Major Segment of Louisiana’s I-49 North Project Opens to the Public
Joining Middle America and the Gulf Coast: New Interchange Marks Latest Milestone in Louisiana’s I-49 North Project
Ribbon-cutting ceremonies in October marked the completion of another major segment of Louisiana's I-49 North construction initiative. Known as Segment K Phase 2, this segment created a new interstate interchange with I-220 in Shreveport.
Started in 2013, this $142 million Louisiana Department of Transportation an Development (LADOTD) project – part of the $650 million total I-49 North project from the Arkansas state line to Interstate 220 – also included the reconstruction of I-220 from North Market Street to Hilry Huckaby III Avenue in Shreveport. New eastbound and westbound lanes of I-220 are now available to the more than 68,000 motorists who travel the corridor daily.
Interstate 49 runs from I-10 in Lafayette to the Arkansas state line north of Shreveport, largely paralleling the older U.S. 71 corridor, and connects the state's two east–west interstates at two of its metropolitan centers. It is a primary corridor for north-south truck movement throughout the state, carrying well over 1.5 million tons of truck freight annually.
Long-term plans call for I-49 to be extended from Lafayette to New Orleans and north from Shreveport to Kansas City, Missouri, where it will connect with other interstates and provide a seamless link from Louisiana ports to the Canadian border.
“Completion of the segment of I-49 that connects to I-220 will provide an interstate continuity that effectively joins middle America with the industrial resources of the Louisiana Gulf Coast,” states David North, P.E., District 4 Administrator with LADOTD. “It will strengthen northwest Louisiana's evolution as a distribution center and improve the nation's defense readiness."
The State’s First Pre-Cast, Segmental Bridge
I-49 North is a 36-mile construction project designed to extend the highway from I-20 in Shreveport to the Arkansas state line; construction has been divided into 11 segments. The designers for the project were AFJMc (Aillet, Fenner, Jolly & McClellan) Consulting and TRC Consulting. The primary contractor is PCL Construction.
The first 18.9-mile section opened to traffic in November 2013. Segment K Phase 2 construction began in December 2014, according to Erin Buchanan, Public Information Officer at LADOTD.
“After initial clearing and grubbing, work phased into earthwork and embankment, drilled shaft foundations, bridge columns, mechanically stabilized earth wall, and pouring of the pre-cast bridge panels,” Buchanan reports. “All of this work was being performed concurrently with the complete reconstruction of the eastbound and westbound lanes of I-220 within the project limits.”
The I-49/I-220 interchange is the first pre-cast, segmental bridge connected with post-tensioned cables to be built in Louisiana. Without existing specifications for this type of bridge construction, project engineers utilized existing contract documents developed by other state DOTs to formulate their specifications.
“The prime contractor, PCL Construction, bid on the pre-cast, segmental bridge design,” Buchanan relates. “This type of bridge is significant for the project, due to the necessary length of the span over I-220. This method allows for a longer bridge span with minimal impact to the traveling public. The life span of the structure is also lengthened with this method of construction. Challenges included ensuring the concrete met strength resistivity requirements, as well as quality control measures taking place on the field as opposed to at a plant.
“Additionally, design demands included building an angular interchange to match the curve of I-220, which required long overpass bridges and straddle bents. The entire interchange is also shifted to the southeast because of the location of a landfill that is no longer in operation.”
Precast segmental construction comes with significant up-front costs for the contractor, due to the need for equipment for the casting beds, the cranes, and transportation of the segments. Projects need to be large enough to justify such costs and be economically feasible, Buchanan points out.
The design team had to determine whether this project would be suitable for segmental construction due to its size, the number of segments (nearly 750) and bridge widths.
While the initial plan was to locate the segment casting yard off site, which would limit span lengths and require the segments to be trucked to the site, PCL and LADOTD were able to put the casting yard on site and build all segments there. The casting yard ultimately used 22,000 cubic yards of concrete and 5.3 million pounds of reinforcing steel.
FHA Requirements, Flooding Issues are Biggest Project Challenges
Funding from the Federal Highway Administration (FHA) required that the project meet certain milestones, as Buchanan explains. “Federal funding is contingent upon meeting these milestones, such as the opening of the southbound lanes of I-49 Segment J in May 2017 or a part of the interchange ramps in June 2018.”
To meet the tight schedule, structural engineering firm TRC had to complete its design in about a year. Eight design teams, including three subcontracted consultants, worked on the plan. At one point during the construction of Segment K2, crews worked 24 hours a day, seven days a week because of the scope of the project, Buchanan reports.
“The magnitude of this work demanded that the contractor have crews present round-the-clock. These hours were scaled back as the major construction work was completed. The entire Segment K2 was fully opened to the public following the ribbon cutting ceremony. Incidental work on the project continues, including the application of permanent pavement markers and ditch work.”
The project was originally contracted for 882 calendar days, but construction stretched considerably beyond that number, largely due to flooding. As Buchanan relates, “The project had to contend with two historic flooding events, in 2015 and 2016, which inundated the construction yard and greatly impeded progress. Another minor flood event in February 2018 hit the project, submerging Russell Road – which contractors used to move materials – and much of the yard, though those heavy rains did not particularly impact the timeline of the project.
“During the major flooding, the field office and pre-cast yard had to be relocated, and the contractor had to wait for flood waters to recede before proceeding with work. The southern part of the job site was most affected, as nearby McCain Creek, which feeds Twelve Mile Bayou, was completely out of its banks during the 2015 flood.”
Buchanan adds that traffic flow was another major consideration during the construction period. “While the reconstruction of I-220 required continuous lane closures, traffic shifts were planned out carefully and communicated by the Public Information Officer in the form of press releases through the Department’s MyDOTD notification system, as well as posted on DOTD’s social media platforms. These notifications are also posted by the Traffic Management Center on 511la.org, showing real-time and future roadway activities.
“Careful traffic flow management was especially necessary because Cross Lake Bridge (I-220) runs 1.85 miles over the lake leading into and away from the K2 project site. Lane restrictions are extremely difficult to achieve, and transitions become lengthy as there is no shoulder on the bridge.”
Architectural features, including artwork and lighting arrays, were required for the project, and engineers had to take steps to incorporate those enhancements into the design. The engineer brought in Touchstone Architecture to improve the aesthetics. Coordinating with TRC and the LADOTD, Touchstone developed a visual quality manual to show which enhancements would be incorporated into the bridges.
The talents of local artists are visible on several bridge columns, according to Buchanan. “Four bas-relief style decorative panels showcase scenes specific to the Shreveport region and are highlighted with special accent lighting. These four designs are a steamboat paddle wheel, a guitar, a guitar with a treble clef, and a guitar neck with piano keys. A contest held by the City of Shreveport’s Regional Arts Council made this unique display of art possible.”
A Game Changer for I-49
The completion of the I-49 North project, as well as the future completion of the entire I-49 project, are expected to bring major benefits to the state of Louisiana. Buchanan comments, “I-49 Segment K Phase 2 alone is a $142 million-dollar investment toward the completion of the I-49 corridor. Adjacent Segments J and K Phase 1 were also recently completed – a combined $81 million in infrastructure investment. Nearly four years ago, four other segments were opened, including the segment that connects at the Arkansas state line, marking an historic milestone in the creation of a significant regional interstate corridor. With I-49 Segment K2 comes a brand-new interstate interchange, further improving the movement of goods and services, and providing additional foundation for development along the corridor. This translates into a local and state economy that reaps the benefits of a modern transportation system.”
Buchanan points out that the final piece of the I-49 corridor in Caddo Parish (Northwest Louisiana), the I-49 Inner City Connector – a 3.5-mile section of interstate – is currently in the Environmental Assessment phase of the project.
At the Segment K2 ribbon-cutting ceremonies, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards stated, “As infrastructure funding becomes more difficult to come by, it’s important to celebrate projects such as this. This interchange is a game-changer for Northwest Louisiana as I-49 continues its evolution as a major north-south thoroughfare throughout the Midwest and South. As LADOTD continues to complete these segments, Louisiana is able to facilitate economic growth, create job opportunities, and make critical freight corridors safer and more efficient.”