Coffman Specialties – I-8 Corridor

CoffmanCoffman Specialties built a custom concrete placement machine to work around site issues and speed up the reconstruction of I-8.

By Tim O’Connor

Highway reconstruction can be a massive headache for commuters. Lane closures along well-traveled routes stuff up the flow of traffic so that cars drip out of the construction zone like a leaky faucet, when they should be flowing like a garden hose. Any kind of time savings is not only a benefit to the budget, but relief for motorists. So when general contractor Coffman Specialties says it’s on track to finish the reconstruction of I-8 in southern California 188 days ahead of schedule, it's no surprise that the company has built a reputation as the expert in concrete paving.

The rapid pace is a result of Coffman’s efficient methods and implementation of new technology. “The owner [Caltrans] anticipated us paving in two passes,” says Ruben Claudio, estimator and project sponsor at Coffman. “We’re paving everything in one pass so we’re able to make huge time savings with that.”Coffman info box

Coffman has done single-pass paving before, but the method being used on the I-8 project is a first for the company. The rebar in the highway created limited access to the job site and prevented Coffman from bringing concrete trucks right up to the roadway. To work around that limitation, Coffman fabricated a customized concrete placing machine that runs ahead of the paver and facilitates the placement of concrete in a full width approach.

The four-lane highway is split with two lanes going in each direction. Using the custom machine, Coffman can place concrete across both lanes of the same direction simultaneously. The paver then follows, rolling over the concrete and extruding it into place. Claudio says the result is a more consistent and better-quality road. “This machine really facilitates our ability to pave full width and quickly,” he adds.

The project covers a stretch of I-8 between El Centro, Calif., and Yuma, Ariz. The reconstruction is divided into five segments, each about 10 miles long. Caltrans awarded segments one and two to Coffman in late 2015, valued at $50.5 million and $47.9 million, respectively. The segments are not adjacent, and have a roughly 10-mile gap between each project area. Work on the first segment began in January and crews started on segment two on March. Both sections should be completed by summer 2017.

The project includes rebuilding the highway itself, making ramp improvements and overlaying the existing ramps with asphalt to tie into the main roadway. Once completed, the segments will have a projected service life of 40 years or more with minimal maintenance. “This is kind of our bread and butter,” Claudio says. “We specialize in heavy civil infrastructure projects, specifically concrete paving.”

Coffman’s extensive experience on similar road projects and its resources made the company a good fit for the I-8 reconstruction, Claudio adds. “We’re one of the top concrete pavers, if not the top concrete paver in California. I would put us up against anybody in the country for quality and effective concrete paving.”

Nearly all of the 90 employees working on the project during peak construction are Coffman employees. The company self-performs most of the work. Workers are hired out of local unions and become Coffman employees. For those specialty portions of the project that require expert subcontractors, such as lighting installation, Coffman bids out the work in accordance with the state rules.

Fighting Desert Heat

The company’s experience in difficult paving situations is being tested on the I-8 project. The part of I-8 that Coffman is working on runs through a desert and agricultural area. Temperatures can reach as high as 120 F in the summer, creating challenges for materials and worker safety.

The freeway is being rebuilt using reinforced concrete placed on an asphalt bed. Placing steel reinforcement on the asphalt becomes a safety issue because the metal heats up beyond 120 F. Such high temperatures bring the risk of a worker overheating and experiencing heat exhaustion or compromising of the curing of the concrete if the temperatures in the concrete are not controlled adequately. To mitigate the problem, Coffman does not pave at all during the hottest stretches of weather, and if it does pave during elevated temperatures, it chills the water it uses to mix the concrete and/or paves at night.

The limits the temperature puts on construction are in addition to the normal challenges that come with rebuilding a highway. The section of I-8 between El Centro and Yuma is heavily trafficked at certain times of the year. As part of the Caltrans contract, Coffman is working on one side of the highway at a time. To accommodate traffic, the contractor rerouted lanes from the side under construction to the other side, giving both directions one lane of traffic flow. Work began with the eastbound side of traffic, which was finished in September. Traffic has since flipped from the westbound side of the highway back to the eastbound side so construction can commence in the westbound direction.

Replicating Success

Work is getting easier as the project goes along. The first segment of I-8 had some subgrade issues due to the native soils in the area. Coffman worked with Caltrans to stabilize the subgrade and allow the new paving to be put in place. Those issues were not present in segment two, making the second phase go  much quicker.

With every project, Coffman learns to better manage its processes and improve its relationship with the owner, according to Claudio. The similarities between the two segment allow for opportunities to be more efficient. Having already figured out the challenges of segment one, such as site access and grading improvements, Coffman was able to mimic its setup on segment two.

“We’re always striving to improve our processes based on what we learn about the projects we’re on,” Claudio says. “Because these projects are so similar – almost exactly the same in scope – we’re able to apply those lessons immediately, refine our skill set and expertise and consequently utilize the approaches and techniques more effectively on future projects we bid and procure.”

Coffman’s familiarity with I-8 could help the company land future jobs. Caltrans recently opened bidding for the fourth segment of the highway’s reconstruction and will bid the fifth part out at a later date.

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