Ultimately, the purpose of a road is to get commuters from one location to another in the quickest, safest, smoothest way. Commuters use Interstate 80 in Reno to get to and from the Nevada-California border. Whether it's tourists coming to and from Reno or headed to the bay area in California, or commercial trucks making deliveries, Interstate 80 is a well-traversed road. Because of this, the 12-mile stretch of route I-80 between Keystone Avenue in Reno and the Nevada-California border is being resurfaced.
It’s been over a decade since this stretch of Interstate 80 was repaved. The Nevada Department of Transportation (NDOT) had been planning on resurfacing the area since 2015. The state, whose roads and bridges have been ranked as some of the top in the nation by the Federal Highway Administration, inspects roadways every two years to check if corrective maintenance or a pavement overlay is needed.
The winter of 2016-2017 was particularly harsh in this area of Nevada as it included large amounts of rain and snow. The rough weather caused significant roadway failure – potholes and joint failures - on westbound Interstate 80.
"We quickly put an emergency contract out and temporarily patched the failed roadway until we could perform a more permanent repair," says Rick Bosch, Assistant District Engineer for Construction for NDOT. Bosch is involved with the current project as he oversees NDOT construction project administration for northwestern Nevada.
Choosing Material to Increase Durability
The project began on May 13, 2018 and is expected to continue through late 2019. Work includes resurfacing both directions of Interstate 80 between Keystone Avenue in Reno and the Nevada-California border. The contract includes pay incentives for the contractor based upon physical material results known as PWL (percent within limits).
PWL is a system of calculations used based on the consistency of the materials used in paving including, asphalt content, gradation, and in place compaction of the plant mix itself. A more consistent product provides an opportunity for the contractor to earn additional payment and a less consistent product allows for payment to be taken away. "Ultimately, a more consistent mix meeting the material specifications contributes to longevity of the surface, saving future maintenance costs," says Bosch.
A significant portion of the project's budget ($5 million of $42 million – all funded by the state) is being dedicated to roadside drainage and water treatment features. The area gets large amount of moisture runoff from the Sierra Nevada Mountains. In addition, a major water source for the state – Truckee River – runs parallel to the road. "Run-off from the corridor has flowed into the river," says Devin Cartwright, Design Engineer/Project Coordinator for the project. "The extra drainage and water treatment will allow water to be treated before it gets to the river."
In addition to resurfacing the corridor, shoulders are being widened and auxiliary lanes are being added. This is being done for safety purposes, "We evaluated to see where we had crashes, and we noticed a number of people drifting, " says Cartwright. "We smoothed out curves where we could, did extra slope flattening, put in additional rail protection and additional median cable rail in order to create a substantial improvement in safety."
Another aspect of the project included for safety purposes was the addition of a wrong way driver detection system. “Wrong Way” signs on all interstate ramps notify drivers errantly entering in the wrong direction. Additional flashing warning signals and detection systems are being added to I-80 ramps in the area as a highly-visible and additional indication to help stop drivers from entering the wrong way, ultimately enhancing freeway safety. On average, there are five fatalities every year in the state due to people driving the wrong way. According to Cartwright, "The corridor has many truckers who are making long commutes, and they can get tired at night and fall asleep." The road has seen an increase in truckers with the improvement in the economy.
Working Around Traffic
The project includes a heavily used stretch of Interstate 80. Studies show that 35,000-81,000 vehicles travel on the road daily. It's no surprise that traffic volume has been identified as one of the biggest challenges regarding construction. Because of this and the desire to cause the least amount of disruption possible, the work is being done at night. Construction work is performed nightly from 7 p.m. until 5 a.m., Sunday through Friday morning. "Because there's a significant decrease in traffic at night when work is taking place, productivity has gone up," says Bosch. " Trucks transporting materials to and from the plant to the work zone can go much quicker."
While working at night has clear benefits, it also brings about challenges including safety of the construction crews. Balloon lights are used because they do a good job of lighting an area without blinding drivers. In addition, the Nevada Highway Patrol is staged in the work zone with their lights on monitoring traffic. "People tend to slow down when they see the flashing lights and are more likely to obey the speed limit," says Bosch.
NDOT has also gone out of its way to keep commuters informed of the construction. They've engaged stakeholders, including local business owners, to ensure they are clear on the work being done. The outreach has had a positive impact. "We've seen many positive comments about the additional signage and have had people thank us for making improvements," says Bosch.
While construction during the first season was on the Interstate 80 west since it was in greater need, and construction on the east side will take place during the second season, there have been single lane closures in both directions of interstate during both construction seasons for drainage and other road improvements
There was significant progress on the project throughout 2018. Much of the drainage and safety work has already been completed. Nearly 30 percent of the dense grade paving has been completed (42,000 tons out of 148,000) and 8,800 of 31,000 of open grade paving has been completed. The plan is to work on roadside improvements through the winter. There's optimism the project will be completed on time.
The corridor between Interstate 80 in Reno and the Nevada-California border will soon be resurfaced. The resurfacing and safety enhancements will allow all types of commuters to enjoy a smoother and safer ride and to feel more secure traveling the corridor.
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