C.W. Matthews Contracting Co. Completes Critical I-85 Repairs in Record Time
When a fire destroyed a bridge on one of the highest volume highways in the country, Interstate 85 in Atlanta, officials and contractors came together to rebuild the infrastructure and get traffic moving in six weeks.
“What is overarching is the partnerships, everybody engaged,” says Marc Mastronardi, Director of Construction for the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT). “It was everyone pulling in one direction. That was the strength in which it happened. It was amazing. Our resources were available 24/7.”
State investigators arrested three people allegedly responsible for the March 30, 2017, fire. No one was injured during the event, which Mastronardi credits to fast thinking fire department officials who recognized the concrete was delaminating.
“The concrete was coming off the beams with considerable force and speed,” Mastronardi recalls. “The strands in the beams started to pop and crack. They were smart, and no one was hurt. The fire department recognized what was happening, pulled everyone out, and seconds later the span collapsed.”
All together, the intense heat damaged six spans, requiring replacement and repaving 700 feet of bridge, 350 feet in each direction.
Reaching Out to Help
Dan Garcia, President of C.W. Matthews Contracting Co. of Marietta, Georgia, reached out to GDOT, offering help.
“We knew this was a huge project for the city,” Garcia recalls. “We like challenges, and in the past, we’ve worked on critical projects in the Atlanta area.”
C.W. Matthews had crews and resources about 10 miles north of the incident on I-85, and the company could quickly reallocate those people and the equipment. The company had repaired a bridge deck destroyed by a fire years before and had successfully performed work for the department for many years.
GDOT was interested. While many entities offered assistance, one of the defining factors in selecting the company was that C.W. Matthews told GDOT it could complete this repair without affecting the schedules on the rest of its GDOT projects, which it did. The site is to the south of Georgia SR 400, where C.W. Matthews was working on a project.
“That was an important factor,” Mastronardi says. “If you are pulling off a big, important project somewhere else, you are pushing your delay to another location. It’s something to always be considered.”
C.W. Matthews began working on the project without a contract. The night of the fire, the company brought in light plants to illuminate the area for the fire department and provided traffic control personnel, while GDOT inspected the bridges. The company began removing the bridge while the fire department continued to put the embers out.
“We have a lot of trust in the leadership at the DOT, with relationships built over years,” Garcia says. “We knew the DOT would do the right thing as far as compensation. If we waited for a contract, that would have been a delay.”
GDOT officials gathered at the department’s emergency management center on the Thursday evening before spring break. The local FHWA arrived as well, so decisions could be made quickly. The next day, subcontractor D.H. Griffin Cos. of Greensboro, North Carolina, started the demolition.
GDOT began negotiating with C.W. Matthews on April 7, 2017. Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) guidelines allow for a negotiated contract in emergency situations where the severity of the situation warrants fast action, Mastronardi explains.
“It’s not common to do that, but it was clear to all, including FHWA, that that was what we needed to do,” Mastronardi says. “There wasn’t anybody who wasn’t willing to find a way to help.”
FHWA contributed $10 million toward the $16.6 million rebuild. Mastronardi praised the cooperation between agencies and with the contractor. “There was a big game plan,” Mastronardi says. “It came together in a controlled chaos.”
Park-and-ride lots were expanded, additional transit buses ran longer hours, traffic signal timing was altered to help keep traffic moving on surface streets, and GDOT kept the public informed of progress and options for getting around the damaged interstate, which carries about 250,000 vehicles a day.
A Design-Build Feel
A team of about 15 GDOT engineers began work on the design.
“As we were finishing elements of design, we would share that with C.W. Matthews,” Mastronardi says. “They could then begin, at risk, procuring materials, which is what led to the pace of the project. It flowed like a design-build project.”
For instance, after release of early drawings, the contractor ordered the beams, with the fabricator starting production on Monday. “That was critical to the project,” Garcia says.
Those beams were not the original Type 5 girders, since contracting for those would have delayed construction. GDOT engineers retrofitted a more modern design, using 63-inch Bulb-Tee pre-stressed concrete beams.
“Each of the spans were different,” Mastronardi says. “They were varying lengths, because the road curves.”
Early Completion and Added Benefits
C.W. Matthews rebuilt 13 columns, 61 concrete beams and four caps in six weeks, earning $3.1 million in incentive pay for the early completion and providing $27 million in benefits to motorists. The company placed 505,296 pounds of steel and 2,013 cubic yards of concrete.
“We were fortunate and were able to salvage all of the columns,” Mastronardi says. “Below the caps, we cut the columns off, chipped back to solid concrete, and added a ring of reinforcement.”
The existing columns were jacketed with new concrete and steel reinforcement. The concrete mix had fiberglass reinforcement for bonding strength. Atop those, C.W. Matthews placed new caps, the new beams and paved the road.
“We wanted the project to be attacked with all of the resources reasonably possible,” Mastronardi says.
Crews worked fully staffed 24 hours a day, seven days per week, with about 100 employees on site, rotating 12-hour shifts. “We have some great people, which makes us who we are,” Garcia says.
The company lost one shift to lightening activity in the region, but otherwise, it was full speed ahead. More than 54,000 hours of manpower were needed to complete the project.
“They were managing the project on the shift, not the week or the day,” Mastronardi says. “It was fascinating in the sense they developed a plan and executed it so well.”
Everyone, including GDOT, worked day and night to ensure an early completion with no injuries. The GDOT team were able to answer questions and keep the job moving forward.
“If there was anything we wanted to discuss, we had key personnel onsite that could make those decisions,” Garcia says. “That was a huge reason the project was completed quickly.”
C.W. Matthews and its concrete ready-mix supplier Thomas Concrete of Atlanta proposed using a high early-strength concrete. It’s not a new product, but it costs twice that of traditional concrete. The material reached its design strength in 24 hours or less, rather than weeks.
“We used it in everything related to the project,” Mastronardi says. “It was well justified.”
C.W. Matthews completed the project in 44 days, on May 14, 2017. The company received letters and phone calls from the community, thanking it for the speedy repair. Restaurants brought food to the construction team.
“I’m humbled we were selected [to do the rebuild] and are proud of our employees,” Garcia says. “I could not have asked for a better team. They were passionate about the work.”
Mastronardi and Garcia credit the cooperation between all parties involved, working toward a common goal, for the success of the rebuild.
“No one was keeping score, everyone was all united for one thing – to get the road back open,” Mastronardi concludes. “It was reassuring that we could do this. We have a lot of young staff and to see them step up was a proud moment.”