Widening Warwick Boulevard

By Christina Fisher | September 28, 2010

With 47,000 vehicles a day traveling down Warwick Boulevard, a number that is expected to grow to 54,000 a day by 2026, this major transportation artery in Newport News, Virginia, was in desperate need of widening from four lanes to six lanes. In order to complete the two-mile project as quickly as possible, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) and officials from Newport News worked together to split construction into three phases.

Phase I — Intersection Improvements

Local contractor Basic Construction Co. started work on Phase I in February 2006. This phase of the project, which totaled $10.2 million, involved extensive improvements to the intersection of Warwick and J. Clyde Morris boulevards, an extremely busy intersection due to traffic from the Mariners Museum, the main entrance to Christopher Newport University and the local hospital.

Extensive improvements to this intersection included:

  • New dedicated right-turn lanes from every direction
  • Upgraded utilities
  • Widening the road to three lanes in each direction
  • New lighting
  • New Opticom emergency vehicle-sensitive traffic signals

"Because it was so heavily congested, it was imperative to get this intersection finished as quickly as possible," says Thomas Druhot, VDOT project manager. "We didn't want this intersection to be under construction for the duration of the entire project. We wanted to get everything completed in that area first, then we could concentrate on other areas."

Phase I was completed in October 2007 on time and on budget.

Phase II — Utility Relocation And Upgrades

In September 2006, Suburban Grading and Utilities Inc. began work on Phase II of the project. This phase incorporated storm water, sewer and water supply line relocations and upgrades on Warwick Blvd. from Nutmeg Quarter to Nettles Drive. At the request of the city, an additional $900,000 of work was added to this phase of the project to replace completely deteriorated portions of the sewer system.

Phase II, which came within its budget of $14.5 million, was completed almost six months ahead of schedule.

Phase III — Under Construction

Currently Virginia Beach, Virginia-based E.V. Williams, Inc. is five months into Phase III of the project, which includes additional underground utility work, widening Warwick Blvd. to three lanes in each direction, upgrades to traffic signals, pedestrian crosswalks, lighting and landscaping, and median and drainage improvements. E.V. Williams is at work installing storm drain, sanitary sewer, force main sanitary sewer, and a city of Newport News water line.

Throughout the entire Warwick Boulevard project, utility work has been a major challenge. "Part of the problem with the underground construction is all of the existing utilities," says Dennis Miller, vice president of Operations with E.V. Williams. "Even though they are abandoned we have to deal with them as if they are alive because nobody knows what's abandoned and what isn't under the road. We are continually moving electrical work to get in and around where we need to place other underground utilities.

"The most critical part of dealing with existing utilities is finding them in advance, determining if there is going to be conflict with the work you're doing, and giving everybody as much lead time as possible to resolve those conflicts," says Miller.

To help locate utility lines prior to excavation, E.V. Williams is using a Ditch Witch vacuum excavator for potholing utilities. High-pressure jets of water are directed at the ground through a 6-inch-diameter pipe. The water loosens the soil, and then a vacuum sucks up the dirt and water, creating a 6-inch-diameter hole that exposes the utilities. Because only water and air are involved, there is no damage to the utilities.

Traffic management has been another huge challenge. The team is trying to maintain two lanes of traffic in each direction throughout the project, often diverting traffic onto the road's former median.

Major work is scheduled between the hours of 8 p.m. and 5 a.m. There are significant restrictions during peak rush hours and only a short window between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. to work during the day.

Once the utility relocations and upgrades are complete, preparing the road bed and grading will begin. Preconstruction test bores and the previous two phases of the project have revealed unsuitable material for the road bed.

"The peninsula is very flat, so it is subject to a lot of silt and blue marle clay, which is a terrible bearing surface," says Druhot. "Therefore the project was designed with geotextile fabric and in some places geogrid underneath the roadway. A typical response to unsuitable material on the job would be to undercut and backfill, but with the amount of utilities in this area undercutting is not a feasible option. The geogrid material will provide us a solution with a zero elevation differential."

Phase III, which has a budget of $17 million, is scheduled for completion in the winter of 2009–2010.

Editor's note: Additional material provided by the Virginia Department of Transportation.