By. Neil Williamson, President
FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL
“This is gonna hurt” — Taking off a Band Aid, you know there will be pain. There are two diametrically different schools of thought regarding bandage removal: slowly easing it off the wound, or ripping it of swiftly. The US29/Rio Grade Separated Interchange (GSI) project is clearly the latter of the two.
In both the skinned knee and the road construction project, the merit of the “rip it off” option is reduced duration (if not intensity) of pain.
Please let me explain what I have learned about this ‘short term’ pain which will start May 22nd.
As it has every night in recent months, at 9 pm on Sunday May 22nd the U.S. 29/Rio Road intersection will close to cross traffic; the difference is this time it will not reopen at 6 am on May 24th. Vehicles will be allowed to turn right onto Rio and Rio traffic will be allowed to turn right onto U.S. 29 but the cross over will close. On U.S. 29 two southbound lanes and three northbound lanes will be maintained between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m.
Starting the night of the 22nd, the construction crews will begin digging out the asphalt (about three feet deep) and earth required to construct the bridge in the center of the intersection. Two different milling crews will utilize two ten hour shifts and a total of thirty trucks to move the 60,000 yards of dirt and millings from the Grade Separated Interchange project up US 29 to the Berkmar Extended project where it will be stockpiled.
The dump truck fleet will be coordinated by a contractor spotter that will have the ability to stop traffic at the existing temporary light at Berkmar Drive. Trucks will cue in the construction area on the southbound side and when the spotter turns the light red for US 29 traffic, the trucks will complete a U turn to head North on US 29 up to Towncenter drive and then take Dickerson South to Earlysville Road and then Rio Mills Road.
The clearing will start in the center but then alternate between the north and south side of the bridge. It is important to note that two lanes Southbound and three lanes Northbound will remain open during from 6 am – 9 pm. At night, the lane closures will be more significant (similar to today’s nigh time pattern).
As the excavators are doing their work on either side of the bridge, carpenters will be utilizing pre-tied rebar to install lagging for the retaining walls. As the earth on either side of the bridge are appropriately dropped, the clearing of earth under the bridge deck can begin and the piers that have already been poured (under the steel plates we have been driving over) can be exposed.
All 60,000 yards of dirt and millings will be cleared from the site by June 15, 2016. To be clear, a fleet of 30 trucks will be going up and down US29 for 20 hours everyday for 23 days. It will be an intensive, albeit short, clearing period.
The plan calls for the bridge beams to be placed starting on May 26th (a mere 39 hours after the intersection closes), with the concrete for the deck itself to be poured on top of the beams in June.
Everyone involved in this project has a high level of confidence in the safety as well as the integrity of the plans. It is the consensus opinion that the contractor Lane/Corman will complete the majority of the work ahead of the contract requirements.
The Five Million Dollar Day. Based on our analysis of the documents presented, and the level of confidence expressed by the contractor, the project administrator and engineers working on the project, Free Enterprise Forum believes the contractor will substantially complete the project on or before August 5, 2016 thus qualifying for the $6,829,209 incentive, that drops to $1,854,361 on August 6, 2015.
To qualify for the financial incentive, the contractor must meet a number of specific objectives including the ability for all lanes of the new interchange to be open for daytime traffic (6 am – 9 pm). This means not all the work will be done, but all the work that requires daytime closure will be completed. It is anticipate the nighttime lane closures (such as we have now) will continue through December 2016.
While the Free Enterprise Forum remains steadfastly opposed to the Rio GSI, we have been impressed with the level of detail, safety and professionalism of the contractor. We are also supportive of the financial incentive that shortens the construction period and lessens the pain for all involved.
Once more with feeling, we supported the other Route 29 solution projects (Berkmar Extended, Hillsdale Extended, US29 Widening, US29/250 Interchange improvements, Synchronized lights) but we believe the community would have been better served without the Rio GSI. We continue to believe citizens do not know Albemarle County’s Comprehensive Plan calls for 7 of these “intersection improvements”. Whether they admit it or not the expressway is coming.
That being said, if you are going to rip a Band Aid off, you know the pain is coming, the quicker you do it the better.
Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa and Nelson County.
Photo Credits: VDOT