FM 364/Major Drive Interchange Reconstruction Addresses Mobility Challenges in Beaumont
Stretching from Santa Monica, California, to Jacksonville, Florida, lies Interstate 10, the nation's fourth-longest interstate highway. The recent $29.9 million reconfiguration of the I-10 intersection at FM 364 (Major Drive) in Jefferson County is designed to help improve safety and relieve traffic congestion associated with area events and population growth, and to support economic development in Texas' Beaumont-Port Arthur metropolitan area.
On average, approximately 44,000 vehicles traverse this section of I-10 each day. The "jug handle" design of the original I-10 and Major Drive intersection impeded safe, smooth traffic flow, especially at peak travel times and during special events.
"Traffic would back up onto the interstate at times due to activities at a large event facility located near the interchange. Also, oversized tractor-trailers had to detour around the Major Drive bridge crossing over the interstate, the approximate clearance of which was 16 feet," says Sarah Dupre, a Public Information Officer for the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT).
Construction activities were finalized in February this year. "We wanted to complete the project by the end of February so that the Southeast Texas State Fair, a local economic generator, was not negatively impacted. We used a somewhat unique technique of Calendar Day accounting for project time. We relied on one substantial completion milestone - not multiple interim milestones - as the target path to speed project completion," says TxDOT Design Project Manager/Construction Engineer Kenneth Wiemers, PE.
In a nutshell, reconfiguration of this 1.8-mile highway section involved "flipping" the overpass and reconstructing parts of the main lanes. Divided into three phases, roadway upgrades included expanding capacity by converting the two-lane Major Drive overpass above I-10 into a five-lane underpass. Reversing the stack allowed for a shorter bridge length and unlimited main lane vertical clearance. The newly constructed I-10 overpass has a minimum 16-foot by 6-inch vertical clearance, eliminating the vertical clearance height issues that previously affected commercial freight traffic.
Another important project element included reconstructing the jug handle intersection into eastbound and westbound frontage roads with turnarounds. Economically, frontage roads offer several unique advantages for highway operations, such as permitting route-choice flexibility in cases of maintenance activities, crashes or other emergencies.
In addition, the conversion of Major Drive into an underpass enhances traffic flow from LaBelle Road, an evacuation route used in times of natural disasters or other crises.
Other advantages include better access to Ford Park, a premier sports, entertainment and convention venue located on the west side of I-10, and the nearby fairgrounds where the South Texas State Fair takes place each spring. Also on the horizon in this southeast Texas community are future developments proposed by SMG that include a family-style waterpark and an Embassy Suites convention hotel.
Project Team and Funding Overview
In August 2015, TxDOT selected Houston-based Williams Brothers Construction Co. as general contractor for its I-10/FM 364 (Major Drive) Intersection Reconstruction Project. The firm specializes in building bridges but is capable of handling all phases of construction, and has completed more than 350 projects in its 62-year history. Vertical integration and vendor subsidiaries enable the contractor to expedite construction processes while maintaining rigid safety and quality standards and environmental compliance.
Other key project players included: CivilCorp LLC, a full-service civil engineering and land surveying firm with expertise in transportation engineering; HVJ Associates Inc., one of the largest specialty, minority-owned engineering companies in the state; and AIA Engineers Ltd., a consulting engineering firm that provides civil and structural engineering, land surveying, planning and construction management services.
Wiemers was appointed by TxDOT to oversee all project activities and collaborated with TxDOT Lead Inspector Joe Felan throughout the project.
Construction efforts required expertise in excavation, embankment, lime treatment, cement-treated base, asphalt concrete pavement, concrete pavement, mechanically-stabilized earth (MSE) retaining walls, bridge removal and construction, high-mast illumination, pavement marking, safety barricade installation, erosion control, traffic control coordination, and more. A total of 16 subcontractors participated in this venture, several of which are certified disadvantaged, small, or persons with disabilities businesses. A variety of trades were represented among the subs, ranging from asphalt, concrete, tie bar and reinforcing steel materials suppliers and installers to painting, signage, pavement marking and drilling experts.
Funding for improvements to the I-10/Major Drive junction came entirely from Proposition 1, a ballot measure approved in 2014 that redirects monies from the state's Rainy Day Fund to the State Highway Fund. Specifically, these Proposition 1 allocations were set aside to enhance connectivity, address mobility challenges and add capacity in urban areas.
The Construction Process
Phase I began in October 2015 and involved removing the sloping abutment of the existing Major Drive bridge and replacing it with a temporary soil nail wall to stabilize slopes in preparation for excavation work. The proposed westbound frontage road was then pushed under the existing overpass. During construction, existing main lane traffic was diverted onto the eastbound and westbound frontage roads, but was switched back while the South Texas State Fair was underway last March.
In mid-March 2016, Phase II started with rerouting traffic back onto the eastbound and westbound frontage roads. Connectivity was maintained to Major Drive with one-lane connectors that provided access to the existing jug handle intersection. Given that construction activities took place seven days a week, day and at night, safety for commuters and construction workers was a top priority. "Safety was maintained with a barrier separating the slow-moving connector traffic from the main lanes of I-10," says Dupre.
Over the course of the next six months the project team removed existing concrete paving on the main lanes and demolished the Major Drive bridge. Excavation work for massive foundation improvements also took place, workers digging 10 feet deep and 20 feet wide to accommodate the four retaining walls. Groups of three, 40-foot-long by 16-inch square piles were driven into the ground along the lengths of the walls, each grouping spaced at 20-foot intervals. Grade 1 Flex Base and geogrid were placed 10 feet deep above the piles to weatherproof and reinforce the soils.
Approximately 800,000 cubic yards of embankment and backfill were needed during construction of 65,000 square feet of retaining walls. One unexpected project challenge occurred when the embankment supplier became waterlogged with localized river flooding. The project team had to quickly brainstorm a solution to move forward.
"We sampled one of the soon-to-be abandoned jug handles and, through coordination with our geotechnical engineer, found the soil to be acceptable for general fill. We negotiated a project cost savings to allow TxDOT to provide on-site embankment, allowing construction to resume," says Wiemers.
Next, team members erected a new 118-foot-wide by 320-foot-long bridge over I-10. A one-mile-long, concrete center median barrier was built, along with two miles of concrete bridge railing. In early September 2016, main lane traffic was moved to the new overpass, thus ending Phase II and initiating Phase III.
The third and final phase consisted of removing the existing Major Drive header banks, constructing the final configuration of concrete paving, and removing the jug handle connectors. Nine-inch-thick concrete paving was used for Major Drive and 11-inch-thick concrete paving for the underpass and U-turn areas.
"One cost-saving feature of this project involved the decision to "rubblize" existing concrete pavement and utilize it as a portion of the subgrade. We also cut expenses by using 30,000 cubic yards of excavated material from the northeast jug handle in the construction of the header banks," says Wiemers.
I-10 Improvements Enhance Operations and Mobility
Substantial project completion was achieved by mid-November 2016 and all traffic occupied its final positioning. Miscellaneous median, retaining wall painting, maintenance and vegetative establishment concluded work for the project.
"The new intersection has a more traditional layout compared to the previous jug handle design," says Dupre. "This greatly improves local mobility because the configuration functions as one intersection instead of two. In addition, underpass lighting and concrete islands offer safer pedestrian crossing."
In an engineering sense, the new frontage roads will maximize the safe, efficient operation of this section of I-10 and, according to Dupre, unlock new economic opportunities in the future.
The new I-10 bridge contains two lanes running in each direction, but with capacity for future growth. This crossing will be restriped later to accommodate three lanes in either direction, once approaching roadways are widened. This intersection reconstruction project is the first phase in a larger effort to expand the entire I-10 corridor from Beaumont to Winnie. The second phase is currently underway, beginning last fall and contracted at $43 million. It stretches from State Highway 73 in Winnie to the Jefferson and Chambers County lines. The third phase is anticipated to let this fall, picking up at the county line and extending to FM 365.