Toll Road Treading Lightly
Construction on Maryland’s $2.6-billion, 18.8-mile InterCounty Connector has meant extensive interaction with communities of people, turtles, deer and one single brown trout. While design-build teams squeeze a new six-lane toll highway into a right-of-way teeming with humans and wildlife, Maryland’s State Highway Administration (SHA) has allocated 15% of the budget to environmental concerns.
Officials say the massive efforts to manage turtles, trout and tempers are in- dicative of how highway builders must act in a new age. “What we’re seeing with the ICC will become more of the rule rather than the exception,” says SHA project manager Melinda Peters.
After nearly a half-century of legal challenges before major construction could begin in fall 2007, the highway taking shape between Interstate 270 in Gaithersburg and the I-95 corridor near Laurel is much different than it would have been if it had been built when first proposed. What once would have been a major design-bid-build effort is being delivered concurrently under separate contracts by three design-build consortiums. InterCounty Constructors, a joint venture led by Granite Construction Co., Watsonville, Calif., is handling the initial 7.2-mile, $478.7-million segment set to open later this year.
MD200 Constructors—a joint venture of Kiewit Southern Co., G.A. & F.C. Wagman Inc. and Corman Construction Inc.—is handling the middle 6.9-mile, $559.7-million segment. ICC Constructors, a joint venture led by Shirley Contracting Co. and Clark Construction Group, is working on the $513.9- million, 2.7-mile connection to I-95. Those segments are scheduled to open in 2012. For three miles of collector-distributor lanes, part of the I-95 interchange and a 1-mile extension to U.S. Route 1, two contracts totaling $150 million, are on hold.
The completed ICC will become part of the Maryland Transportation Authority’s network of toll roads, which rely exclusively on electronic collection systems. State funds for the project are supplemented by a $750-million Guaranteed Anticipated Revenue Vehicle bond and another $19 million in federal funds. The remaining $103 million, not required until fiscal years 2015 through 2017, will be identified later.
The connector now passes through multiple residential subdivisions and environmentally sensitive public parks—the touchstones of the lawsuits that delayed the project for decades despite mounting congestion on the area’s only major east-west option, the Capital Beltway.
As such, Peters says that a conventional roadbuilding approach would be insufficient for such a highly scrutinized project. “This thing is beyond pavement,” she says. “We have to do whatever it takes to integrate the road into the context of the area and tread lightly on the land.”
Although the highway ultimately will require moving 7.5 million cu yd of earth, installing 66 bridges—one almost 1,500 ft in length—and constructing eight major interchanges, the roadway largely conforms with the contours and constraints of its natural and built surroundings.
Incentives have enabled the project to meet and even surpass land preservation and restoration targets. For example, the teams can earn up to $100,000 per acre for avoided forestland; $10,000 per acre for reforestation above what is contractually required; up to $150,000 per acre for avoiding wetlands and up to $225 per linear ft for avoiding streams.
To date, the project has avoided impacts to 20 acres of permitted wetlands and 15 acres of permitted floodplains. More than 60 acres of forests originally permitted for clearing also have been saved. Because some 88 acres of adjacent parkland were consumed by the road, the teams have added more than 775 acres of new park area.
The engineering support team, led by Parsons Brinckerhoff, URS Corp. and Rummel, Klepper & Kahl, helped the SHA and the Virginia Dept. of Transportation implement the eight-year, $2.4-billion Wilson Bridge replacement. Mike Baker, environmental construction manager for the ICC engineering support team, says the Wilson Bridge experience provided a foundation for tackling the ICC’s myriad complexities, including the ambitious environmental goals.
“Keeping a megaproject conducted in sensitive areas in compliance requires a full-time team of well-trained environmental inspectors,” says Baker. “But they have to function as reasonable problem solvers, not environmental police with billy clubs.”
The ICC’s stormwater systems are designed to treat the first 1.5 in. of rainfall—50% higher than state regulatory requirements. “We made the environmental program a priority, so the design-build teams did, too,” Baker says.
Working closely with SHA and volunteer groups, the design-build teams have helped track down and relocate out of work zones more than 900 eastern box turtles. Researchers from Towson University, near Baltimore, are monitoring the post-relocation movements and adaptation of a sample group of turtles.