$798M Dallas Horseshoe Project Approaches the Finish Line
After three years of shifting traffic through temporary routes and pavement to fix aging structures and complicated geometry, the Texas Department of Transportation's (TxDOT) $798 million Horseshoe Project is nearing the end, with mainline completion scheduled by early fall 2017. Dubbed the "Horseshoe Project" due to its U shape, the work is improving safety and capacity for more than 460,000 vehicles that travel Interstates 30 and 35E through the Mixmaster in the heart of downtown Dallas every weekday.
Construction improvements - paid for in part by federal grants, Proposition 12 funding, and regional toll revenue - include expanding, repaving, and adding several new bridges and roadways along I-30 and I-35E. TxDOT is opening new lanes and ramps as they're completed. Crews installed the final arch segment of the signature Margaret McDermott bicycle/pedestrian bridge across the Trinity River in July, though work continues on the bridge structure.
According to Bob Stevens, Project Director for Design-Build Contractor Pegasus Link Constructors (PLC), "The Horseshoe Project will enhance the overall driving experience in downtown Dallas, with added traffic capacity and safer merges between the interchanges. There are no tolls associated with the project, which adds to the overall appeal of the pending corridor improvements."
Construction of the 4-mile project began in April 2013. "A typical project of this size usually takes double the time, but with the design-build approach we're able to accomplish it within a four-year timeframe," said Dianne Tordillo, Public Information Specialist for K Strategies in Dallas, the project's Public Involvement and Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) consultant.
Throughout the project, PLC - a joint venture of Fluor Enterprises, Inc., of Irving, Texas, and Balfour Beatty Infrastructure, Inc., of Atlanta, Georgia - and the entire project team focused on opportunities for DBE companies and ways to keep traffic moving.
Building DBE Capacity
To ensure DBE participation, PLC undertook a number of special outreach efforts. "One of the unique things we've done is set up a project DBE task force to talk about outreach, compliance, and how to reach our DBE goal," said Adrienne Williams, PLC's Public Information and DBE Manager for the project. "We identified capable and qualified DBE firms through ongoing outreach, training, and capacity-building programs - both internal and external."
For instance, toward the beginning of the project PLC hosted a monthly Heavy Highway Training Program. Designed for smaller DBE firms in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, the program met once a month from December 2013 through August 2014. "It covered different aspects of building their businesses for optimal performance on heavy highway contracts," Williams said.
PLC and TxDOT personnel, as well as speakers from other firms, led the eight sessions. (See "Lessons in Successful Highway Construction" sidebar for details on program content.) More than 70 individuals representing minority or disadvantaged firms participated.
To help overcome the challenges many disadvantaged businesses face while trying to build bonding capacity, PLC also sponsored and served as lead stakeholder for the U.S. Department of Transportation's Bonding Education Program - Level II. Weekly sessions were held at PLC's office from February through April 2014.
In addition to those programs, the Horseshoe Project team worked closely with other local agencies. Since the start of the project, K Strategies and PLC participated in 96 DBE outreach events and conducted more than 130 one-on-one meetings with contractors to learn about their capabilities. As a result, more than $66 million in contracts were awarded to 62 DBE firms, exceeding the project's 8 percent DBE participation goal.
Outside-In Approach Keeps Traffic Moving
Working in downtown Dallas led to another priority: "Since day one, the project has been committed to keeping traffic moving during construction," Tordillo said.
To help achieve that goal, "We built the frontage roads first so traffic can use them while we build the permanent lanes," she continued. "The frontage roads include the same amount of lanes as the existing highway." Traffic began shifting from the old lanes to the frontage roads in winter 2014.
"We dubbed it an "˜outside-in' approach," Williams added. "While traffic drives on the new frontage roads on the outside, we're demolishing the inside bridges and lanes."
With thousands of drivers, residents, and businesses in the area, the team provided extensive communication. "Working in such a highly populated area added to the complexity of the project," said Dan Young, PLC's Construction Director. "We've been committed to working with local organizations and the community to make sure they're properly informed about new traffic movements and lane changes during construction."
Outreach efforts include traditional and social media outlets. "That communication has been a huge factor in helping mitigate traffic and public impact during the project," Tordillo said. "Part of our program is driven by open, two-way communication. If the public has any questions, they can call our hotline, email us, or use social media."
Constructing 46 Bridges, 23 Lanes
Overlapping bridges in the Mixmaster necessitated many of the shifts and detours to avoid demolition over the top of traffic. In total, the 4-mile stretch includes 46 bridges.
"The existing bridges were originally built to accommodate traffic volumes that were significantly less than what the city is experiencing today," Young said. "This project will not only increase the existing traffic capacity, but also make drives safer by creating new lanes, ramps, and easier access points."
Bridges being replaced across the Trinity River were originally built in the 1930s and 1950s. In addition to more lanes and updated construction, "We're raising the elevation of the new structures 12 feet over the levee after the post-Katrina events," Williams explained.
With all of the elevated structures, the project sported 23 cranes, four concrete paving machines, and one drill rig this fall. Five drill rigs worked during peak construction in 2014.
Most of the bridges use cast-in-place concrete components. To deal with the large amount of concrete needed for the structures and surfaces, PLC built a batch plant within the project limits. "It helps with quality control and with the construction schedule because they don't have to travel off-site to get material," Tordillo said.
The plant's pug mill processes concrete from demolitions throughout the project. With cement added for strength, that material then serves as road base.
Prior to the start of the Horseshoe Project, traffic primarily traveled three lanes in each direction. When the entire project opens in less than a year, capacity will more than double, with as many as 23 lanes in some areas. Travelers will also enjoy safer roadway geometry, two new direct connectors between I-30 and I-35E, and increased mobility throughout the corridor.