Michigan DOT Employs Sustainable Construction for US 2 Upgrades
In with the New: Bridge Replacements Along US 2 Address Issues With Aging Infrastructure
The country’s bridges aren’t getting any younger, and those along U.S. 2 in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula are no exception. The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) is working on a $20.5 million project that will replace two bridges in the area – the Escanaba River Bridge on U.S. 2 and the bridge used by the Escanaba & Lake Superior (E&LS) Railroad, which passes over that same highway. “The goal was predominantly to deal with aging infrastructure,” Steve Cadeau, P.E., Construction Engineer at MDOT, says of the project, which got into full swing in April 2017.
Traditional federal funds make up 80 percent of the project’s support, with the remaining 20 percent coming from the state of Michigan. Additional components of the project, generated using a standard low-bid process, include reconstructing and realigning almost a mile of roadway to improve the transitions on and off the new bridge. The impacted area stretches from the junction of County Road 426 on the south end up to Mead Road at the northern perimeter of the project.
Originally constructed in 1929 and widened in 1956, the Escanaba River Bridge has passed its functional lifespan and is no longer in line with current standards. “We also decided that if we’re going to replace the bridge, we should take this opportunity to make some safety improvements,” Cadeau says. Wider by 37 feet and sporting a pedestrian path, more expansive shoulders on both sides, and a bridge deck warning system, the new bridge will make travel safer for all users. The project scope also calls for eliminating a dip in the roadway where the existing bridge descends slightly into the valley created by the Escanaba River. “We’re raising the overall elevation of the bridge by 6 feet and it will now be on a nice, sweeping curve,” Cadeau says.
Crossing over U.S. 2 is the E&LS Railroad trestle. The railroad bridge has been removed and its replacement was installed to the south of the existing structure. The relocation moves it further away from the river and improves sightlines, as well. About 3,000 feet of railroad track was also replaced in conjunction with the project.
With both directions of the Escanaba River Bridge scheduled for replacement, Cadeau’s team needed to be mindful about coordinating traffic impacts on U.S. 2. “We did the westbound lanes over the summer of 2017, and here in 2018 we’re doing the eastbound lanes,” he says. One lane is open to traffic in each direction during most of the project, with only four complete detours – a total of seven days, all mid-week – scheduled throughout the entire effort.
Because railroad services typically have less tolerance for interruptions, MDOT worked closely with representatives from E&LS, who were brought into the process early in the planning stages. “They were included in all design aspects of the project so they could see how this would impact them,” Cadeau says. After discussions about the scope of work and evaluations of rail service volumes through the area, E&LS determined they were comfortable with a 10-day service interruption window. “We had to build the new line and bridge before taking the old bridge out of service,” Cadeau says of the tight timeframe. Once construction began, the E&LS team was invited to attend all progress meetings and kept in the loop at every stage. “We showed them the detour routes and timing for setting the beams, and made sure the dates they were scheduled to be out of service worked for their train operations and deliveries,” Cadeau says.
A wet spring and summer contributed to high water elevations and stronger than normal currents in the Escanaba River, a situation that required some quick thinking to stay on schedule. “Because of those impacts, we had to work with the Army Corps of Engineers and Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality on raising our access roads by a foot so they were high enough to get into the river to build the piers,” Cadeau says. The agencies were engaged as soon as the project team discovered the changes meant their permits would need to be modified. “They reviewed those quickly to keep our project on schedule,” Cadeau says.
Contractors in the area traditionally take a late winter shutdown, to accommodate the cold, snowy weather the region experiences. “We had that built into our progress schedule,” Cadeau says. Aiming to get traffic switched to the new bridge before winter came in earnest, the team spotted a break in the weather. “Paving in late November here is a big challenge,” Cadeau explains. “We worked with Payne and Dolan, our paving contractor, to take advantage of the weather and push the paving up for completion before Thanksgiving.”
Keeping Up With Communications
The MDOT team developed a multi-prong communication strategy to ensure that drivers, pedestrians, and E&LS were all aware of the project’s impacts. Their primary announcement method was through press releases sent to traditional news media, both radio and television, whenever detours and other events were scheduled. “Also, as we were going conducting our public meetings, some people were saying they wanted to be the first to know,” Cadeau says. His team included those individuals on the distribution list for press releases and other news.
Social media was also heavily leveraged to spread the word. “We used our Twitter account to say the road was closed effective at this time, or that U.S. 2 is open to traffic again,” Cadeau says. Four portable message boards helped deliver the latest news directly to travelers. “They’re changeable and we place them on each approach to the project area,” Cadeau says. “A week in advance, they would tell drivers where the detour route would be, and as the day arrived, they would be changed to indicate the bridge was closed and the detour route was in effect.”
Fish restrictions meant that any work in the river had to wait until after mid-June, and even though the design team was able to minimize the impact on the Escanaba River by reducing the piers required for the new bridge from six down to only two, there were still additional communication issues to consider. “During our construction process we did have recreational fisherman up and down the river,” Cadeau says.
The Escanaba River is a navigable waterway, meaning the team had to work with the Coast Guard to ensure safety for the river’s users. “One requirement was that the ends of our access road had to be lighted, so if fishermen came through during twilight they could see there was something in the river,” Cadeau says. Lighted barrels were set up along the perimeter of the access road to warn approaching fisherman and provide them with the necessary visibility.
Sustainability on Deck
Green construction strategies abound. For this project, E&LS adopted one of the more classic approaches to sustainability when they opted to preserve the bridge that originally spanned U.S. 2 and press it into service elsewhere along their line. “They wanted to recycle and reuse that old railroad trestle,” Cadeau says. The contractor was happy to oblige, removing it and loading it onto a lowboy trailer for transport. “They took it off to their facility so they could strip it down and reuse it at a different location.” Destined for a new life somewhere else, the old E&LS trestle may one day help another area address its own aging infrastructure issues.
- Prime and Bridge Contractor: Zenith Tech, Inc. – Waukesha, Wisconsin
- Earthwork: Musson, Bros. – Rhinelander, Wisconsin
- Paving: Payne and Dolan, Inc. – Gladstone, Michigan
- Traffic Control: Give’Em A Brake Safety, Inc. – Negaunee, Michigan
- Pier Foundations: Midwest Drilled Foundations and Engineering, Inc. – Waukesha, Wisconsin
- Steel Beams and Rebar Construction: SPE of Wisconsin – Little Chute, Wisconsin
- Railroad Tracks: Holubar Construction Company – Green Bay, Wisconsin
- Steel Railroad Bridge Fabrication: Veritas – Eau Claire, Wisconsin