Nebraska DOT Creates a Safer Roadway for All Types of Transportation with US 30 Reconstruction
Connecting Fremont and Columbus: Nebraska DOT Connects Two Rapidly Growing Areas with an Expressway System Expansion
There is an ongoing need to grow and improve infrastructure throughout the United States. The Rogers to North Bend Expressway project on U.S. Highway 30, the first of two remaining segments of the Columbus to Fremont Expressway System, is fulfilling a need the state identified in 1988.
In 1988, the Nebraska Legislature placed into law the creation of an Expressway System. The first needs presented by Nebraska Department of Transportation (NDOT) identified the highways to be included. The Nebraska Expressway System was expanded to encompass 16 corridors of approximately 600 miles, based on socioeconomic data, connecting urban centers to the interstate, serving commercial traffic, and continuity between expressway segments.
To date, NDOT has completed 70 percent of the Expressway System expansion while the remainder is either under construction or is funded for construction, design, or planning.
In 2011, the State enacted the Build Nebraska Act (BNA). It dedicated one-fourth of 1 percent of sales tax receipts for expansion of the Expressway System, federally designated High Priority Corridors, and preservation of the existing transportation system. By the fall of 2013, revenue became available from BNA and funding has been used to expedite projects, including the Rogers to Fremont Expressway Segment, to reach the 1988 needs assessment. BNA will finance the $104 million project.
Importance of the Road
Upon completion of the current project and a second phase (yet two separate projects), Fremont and Columbus will be connected. “With the completion of these projects two roads that already exist will be joined,” says Marvin Lech District Construction Engineer for the NDOT.
The two towns, which are located in northeast Nebraska, are the sixth and 10th largest in the state. Columbus is a major manufacturing town and is home to a regional airport. Traffic in and out of the area has been growing.
Currently, these remaining segments of U.S. 30 are a two-lane highway with a shoulder in some spots. Nebraska, which is an agricultural state, allows farmers to move equipment on the highway system. Much of that equipment, including tractors, moves slowly. “With the old two-lane system, you could have 10 to 12 vehicles waiting to pass behind a tractor,” says Micky Jacobs, a Highway Project Manager with NDOT. Jacobs is managing the project from the NDOT side and is onsite as needed.
According to Jacobs, 11 percent of the traffic on the road comes from heavy trucks. “If you’re driving a car, and a semi comes behind you, it can cause some anxiety,” says Jacobs. “When the expansion is complete, the car will be able to get around the semi or vice versa.”
Scope of the Project
This phase of the project is focusing on approximately 11 miles of roadway while the entire distance upon completion of the next phase will be 21 miles.
Upon completion of this phase, the two-lane road will be a four-lane expressway with surfaced shoulders and a 40-foot depressed grassed median. New drainage structures, including culverts and bridges, are being constructed as needed. There will be grading along the entire project length that will involve reconstruction of connecting county roads, intersections, and private driveways.
In addition, the highway will feature a double safety edge. The edge will be 30 degrees, and its purpose is to help drivers if they have somehow left the roadway. “It’s designed that if a vehicle drops a tire off the driving surface and onto soft dirt, it can easily recover,” says Jacobs. “The vehicle can slow down and get back on the roadway rather than potentially go across lanes and cause an accident.” It gives drivers a wedge to get back up on the road.
On every infrastructure project, weather is the great variable. It can be the difference between a project that goes smoothly and finishes on time and one that is extremely challenging and is completed past the scheduled due date.
In the spring of 2019, the area (like much of the middle United States) experienced severe storms leading to major floods. It was the area’s second 100-year flood event in the last 15 years. At one point, miles of road were closed, and many bridges were out of service.
Floods significantly impacted the Rogers to North Ben Expressway project. The Platte River, which is just a mile away at some points, overflowed during this time.
The two-lane road, which has remained open throughout the project, was briefly closed due to the storm. Other roads in the area suffered even more damage, so U.S. 30 got more traffic when it opened.
“We couldn’t access the grading sections,” says Jacobs. “Also, since the water table was up, it took longer for the existing soils to dry up.” The soils impacted were those that were excavated during the construction of the new roadway ditches, which in turn, were used to construct the new roadway embankment.
When dominoes tiles are lined up, one push of the first tile can knock down everything. And so it is with construction, says Jacobs. The storm was the force that pushed the domino impacting the rest of the work on the project and therefore the schedule.
When the project began in the fall of 2018, it was scheduled to be complete in November 2020 or in 810 calendar days. Because of the flood, the project is expected be complete in June 2021, an extra 211 additional calendar days.
“The contractor feels he is on pace to complete the project ahead of schedule, barring any additional weather-related setbacks,” says Jacobs.
One element that is helping the contractor make up the time is by using automated grade systems in all phases of the work. “It’s helping make things move smoother and faster,” says Jacobs.
NDOT is using the current project to test drone technologies, according to Jacobs. They want to see how to use drone tech in highway construction. Therefore, they are monitoring progress and forming a “baseline” of abilities that can be used in upcoming projects.
When the two phases of the project are complete, the people in the area will have a safer more efficient roadway that enables them to get their destination quicker. Every type of vehicle will be better accommodated, and the state will be one step closer to satisfying the requirements related to the 1988 Nebraska Highway Needs Study.