Freedom Road Brings Greater Efficiency to Western Pennsylvania
Worth the Wait: Long-Awaited Freedom Road Creates Safer Route to Butler and Beaver Counties
Phase two of the Freedom Road project in Western Pennsylvania is substantially complete and open to traffic. While the project had standard road construction goals, many aspects of it make it unique.
The Freedom Road project actually began 40 plus years ago. Known as Crows Run Road and located in Beaver County, the winding road was impossible for trucks to navigate. So, they had to take a detour, which was very time consuming. Residents in the area were well aware of the challenges but were leery of new development in the area. The project was resurrected in the late 1990's and phase one, which fixed the northeastern portion of the route, was completed. While phase one did help, the problem will not be eliminated until the entire corridor is completed.
Funding the rest of the Freedom Road project became an issue. When Act 44, a transportation funding bill, passed in Pennsylvania, the funds became available to complete phase two. The second phase is focusing on the southwestern portion of the route, leaving the center part of the route for phase three, which is funded and will go out for bids next year.
The Need for Safer Route
Cheryl Moon-Sirianni is District Executive for the Pittsburgh area of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) and has been with the department for 32 years. The Freedom Road Project holds special meaning for Moon-Sirianni as she served as the Project Manager for phase one, and she lives near where the project is located. "This project needs to get done, and the people in Beaver County feel strongly about the connection being completed," says Moon-Sirianni.
Freedom Road will make for safe passage between Butler and Beaver counties. The area is particularly active as there is a good deal of business and commercial activity in Beaver County along the Ohio River. The area also includes a Norfolk Southern station, which draws significant truck traffic. In addition, Cranberry (located in Butler County) is a huge center for office parks and businesses. Shell is building a large plant in the area that will also draw many workers to the area. "People come across routes that are circuitous, hilly, and have a number of stops and starts. When the Freedom Road is completed, it will be a safer route for them," says Moon-Sirianni.
Lori Musto is the Assistant Construction Engineer on the project. Musto, who oversees PennDOT's staff on the project and is responsible for project coordination, also lives in the area and is looking forward to seeing Freedom Road completed. "The people in Cranberry will start to develop the Beaver area, and they can come from Cranberry to do business."
The project involves reconstructing 2.7 miles of roadway. The 34-foot-wide roadway includes two 11-foot lanes and 6-foot shoulders. Some of the new roadway is on the footprint of previous roadway, but large amounts are in new fill areas and located in sections of an old stream bed. Prior to construction, the area was partially a dirt road. Work also includes reconstruction of an intersection, construction of a bridge over a stream, two bridge replacements, construction of the Pine Run Box Culvert, and four stream relocations.
Relocations and Right-of-Way Acquisitions
The stream relocations, which totaled approximately 1 mile in length, were necessary to get the Freedom Road built. The height of the stream, which outlets into the Ohio River, varies. Some parts can be walked through and others, during flooding, are taller than the height of an average person. The stream is approximately 25 feet wide. Musto says of the construction, "We constructed the new portion, mounted dirt blocking off the old stream forcing water into the new stream,” says Musto. “The contractor [Independence Excavating Incorporated] walked the stream with nets to get fish that were caught and relocate them into the new stream."
The right-of-way acquisitions have also been complex as they included Crows Run Recycling. The junkyard had an extensive inventory of nearly 2,000 junk cars, equipment, car parts, and machinery. Right-of-way acquisition involved a great deal of work on the appraisal valuation, negotiation, and property management tasks. Titles for the cars were needed to be completed as a part of the acquisition process. In addition, numerous pieces of machinery and equipment including trucks, buses, tractor trailers, generators and excavators all needed to be inventoried, appraised, and addressed in the process. "Part of the area that previously contained the junkyard is now the location of part of the stream relocation and a wetland mitigation area," says Musto.
Significant coordination of utility relocation was required. Utilities along the entire stretch of roadway needed to be relocated due to the re-alignment of the new Crows Run Road. In order for this to occur, the contractor needed to complete work then allow for the utilities to relocate that section and then complete another section of work. This back and forth effort of utility relocation and contractors work took place the entire project. Musto says, "This piecemeal relocation was required due to both the vertical and horizontal changes between the existing and final conditions."
Communication and Innovation Keep Project Moving
Communication was also imperative for the project. There were a number of houses along the route and access to the homes needed to be maintained. The contractor held monthly meetings with the public keeping them aware of what was taking place and which way they needed to access their property. In addition, communication with the school district and local emergency agencies needed to be done regularly so access could be maintained and clearly communicated. Finally, there was the utilities. "In this particular case the contractor and all utilities worked extremely well together, modifying their game plans as needed for the best outcome of the project, says Musto. "We constantly had to find ways to keep everyone working and moving forward.
The project made use of some equipment that was innovative and time saving, including a 200,000-pound excavator that was used to set the box culvert in lieu of a crane. Overhead wires precluded the use of a crane so the contractor designed and fabricated a lifting device for the excavator that was on site. A concrete breaker was used to remove old concrete, which was faster than hammering. It sized the concrete into pieces that were the correct size to place directly into fill locations. An excavator equipped with GPS was used to construct the rock toe benches, which saved time by decreasing the required amount of manual survey. A robot, Tybot, was used to decrease the needed manpower in tying deck rebar. This was the first project to utilize this robot.
Despite the complexities and challenges, the $19 million Freedom Road project stayed within budget and opened to traffic slightly ahead of schedule. "The project stayed on schedule mainly by a lot of looking ahead and seeing issues ahead of time,” says Moon-Sirianni, “and because of the great work of the contractor." And now trucks in the area, as well as the local drivers, are one step closer to having a corridor that improves safety and efficiency.