On Maryland’s Eastern Shore, a construction team is working long hours and at least six days a week to meet a November target for widening a busy highway well-known to vacationers headed to and from Atlantic beaches. The plan to upgrade Maryland Route 404 has two goals: to make the two-lane road much safer and give it a greatly needed capacity boost.

Summer months bring beach traffic congestion on the Eastern Shore, and Route 404 is a particular choke point. About 18,000 vehicles—about 16% are trucks—travel the highway each day, but during the summer, the road’s daily volume jumps to nearly 23,000 vehicles.

Much more worrisome is Route 404’s poor accident record. Historically the highway has exceeded the state’s average collision rates; between 2005 and 2014, it had 402 crashes and 12 fatalities. “A lot of attention had been paid to the horrific crashes on the roadway,” says Maryland Secretary of Transportation Pete Rahn.  “There was an awful lot of interest, not just from the locals, but the huge number of people that were traveling to the Eastern Shore.” He adds that Route 404 “was not suitable for the kind of traffic it was seeing.”

To Four Lanes, From Two

The project’s focus is an 11-mile segment between U.S. Route 50 and the city of Denton. The plan calls for making that section a four-lane divided highway, compared with its long-standing two-lane configuration. As another safety feature, the project also includes new intersections to reduce or eliminate left turns across opposing traffic.

Route 404 had long been on the radar screen of state officials—the Maryland Dept. of Transportation’s State Highway Administration began studying the corridor in the 1980s, but progress on upgrades was slow. When Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan in mid-2015 announced a $1.97-billion infusion of transportation funding statewide, Route 404 moved up the priority list.

A mix of state and industry representatives met in late summer 2015 to find ways to expedite the project. Initial projections targeted a mid-2019 completion, which, Rahn says, “didn’t seem challenging at all.” He adds, “This was something we needed to get done, and I believed that by challenging the organization we could do something much faster.”

The new target aims to open the widened roadway to traffic by Nov. 21—a schedule of about 18 months. As part of the plan, the project’s two original segments were combined into one design-build contract for the entire 11-mile alignment. A joint venture of Wagman Construction, Allan Myers and David A. Bramble won the job with a $105-million bid, $42 million less than its nearest competitor.

“The three of us got together because that is the only way to have the resources to do this,” says Anthony Bednarik, vice president of major pursuits/design-build at Wagman Heavy Civil, the joint venture’s managing partner.

Although the joint venture won the job as a single contract, team leaders decided it was best to split the work into three sections, with each firm responsible for one section. Wagman and Bramble are splitting the two-section western portion; Allan Myers has the eastern stretch. “Risk is spread, but ultimately, as a JV, we are ‘joint severable’ to each other,” Bednarik says. “If there was a major issue, we’d be tied to each other.”

Gaining the potential reward is also a joint enterprise. If the JV meets the Nov. 21 deadline, it gets the $5-million bonus. Rahn says, “By combining all of these separate projects into a single project, it didn’t cost us any more, and we were able to put in place a $5-million incentive that’s all or nothing.”  He adds, “If one of the sections is not complete by Thanksgiving, all of the contractors on all of the sections lose their $5 million.”

Getting the project to a construction start and maintaining progress proved difficult for the design team of Wallace Montgomery & Associates LLP, Johnson, Mirmiran & Thompson (JMT) and Rummel Klepper & Kahl (RKK). Maryland DOT provided the design team with 30% plan. But a significant amount of right-of-way needed to be acquired. Environmental and utility relocation approvals also were required.

“It’s a very aggressive schedule, especially for the permitting requirements in Maryland,” says Eric Sender, senior associate at Wallace Montgomery and design manager for the combined Route 404 design team. “The biggest challenge was getting the approvals and getting the contractor out there and building as soon as possible.”

Like the contractors, the design team divided their work. JMT is covering the western section, RKK is working on the eastern section. Wallace Montgomery serves as managing partner and also is designing most of the structures and overseeing traffic and environmental compliance.

The state’s heightened motivation to accelerate the completion date opened an opportunity to streamline often time-consuming processes. Traditionally, stormwater management and sediment and erosion-control plans require approvals from the Maryland Dept. of the Environment. But just before the Maryland 404 project, the highway administration was allowed to have its in-house plan review division (PRD) take on that responsibility. The Dept. of the Environment monitors the plan division’s approvals through audits. “That’s a great use of delegated authority,” Rahn says. “It shows that the smart allocation of responsibility can make a difference in delivering our projects.”

Sender says the new processes initially took a while to get up to speed, but have since proven faster than the traditional environment department system. “With the right people on board, they were able to expedite things with more integrated reviews,” he says. “We were able to get ‘over-the-shoulder’ reviews prior to submitting things, to get their opinions. That worked well and streamlined the process.”

Century Engineering was hired as an independent quality assurance firm to help expedite design approvals. “We had to use [Century] as a clearinghouse before submitting to PRD,” Sender says. “We could start construction work with Century’s approval as long as we had permits in hand.”

To help address safety concerns, the design includes a mix of T-intersections and J-turns. The T-intersections add dedicated lanes for traffic turning off MD 404 onto another road as well as a dedicated merge lane for traffic turning left onto 404. In addition, U-turn areas will be replaced by J-turns with dedicated turn lanes. The plan also includes adding more roadway, up to a 60-ft width on the shoulder of the opposing lane, where trucks and cars can complete their turns and get back up to speed before merging into traffic.

Bednarik says construction of the roadway is fairly straightforward, but the aggressive schedule gives the team “no room for error.” Crews are working 10-hour shifts, six to seven days a week. Multiple crews are stacked along the alignment, working on a site simultaneously. “It’s almost like a train out there,” he says. “The soil cement [crew] comes in, and once that’s cured then the [workers] doing the excavation might do the aggregate. Then a separate paving crew comes in right behind them. We just start in one direction and go.”

The project’s structures includes only one 110-ft-long bridge as well as multiple box culverts and pipe crossings.

Soil issues caused some delays early in the job. The team planned to use excavated material from the western portion as fill on the eastern portion. “The problem was that the geotechnical information wasn’t complete when we started,” Bednarik says. “What we found when we got out there was a lot more clay and silt in the western section than anticipated. When we hauled the material to Myers, it was unusable. We thought we were saving money at bid time, but it created other headaches. They had to bring in a lot of material.”

Despite the tight timeline, the project was on schedule as of early August. Once lanes are open to traffic, the team’s work will continue on such tasks as adding bioswales and other landscaping. The entire project is scheduled to be complete by July 2018.

“Everyone on the team—the owner, the environmental folks, most of the utilities—really did work together to get to where we are [as of early August],” Bednarik says. “Whether we make it or not, the level of effort has been phenomenal. If we happen to not make it, it wouldn’t be by much. We’re right on the edge, but confident we’re going to get there.”