Super 70

Story by Tom Hale | September 28, 2010

A GOMACO Commander III paver, a Caterpillar 325D hydraulic excavator and a Cat D5G track-type tractor represent a sampling of the many different types of equipment being used to construct the Super 70 project in Indianapolis — one of the biggest highway construction projects in Indiana history. The $175-million reconstruction project will improve 6 miles of Interstate 70 from the I-65 north split (downtown) to I-465 on the east side.

The project area includes the busiest stretch of highway in Indiana — the portion of I-70 just east of the Spaghetti Bowl — and carries nearly 180,000 motorists every day. That's more than the Indiana expressways that feed into Chicago.

According to the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT), the Super 70 project marks the first extensive construction on I-70 since it was built more than 35 years ago (the corridor had been widened, but not overhauled). Super 70 is designed to replace pavement and bridge decks which were deteriorating, upgrade inside shoulders that were too narrow, and provide a safer route by improving visibility for motorists having difficulty seeing around curves.

A majority of the work on the design-build project, named Super 70 because of its size, complexity and aggressive construction schedule, will be largely completed in one construction. The two contracts that make up the Super 70 project were awarded to Walsh Construction in August.

Chicago-based Walsh, which has an Indiana division office in LaPorte, is conducting the construction in two phases — improving one side of the highway at a time so the route is never closed completely. During a May jobsite visit by Construction Digest, crews in Phase 1 were paving the new westbound lanes on the north side of I-70 and pouring concrete for bridges while two-way traffic was maintained on the south side. Phase 2 involves reconstruction on the south side of I-70 and will continue through November with two-way traffic maintained on the newly reconstructed north side of I-70.

According to INDOT, the entire Super 70 project — including final finishing work — is slated for completion in July 2008. However, Walsh Construction is eyeing completion ahead of schedule. "We are hoping to be done with the project this year," says Walsh Project Manager Jr Collard. "We may have to finish up in spring (seeding and bridge painting), but we are pushing to get everything completed before the end of this construction season."

Super 70 Improvements

Upon completion of Super 70, the stretch of I-70 between downtown and I-465 on the east side will feature smoother pavement, wider inside shoulders and higher bridge clearances. Walsh and its subcontractors are replacing 75 lane miles of concrete pavement (inside and outside shoulders and travel lanes) on the 10-lane interstate; widening inside shoulders from 7 feet to 14 feet; adding new signs and lighting; adding new pavement markings; and rehabilitating numerous bridge decks.

"We are rehabilitating 28 bridge decks — these are new, widened decks," notes Collard. "And we are building two, completely new bridges. So, there are 30 structures total."

One of the more visible changes occurring as a result of Super 70 is the construction of a new, 55-foot-tall bridge carrying I-70 over Sherman Drive and a CSX Railroad bridge. I-70 previously passed underneath Sherman Drive and the railroad bridge, a configuration that led drivers to slow down, which in turned caused congestion.

The new overpass is designed to improve visibility and drainage, and is being built with pilings that help hold a dirt wall which is part of the elevated roadway. "This overpass is unique because it required the construction of a 50-foot-plus-tall wire wall/MSE wall," says Collard. "This is probably the tallest one that has ever been built."

Super 70 reconstruction began earlier this year with the demolition of the westbound lanes pavement. "It only took us about a week to break up the pavement, but then we had to spend about a month tearing down the bridges," Collard says.

He adds, "When we were in the main demo phase, we probably had about 75 pieces of equipment on the job."

Set In Concrete

The new I-70 pavement will be 37 inches thick, featuring layers of recycled concrete, aggregate and new concrete — including 12 inches of recycled concrete and 16 inches of new concrete. According to Collard, approximately 260,000 cubic yards of concrete will be used for the new pavement and for all the structural work.

E & B Paving Inc., Anderson, Ind., is serving as Walsh's concrete paving subcontractor, and is supplying the concrete from its plant. IMI (Irving Materials Inc), Indianapolis, is supplying most of the other concrete for Super 70, says INDOT Project Supervisor Monty Mason, who is overseeing the east end of the project.

Other key project participants are Specialties Co. LLC, Indianapolis — subgrade treatment; Fox Contractors Corp., Fort Wayne, Ind. — underdrain; C-Tech Corp. Inc., Boggstown, Ind. — guardrail; Fort Wayne Reinforcing Inc., Auburn, Ind., and Harmon Steel Inc., North Vernon, Ind. — structural steel; N.I. Spanos Painting Inc., Crown Point, Ind. — bridge painting and sealing; Hoosier Co. Inc., Indianapolis — signage; James H. Drew Corp. Inc., Indianapolis — signage; and NES Traffic Safety, L.P., Indianapolis — traffic control.

A workforce totaling 200 has been on-site. "For Walsh, we have about 150 people staffed out here during peak times, plus an additional 50 subcontractor personnel," Collard says.

Project Coordination

Coordinating a project as complex as Super 70 is no easy task. But thanks to effective traffic control and communications programs, and a strong partnership between INDOT, Walsh, engineering consultants, and contractors, the project is proceeding as planned.

Strong leadership definitely helps. Collard, an eight-year Walsh employee, has 29 years of construction experience. Monty Mason is a 40-year state employee with 27 years construction experience. And INDOT Project Engineer Kirk Stafford, who is overseeing the west end of the project, is an 11-year INDOT veteran.

Key project challenges include contending with utilities and working within design-build parameters. "Utilities have been our biggest challenge," says Collard. "Some have not been relocated on time, and we are finding some that were never shown on drawings. Another challenge is the fact that this is a design-build job, so you kind of get spoon-fed information concerning drawings. Trying to get drawings pushed through as fast as you need them pushed through is an issue."

Traffic Control

For motorists, the Super 70 project has required some adjustments. Traffic is running in both directions throughout the project, but off ramps at three key exits are closed — making the route a virtual expressway between I-65 and I-465. Walsh and INDOT are utilizing a moveable barrier system during construction to accommodate traffic flow.

"The moveable wall has been very helpful," says Mason. "We move it twice a day — 10 o'clock in the morning and 10 o'clock at night, and it has really improved traffic flow through the job."

To ease heavy traffic congestion through the construction zone, INDOT has banned semi-trailer trucks and trailers weighing more than 13 tons, and has encouraged other vehicles to use alternate routes. "Not having any semi-truck traffic on the road has helped out quite a bit," Collard says.

Also, the speed limit has been reduced to 45 mph through the corridor.

Walsh — In The Spotlight

Super 70 is one of several large construction projects in Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels's innovative, 10-year statewide road-building plan, known as Major Moves. For Walsh Construction, the Super 70 project is another high-profile project in the Indianapolis area, following in the footsteps of the 2003 Hyperfix project on I-65/I-70 between the north and south splits downtown and other major projects on I-465 and I-65 in recent years.

Along with Super 70, Walsh Construction is currently participating in a massive project in northwest Indiana. INDOT awarded Walsh the first of three contracts (a contract for $46.2 million) for the Borman Expressway (I-80/94) and I-65 interchange modification, Major Moves project. Over the next three years, the interchange will see modifications and improvements for an estimated $187 million.

In southwest Indiana, Walsh has a $41.7-million contract for S.R. 641 bridge work in Vigo County.