williamson reports a growth of the university’s student population.

The widening work takes place along 2.77 miles of U.S. 82, also known as McFarland Boulevard, from Highway 69 in Northport to the west to Rice Mine Road in Tuscaloosa to the east. About 50,000 vehicles travel on the limited-access road daily.

“With the high volume of traffic, we are concerned about traffic control and the safety of our workers and public,” says Chris Poling, General Manager with Ikaros, the prime contractor, based in Tuscaloosa.

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In addition to adding one lane in each direction, the project includes creating a shared-use path for pedestrians and bicyclists and improving access to businesses by adding turn lanes and moving median openings to avoid conflicts and improve safety.

“We revised the location of the crossovers and in some places eliminated some access points if we had multiple access points at shopping centers,” Williamson says. “It’s for the safety of the traveling public.”

Gonzalez-Strength & Associates of Birmingham, Alabama, designed the project.

Rebuilding Alabama
Widening this road was the first major project funded by the Rebuild Alabama Act. The legislature passed the act and Governor Kay Ivey signed it into law in 2019. The act specified ALDOT create an annual program to share $10 million in funding for local projects, such as widening U.S. 82. More than $145 million state transportation dollars have been awarded in all 67 counties in the state.

“Just recently, we marked the fourth anniversary of Rebuild Alabama, and it has continued to show it produces nothing less than real, tangible results,” said Ivey in April 2023. “I’m proud of Rebuild Alabama’s success, and I look forward to seeing how it continues to improve such critical infrastructure. Alabama’s roads and bridges are making substantial progress, and we look forward to this continuing.”

Construction and Utility Challenges
Ikaros received the construction contract. The company, founded in 2006, performs civil work and site work for horizontal projects.

Work began on U.S. 82 in November 2021, starting in the median near Hunter Creek Road. Williamson reported a significant number of utilities had to be relocated along the route.

“It’s been a challenge to widen the road and deal with the slopes, with all of the power poles and fiberoptic lines,” Williamson reports. “We are confined by so many structures and businesses and the utilities related to that. There are a lot of variables that make it a pretty complicated job.”

Most utility relocations were completed ahead of groundbreaking on the road, but a few remain to be moved. “We’re trying to keep the workflow going while the utilities are being relocated,” Poling says.

Work has progressed on drainage and widening the road to the inside on the median. A concrete barrier protected traffic from drop offs and workers from vehicles entering the work zone. Drainage work includes extending six miles of pipe, ranging in size from 18-inch diameter to 72-inch diameter; lengthening four culverts, two bridge culverts, and two box culverts; and opening up inlets. Several streams run through the project near the culvert extensions. The contractor has implemented erosion control practices.

“Working in the median, in particular, we have to control erodible material from leaving,” Poling says. “We have to make sure the water does not get into the road. It’s been a balancing act.”

Ikaros is using dome inlet protectors to provide overflow capacity.

Work in the median is substantially completed. The contractor is in the process of moving traffic toward the median to start work on the outside shoulders. “We are adding lanes and reusing the existing lanes,” Williamson says.

Therefore, on the existing lanes, crews will mill off the old asphalt and come back with new asphalt. The new lanes also will be paved with asphalt.

“We’ve had no surprises,” Williamson says. “It’s going pretty smooth.”

The contractor created a model of the job and is using GPS controls on the backhoes and dozers working on the various drainage systems and during grading.

Keeping Traffic Flowing
The maintenance of traffic plan calls for two lanes to remain open in each direction from 6 a.m. until 7 p.m. on weekdays. Therefore, much of the work takes place at night and on the weekends – except when the university has a home football game. Then, the lanes are open 24/7 from Thursday evening prior to a game until midnight on the Sunday after the game.

“We’re doing lane closures at night and over the weekends when there is lower traffic volume to try to not impact driving during the day any more than absolutely necessary,” Williamson says. “It’s always a challenge when you are working with that much traffic through the middle of a town.”

ALDOT anticipates the project will wrap up in the summer of 2024.

“It’s going well, and we have gotten a lot done, even with a wet winter and spring,” Williamson says. When complete, “it will make more efficient of drivers time as they are passing through.”

Photos courtesy of Alabama Department of Transportation

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