The massive $850 million Midtown Express project in the Dallas-Fort Worth area of Texas will increase capacity on three highways in an area experiencing tremendous growth.
“In the last seven years, more than a million people have moved to north Texas,” says Lisa Walzl, a Public Information Officer with the Texas Department of Transportation. “It’s a major corridor with many people and businesses along the corridor, and many who commute every day.”
Improving Multiple Cities
The Midtown Express project passes through five cities: Bedford, Fort Worth, Euless, Irving and Dallas and two counties: Tarrant and Dallas.
“It’s been a collaborative process from the beginning,” Walzl says. “We meet weekly with the cities of Euless and Irving. They have been great partners.”
The 27.8-mile project includes reconstruction of portions of general-purpose lanes and frontage roads and construction of one TEXpress toll lane in each direction on all three of the roads: SH 183, SH 114 and Loop 12. The toll lanes will have dynamic pricing, meaning the price will fluctuate depending on the level of traffic.
The heart of the project is improvements to SH 183, which was built in 1959 and widened in 1973. Between 150,000 and 170,000 vehicles travel on SH 183 daily.
“It cannot meet the demands of traffic in this area every day,” Walzl says.
TxDOT will manage the roadways. Parsons Transportation Group of Chula Vista, California, with an office in Dallas, designed the design-build project.
“Design-build is one of the reasons we were able to accelerate the timeline on this project,” Walzl says. TxDOT has used design-build in the past, but this is one of the biggest jobs currently under way.
SouthGate Constructors, a joint venture between Kiewit Infrastructure South Co. in Fort Worth and Austin Bridge & Road in Dallas, began construction on the project in 2015. Substantial completion is expected this fall and final acceptance by the end of this year.
As large as it is, the Midtown Express is an interim project. The complete redo of the corridor will cost $2.5 billion, of which funding is not currently available.
“Nearly everything accommodates the ultimate project, so very little will need to be rebuilt,” Walzl says.
Examples of building this project to accommodate the ultimate include: designing bridge girder alignments to allow for future expansion at logical locations, installing portable barrier in locations where the barrier will need to be removed to construct the ultimate project, and designing walls to avoid future drilled shafts and bridge columns.
Phasing the work to keep traffic flowing has presented challenges. Many of the rehabilitation operations were phased or performed under nightly lane closures to minimize effects on traffic, but which “increased the technical complexity of the operations,” says Selma Santin, Public Information Manager for SouthGate Constructors.
The project has had 12,000 lane closures and 173 traffic switches. SouthGate Constructors work 24 hours a day, seven days per week.
The project required rehabilitation of 44 bridges, built 26 new bridges and completed four direct connects. On the bridges, crews have set 1,869 girders.
“Several of the bridges were founded on piles that would be considered “shallow” and “flexible” by today’s standards,” Santin says. “As a result, the expansion joints on these bridges had completely closed. In order to restore serviceability to the bridges, we were required to reconstruct the abutment backwalls and replace armor joints.”
Although post tensioned sub-structure components are common in bridge construction, the steel reinforcement on the Midtown Express columns and caps was highly complex and required extra planning prior to construction. To avoid conflicts during construction, 3-D modeling was used to ensure all the various components of a post tensioned column or cap would actually fit together as they did when designed on paper.
“The direct connector fly-overs between SH-183 and Loop 12 were very complex structures with very little room for adjustments,” Santin says. “These post-tensioned structures provided for tight tolerances in all of the substructure elements and required strong coordination between SouthGate and specialty subcontractors.”
Column aesthetics took special planning as well to ensure a uniform appearance at the end of construction. Features varied on the columns, as did height, thus requiring attention to detail, especially on columns where the existing grade and final grade differed, Santin explains.
Crews have moved 2.7 million cubic yards of dirt and 47 miles of utilities. Once the project is complete, SouthGate Constructors will have worked more than 4 million man-hours.
Southgate Constructors has about 800 pieces of equipment in the field, with 240 vehicles, 18 bulldozers and 26 excavators. It is using a wireless paving system.
“Our Caterpillar equipment is equipped with devices that communicate health reports over cellular data; we are able to get machine diagnostics real time from a computer or phone and troubleshoot issues remotely,” Santin says. “We also use auto lube systems that automatically grease the equipment at set intervals. This saves us man-hours and allows us to fuel more equipment efficiently”
Safety a Prime Priority
Safety has been of prime importance on the Midtown Express. Southgate Constructors initiated several safety programs to meet the goal of “No One Gets Hurt.”
“The key to the success of the plan is that it has buy-in at all levels from management to the craft, with the craft [workers] having a very active voice in the program,” Santin says. “Additionally, the team required all subcontractors to follow the safety plan, including safety practices and protocols.”
Crews meet daily to discuss job hazards for the day and how to mitigate risks. Weekly, safety tours take place, with those crews having followed safety protocols receiving rewards. SouthGate’s Craft Voice in Safety team also meets weekly and serves as a liaison between management and field operations. Monthly, SouthGate holds a mass safety meeting to review project-specific safety topics and practices. The joint venture also has offered on-the-job training about safely handling equipment. All personnel must complete training before starting on the project.
“It’s a lot of work in a short period of time, and our teams were dedicated to safety and building a culture of safety,” Walzl says.
Our newsletter right to your inbox.
See stories from other regions.