In late May, the St. Louis Arch gateway project faded in the rearview mirror of our 1949 Hudson. For ENR’s “Low & Slow Across America’s Infrastructure” road-trippers, there were even more critical infrastructure projects ahead, from a $69 million U.S. 69 Missouri River Bridge, which provides a vital link to a huge industrial park in Kansas, to a $1.8-billion expansion of Salt Lake City airport. Large or not, these crucial community projects are all fueled by creative funding solutions and delivery methods.
Lon Schrader, director of public works for Abilene, Kan., oversees a small construction budget of $400,000. Somehow, he finds ways to raise millions of dollars for critical public-works projects for President Eisenhower’s fabled boyhood hometown.
In 2013, Schrader’s crews and contractors finished a $3.2-million rebuild of East First Street—a key artery for trucks delivering grain to commercial silos—with an array of funding sources. “The bottom soil under First Street is some of the poorest soil for building a road, so we went with 11 inches of concrete over a cement-treated base and a lime-treated sub-base structure to hold up the 80,000-plus loads,” explains Schrader. He raised funds through a grain-mill levy increase and a couple of years of banked federal funds.
Approaching the Rocky Mountains, Low & Slow crossed the Great Plains of Colorado, unexpectedly encountering a $19.8-million complete reconstruction of 7.5 miles of Interstate 70. Littered with scrapers, graders and wheel loaders, the jobsite ran between Seibert and Stratton, Colo. There, crews are taking the Interstate down to bare earth, rebuilding the westbound travel lanes. “We’re ripping and tearing up about 8 miles of the old road and getting ready to lay down concrete. We’re doing some shoulder and bridge work, too,” says Don Pacheco, a worker with Castle Rock Construction Co., speaking to his impromptu visitors. “We’re making headway, even though we’ve had a foot of rain this May.” Crews have completed 30,000 cu yd of embankments.
Downpours added to the inherit challenges of working in the Great Plains Reservoirs, an area in which I-70 passes through several naturally wet depressions known as Big Water, Standing Water and Black Water. Regardless, Castle Rock is on schedule to complete its $19.8-million project in late November 2015. The contract work will add another three decades of life to this part of I-70.
Low & Slow found Denver and Boulder to be amid an innovative mash-up that began 65 years ago. In 1951, the Boulder Turnpike opened, completing a modernization of an old 20-mile line along U.S. Route 36. “The entire turnpike had only one interchange. My dad would give me a dime and let me pay the toll,” recalls John McCarty, a lifelong Colorado citizen and now the executive director of the state’s Southeast Metro Stormwater Authority. “Today, my dad would have to dole out $14 and drive through 10 interchanges.” Also known as the “Innovation Corridor,” the 20 miles of U.S. Route 36 between Boulder and I-25 in Denver is to be completed in early 2016, when the joint venture of Ames-Granite wraps up $500-million worth of construction on the related P3 contract.
The turnpike is now a modern multimodal transportation corridor. It improves modal choices between Boulder’s commercial drag and Denver’s rebuilt Union Station with a nearly completed rail connection to Denver International Airport. HOV and express toll lanes are carrying traffic in each direction. Rebuilt
concrete lanes will be open soon for the full 28-mile length. New 12-ft shoulders will allow Rapid Bus Transit vehicles to move between the interchanges.
The final segment of the project might have required an additional 20 years if the private sector hadn’t been involved, says Mark Gosselin, CDOT project director. CDOT was criticized, however, for a lack of details about the negotiations surrounding the private contract awarded to the consortium Plenary Road Denver. Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) had to simultaneously veto proposed legislation and create new laws mandating transparent practices for P3 contracts in the Centennial State.
After crawling over the Rocky Mountains, the 1949 Hudson—or “Mrs. Martin”—and her Low & Slow team coasted into Glenwood Springs, Colo., where Stan Orr, president of the Association of Equipment Management Professionals, has long hoped for a replacement of the Grand Avenue Bridge. The 62-year-old steel-girder bridge, built about the same time as the Boulder Turnpike, passes over the Colorado River, Union Pacific rail lines and I-70. “The Grand Avenue Bridge is practically the only way into or out of Glenwood Springs. It’s also the main route to Aspen along Highway 82. We’ve been trying to get this hunk of junk replaced for years,” laments Orr.
On the same day Low & Slow arrived, the local paper noted that the $110-million project had received federal environmental clearance to proceed with a CM-GC contract held by a joint venture of Granite-R.L. Wadsworth. Joe Elsen, CDOT program engineer, jokes that he held a “Joe’s Tin Cup Rally,” soliciting the county, city and the public for support. A roundabout, bike paths, a footbridge and an extended exit ramp off westbound I-70 are included in the work.
Mrs. Martin rolled across the Great Basin to see Salt Lake City’s ambitious airport terminal expansion. “We are building a new airport next to the existing one,” says Leon Nelson, construction director with the joint venture Holder/Big-D. Site preparation work is now underway, with new access roads, ramp demolitions and ground surcharging. The project also includes a new parking facility, a new terminal and a new concourse, half of which will be completed by 2019. The overall project is to end by summer 2022.
Little City, Big Plans
In Reno, John Flansberg, the chief of the state’s department of public works, showed off his water treatment plant, which is shared with the neighboring city of Sparks. Flansberg also arranged a tour of the Tahoe-Reno Industrial Center, in Storey, Nev., deemed the world’s largest of its kind. At 107,000 acres, it encompasses a developable 30,000-acre industrial complex; excavators were moving actual mountains to make way for new facilities for commerce giants such as Wal-Mart and more recent start-ups such as Zulilly. The marquee name was Tesla Motors’ Gigafactory, located on the appropriately named Electric Avenue.
“We’ve moved 3 million cubic yards for a pad in 28 days,” says Dean Haymore, Storey County’s community development director. There, building permits are obtained in less than 30 days but sometimes as fast as a week.
While the future of industry rolls out nearby, in Reno, the future is infused with history. The replacement of the Virginia Avenue Bridge, an iconic 110-year-old bridge in the downtown area, marked another example of a modest-sized project that represents a great deal to the local community—not just in terms of its symbolism, safety and urban revitalization but also flood control.
“We are working around businesses and residences along the riverside. We’ve been partnering with them ever since the beginning,” says Kerri Koski, street program manager for the city of Reno. “This has been in the works for eight years. We’ve known we had capacity issues in the river. Those needed to be dealt with, but we didn’t have the funding.”
As with so many other agencies visited by Low & Slow, the city found partners: the flood management authority, the Federal Highway Administration, the Nevada DOT and the regional transportation commission.
At the time of our June visit, crews with Q&D Construction were preparing to divert the Truckee River in order to create a dry area to remove the bridge with hand tools, says Koski. More recently, over four days in October, Q&D launched two 185-ft, 400-ton arches using four 100-ton hydraulic rams, according to the project website. The two arches were supported by temporary bracing and falsework. Upon completion of the launch, the arches were lowered about 26 in. onto the abutments.
“It was a very long process of getting the interlocal agreements, but it was worthwhile,” says Koski