Fishersville, Virginia-based Fairfield-Echols is nearing completion of the Interstate 81 bridge replacement and widening project in Rockbridge County. The scope of the work includes widening and upgrading both the northbound and southbound lanes on a 2.5-mile section of I-81, adding a 1.5-mile truck climbing lane on the northbound side, and replacing two existing two-lane bridges with three-lane bridges.
Work began in September 2004 on the first phase of northbound side. "There was more work here and more excavation," said David Graham, president of Fairfield-Echols. "We had to move part of the interstate to the outside, which meant we had to take down some cut slopes. There was a lot of blasting involved."
Blasting in a safe manner and impeding traffic for only short periods of time have been two challenges on the project. During each of the 150 shots, the Virginia State Police stopped traffic approximately 1.5 miles away and gave Fairfield-Echols 15 minutes after each blast to clear any debris from the roadway.
"Only about four times did we hold up traffic longer than we or VDOT wanted to," said Graham.
The blasted and excavated material has been hauled off and used as fill at the request of adjacent property owners, used as riprap on the project or used to construct the temporary causeways that are needed for equipment access for the construction of the bridges. None of this material is being used as aggregate for the road bed. Instead base material is being trucked in from off-site, which proved to be more cost-effective.
The two bridges over Buffalo Creek rise 110 feet to 115 feet above the water. Fairfield-Echols had to build a series of roads and then rock causeways across Buffalo Creek to access this area of the site.
Once down at the base of the bridge Fairfield-Echols built cofferdams in the creek to isolate the work area and then used hydraulic breakers to break the rock out to build the new footings. All of the bridge construction work has taken place from the causeways or access roads; no work has been done from the existing bridges because two lanes of traffic had to be maintained at all times.
In all, Fairfield-Echols, which is self-performing the bridge work, built four piers for the northbound bridge and three piers for the southbound bridge. Subcontractor Joseph Fay Company out of Russellton, Pennsylvania, has been brought in to demolish the existing bridges.
Currently the southbound bridge is finished and traffic has been diverted onto two new lanes of the northbound bridge, where Fairfield-Echols is placing the structural steel for the third lane. The new bridges are 9 feet higher than the original bridges to help decrease the incline.
"There was such a big vertical grade difference that at 65 to 75 miles per hour, vehicles were overrunning their headlights," said Graham. "Decreasing that grade makes for safer conditions."
Subcontractor C.W. Hurt Contractors is doing all of the grading work and extending the drainage pipes on the project. Most of this work is complete and C.W. Hurt has been placing the base stone.
The $27.1-million project is scheduled for completion by July 1, 2007.