Archer Western – I-95 Overland Bridge Replacement Project

Archer WesternArcher Western is in the final year of reconstructing and improving a critical part of Jacksonville’s highway network.

By Tim O’Connor

Road infrastructure is an important consideration for every municipality, but in Jacksonville, Fla., the deteriorating condition of one of the main thoroughfares reached crisis status earlier this decade. The crumbling of an elevated section of I-95 through the southern part of downtown prompted state and city officials to undertake the largest design/build project in the district’s history in 2013.

“The reason for the [I-95 Overland Bridge Replacement Project] is because Overland Bridge is a 1,400-foot-long bridge that carried I-95 over the local roads,” says Heath Bunn, senior project manager for Archer Western, the general contractor on the project. “That bridge made the top-20 list of most structurally deficient bridges in the country. The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) was having to come out and do maintenance repairs on that bridge on a regular basis.”Archer Western info box

The project includes the complete reconstruction of a 2.7-mile stretch of the highway that includes several safety improvements, replacement of 15 bridge structures, the addition of another lane for southbound traffic and the completion of what was previously a partial interchange with Atlantic Boulevard. The new highway section will have a 60-year lifespan and is expected to allow for a 20 percent increase in traffic.

Maintaining Traffic Use

Rebuilding the highway and bridge is a long-term solution to resolve that structural integrity problem, but in the meantime more than 300,000 vehicles a day still have to use I-95. In taking on the project, Archer Western became responsible for its maintenance and emergency repairs. Since the reconstruction began in 2013, sections of the bridge deck have fallen to the ground, necessitating sudden lane closures for emergency patching. “We had to maintain that bridge that was essentially falling apart,” Bunn says.

The construction contract was originally $148 million, but Archer Western showed FDOT it could replace an additional aging bridge spanning the FEC Railroad and two major Downtown ramps and make several other improvements such as rerouting drainage to fill in unsightly ponds under the elevated highway bridge and build new parking lots for downtown businesses to add more value to the project. With those additions, the cost rose to $163 million. “Once construction started, stakeholders came to FDOT and asked, ‘Hey, are your guys fixing this problem, are you fixing that problem?’” Bunn says of the added components.

Florida requires projects to maintain the flow of traffic even as the road is being worked on. The ability to navigate tricky traffic rerouting was one of the reasons Archer Western was well equipped to handle the Overland Bridge Replacement. “It’s very challenging because we must maintain the same number of lanes that were here before we started,” Bunn says. Work around several on and off ramps were affected as well, with Archer Western only being allowed to close ramps for reconstruction overnight between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m.

The traffic factors led to a tight construction site that was frequently shifting to accommodate commuters. “You’re building in small slices across the width of the project,” Bunn explains. About 40 percent of the work is being completed at night when the traffic impact is the lowest. “There are areas we can’t even access on the job site during the daytime.”

The project also presented a utility challenge. Normally, efforts to relocate utility pipes and cables begin far in advance of construction. However, the urgency of the project and the design/build approach meant that utility companies had to wait to see how the final design would impact where they could move their infrastructure.

Fortunately, the requirements for working with the utilities were well outlined in the request for proposals for the project, Bunn says, which helped smooth the utility coordination. Archer Western held weekly meetings with utility companies early on to walk them through the status of the highway design and determine schedules.

Leveraging Expertise and Capability

Aside from expertise, Archer Western benefits the project through its access to a large workforce. Like many areas of the country, Florida is experiencing a building boom. In addition, the $2.3 billion I-4 Ultimate Improvement Project through Orlando is soaking up a lot of the state’s manpower resources. Those factors are leading to a shortage of capable construction workers.

It’s a challenge that Archer Western is overcoming through its reputation and history in the region. The company has had numerous projects in and around Jacksonville for the past two decades, and local construction workers know Archer Western can provide stability and opportunity. “We’ve had a strong, loyal workforce here in Jacksonville because we’ve had continuous FDOT work in the Jacksonville area for 16 years now,” Bunn says.

Because the Overland Bridge Replacement was conceptualized as a design/build project, Archer Western was responsible for managing the design. The company hired Reynolds, Smith & Hills, an infrastructure consulting from based in Jacksonville, to act as the lead designers. Archer Western provided input by conducting constructability reviews, solving problems in the design and performing value-engineering.

Archer Western broke ground on the project in January 2013 and is expected to complete the rebuilt highway by summer 2017. However, Bunn believes the company will finish ahead of schedule. “We’re hoping to be done early summer, late spring,” he says.

Bunn credits that earlier-than-expected completion to Archer Western’s efficiency in construction and its ability to revise traffic redirections to save time. The project plan originally called for construction to be spread between five phases to allow for the opening and closing of lanes for daily traffic.

Archer Western found a better plan that allowed it to do more work simultaneously and eliminate the fifth phase of construction. Instead of moving southbound traffic to the old northbound lanes during construction of the southbound lanes of I-95, the company made changes to build more of the southbound direction of the highway in earlier phases. That enabled it to reroute cars onto the southbound collector lanes, leading to less disruption in traffic patterns.

Archer Western made the final traffic switch in the middle of August, finalizing routing all northbound and southbound traffic into the collector-distributor lanes, freeing up space to work on reconstructing both northbound and southbound I-95 in the middle section of the highway.

As of early August, the project had hit the 80 percent complete mark. Work has begun on the middle lanes and embankments are being built to raise the profile of the highway. The mechanically stabilized earth walls are about 90 percent done, Bunn says.

The Overland Bridge Replacement Project represents a first for the state of Florida. The concrete from the 15 bridge structures and pavement being replaced was crushed and screened so it could be reutilized for the base and subgrade of the new highway. Such concrete recycling was not previously allowed for federally funded FDOT projects, but Archer Western tested the process and proved the benefits to the state.

“We kind of initiated a recycling program for the state of Florida they didn’t have before,” Bunn says. As a bonus, breaking down the concrete on site reduced the amount of truck traffic on local roads for hauling debris away from the project area.

The company’s innovative and efficient approach to the I-95 Overland Bridge Replacement already has helped Archer Western land other projects. FDOT recently chose Archer Western to build the next largest-ever design/build project in Jacksonville history, the north interchange of I-295 and I-95.

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