INDOT’s U.S. 31 Keystone Avenue Project cuts through expensive real estate. With precast concrete designs, contractors are able to meet deadlines, create the community’s required aesthetics and build within a narrow corridor that minimizes right-of-way costs.
By Sue McCraven, Photos by NPCA
Carmel, north of Indianapolis, is an appealing and rapidly growing city. In the Arts & Design District, quirky life-sized statues beguile visitors, and upscale restaurants and shops are inviting. Pricey homes abound and the meandering commercial streets are graced with professional landscaping. Land here runs about $1 million/acre. Racing through the heart of Carmel and Westfield, the ever-busy Meridian Street (U.S. 31) is the major north-south artery for local businesses, shopping malls and residential areas. Commercial and municipal priorities demand continuous traffic access. Consequently, construction on this $35-million, 1-mile segment of U.S. 31 is hands-down a “high-visibility” project. From the trenches, project contractors and precast producers tell the story.
“Traffic congestion, stoplights and abutting residential driveways made the old U.S. 31 a real problem,” said Blake Morris, assistant project manager for Walsh Construction in Carmel. “INDOT needs a new road with overpasses, underpasses, off-ramps and on-ramps to alleviate these issues.” Tons and tons of precast concrete MSE walls, drainage structures, pipes, box culverts and bridges make up the new road construction within this tight and costly corridor.
Morris oversees the “high visibility” stretch of roadwork through Carmel, including six bridges, 12,000 linear ft of drainage pipe, 1,500 sq ft of box culverts and 230,000 sq ft of MSE walls – all of it precast concrete (with the exception of a steel bridge for a tight-radius overpass). The entire 15-mile U.S. 31 Hamilton County Corridor Project1 by INDOT offers the driving public 51 new bridges, $9 million in roadway landscaping and the viewing pleasure of almost 2 million sq ft of spectacular “limestone” MSE walls, some towering over 50 ft.
Coordinating closely with INDOT, designers and contractors, Morris is responsible for the submittal process, shop drawings and making sure the project is completed on schedule. Under Morris’ watch, Walsh Construction was able to benefit financially from INDOT’s incentive program by beating critical ramp-closure deadlines by a week or more.
“A busy three years”
“A busy three years” was how Jason Rowley, project design manager for RW Armstrong, understated his responsibilities. In charge of design and land acquisition, Rowley oversees nearly 90 designers on this large INDOT project. RW Armstrong administered all sub-consultants, surveyors, relocation agents, buyers, environmental documentation and utility relocation. “Our top priorities are to eliminate (private) driveway access, create a safe roadway for the driving public and relieve traffic congestion.” Beyond these goals, Rowley explained, “This new road will help build the local economy, serve the municipalities and bring in jobs for Carmel and Westfield.”
The biggest challenge for Rowley began in 2009 with the high cost of land in the path of this major transportation project. Between 96th Street and 216th Street to the north, more than 200 parcels were impacted by the required right-of-ways, and shrewd property owners – who were well represented – did not ease Rowley’s critical work. After the land purchases, said Rowley, “We started in on relocating the many utilities, including Duke Electric, Panhandle Pipeline and Vectren, among others. All these utilities crisscross the route, creating an underground infrastructure design nightmare.
“Precast concrete makes up such a huge part of this transportation project,” explained Rowley, “because it provides an economical solution for the narrow right-of-way and meets INDOT’s need for rapid completion and excellent aesthetics to match the upscale look of adjacent properties.”
Seth Schickel, P.E., structural design lead with RW Armstrong, said, “All but nine bridges on the entire U.S. 31 Hamilton Corridor are precast, and include I-beams and hybrid Bulb-T beams. This newer, (hybrid) shallower shape is a more efficient use of material. Bridge beams range from 50 ft to 150 ft long, and the precast meets INDOT’s design tolerances.”
The time, cost and space required for cast-in-place (CIP) concrete construction (rebar laydown and on-site pours) would not be possible on this tight job site, and form-work construction and curing time would not come close to meeting INDOT’s critical deadlines. “Besides the quick installation, precast is our preferred choice when it comes to material cost overruns,” said Morris. “With CIP, the general contractor pays for any concrete overruns. With precast, the producer pays for overruns. This is especially critical for the box culverts and bridge beams.”
INDOT’s Hamilton County Corridor Project is a “Buy America” job. “With precast, we are using, for the most part, local materials, manufacturers and workers,” said Morris. But more importantly, “precasters are able to deliver the product right when we need to install it,” he said. Delivery efficiencies and ready-to-install components are the precast concrete industry’s forte, and the only answer for this constricted construction site.
The Walsh Construction and RW Armstrong engineers agreed that precast MSE walls, in particular, were perfect for the confined work site (See “GRS-IBS: The 5-Day Wonder” on page 24). “Precast MSE walls require less land and help to save on acquisition costs,” said Rowley. RW Armstrong engineers worked closely with the precaster on the design of the MSE walls. For example, Rowley said, “We had to put a new MSE wall next to an older, existing MSE wall. Coordination with the precaster served to work out the connection details for a situation that was a first.”
The MSE wall producer, Sanders Pre-Cast Concrete Systems Inc. of Whitestown, Ind., provided wall mock-ups to make sure the architectural surface replicated the prescribed look of the prominent local limestone. Precast MSE wall panels are stacked vertically in heights up to 50 ft. In addition, “The vertical joints accommodate differential settlement,” said Schickel, “making this precast solution inherently flexible and well-suited to our site requirements.”
“We got on fast track the day Rinker Materials received this contract,” said Allen Squires, Rinker accounts manager. “The project’s extreme pace and tight footprint dictated that almost every run of box culvert and piping fell on the critical path schedule.” This resulted in an escalated production schedule that was met by supplying products from three of Rinker Materials’ plants.2
“Precision scheduling of the underground work was made more challenging because of existing utility obstacles and site constraints – mountains of earth and a virtual maze of MSE walls and the bridges that towered over them,” said Squires. Rinker’s engineers designed reinforcing steel and stirrups for the underground precast installations to meet the specialized loading requirements of the MSE walls. This included increased box culvert wall, and top and bottom slab thickness beyond standard designs. “Effective and continuous coordination with Walsh Construction was the basis of timely product delivery and installation completion that met or beat INDOT’s project deadlines,” said Squires.
Significantly for underground installation efficiency, precast concrete is the only material approved by INDOT that does not require mandrel testing. “Installation of A200 and HDPE pipe requires strict attention to careful backfilling specs, and that is time consuming,” said Morris.
Underground Product Details3
1. 1,500 linear ft of box culverts
2. Sizes: 6 ft x 3 ft, 9 ft x 5 ft, 10 ft x 4 ft, 10 ft x 5 ft, 10 ft x 6 ft and 12 ft x 4 ft
3. Deep fills up to 46 ft in depth
4. MSE wall loading requirements
5. Heavy steel and stirrup reinforcement
6. Increased wall and top and bottom slab thicknesses
7. Escalated production requirements
8. Custom products for detention systems, wing and head walls, bends and special alignments
Reinforced concrete pipe:
10. 12,000 linear ft
11. Diameters: 12 in., 15 in., 18 in., 24 in., 30 in., 36 in., 48 in., 60 in. and 72 in.
12. Standard, specialized and modified structures
On-site commentary from the busy professionals at Walsh Construction, RW Armstrong and the local producers (Rinker Materials and Sanders Pre-Cast Concrete), explains why precast is the preferred solution for DOT transportation projects. This article proves precast concrete transportation solutions meet the following owner and contractor objectives:
1. Most economical solution for INDOT owner
2. Narrow MSE wall footprint significantly reduces high land-acquisition costs
3. Just-in-time product delivery meets INDOT’s accelerated schedule
4. Close producer coordination with contractors helps to meet and exceed specified completion deadlines
5. On-time product delivery for immediate installation is perfect for constricted work site
6. Local materials and manufacturers meet “Buy America” requirements
7. RCP installation is easier because it does not require mandrel testing or the time-consuming backfilling requirements for HDPE pipe
8. Satisfies owner and community demands for tasteful, attractive roadway amenities
9. Concrete’s architectural range results in MSE walls that replicate the natural look and deep reveals of regional limestone deposits
10. No concrete material cost overruns for contractors as with CIP construction
11. Producers help contractors with connection details
12. Newer design of hybrid Bulb-T beam is more efficient use of material for bridge construction
13. Products made in controlled plant conditions meet INDOT’s tolerance specifications
14. Joint design of MSE wall joints (horizontal and vertical) provide flexibility to accommodate differential settlement and site conditions
15. Underground product manufacturer meets INDOT’s increased production demands
16. Precast engineers’ redesign accommodates site’s specialized loading conditions
17. Precision logistics by precaster avoids conflicts with a morass of existing utility runs
18. Serves the driving public and needs of adjacent communities and businesses by minimizing traffic disruptions
19. Supports local economy and job creation
20. Significantly reduces site disruption, construction debris and runoff, thus minimizing adverse environmental impacts
1 Because Hamilton County, including Carmel and Westfield, is one of the fastest growing counties in the country, this INDOT project supports important economic growth and job creation.
2 Rinker Materials’ plants supplying the INDOT U.S. 31 project in Indiana include: the Greenfield pipe plant (managed by Brian Bennett); the Holt Road large structures plant (managed by Jaime Hayes); and the Whitestown precast plant (managed by Wayne Terhune).
3 Product information provided by Rinker Materials in Greenfield, Ind. www.rinkerpipe.com
Sue McCraven, NPCA technical consultant and Precast Solutions editor, is a civil and environmental engineer.