Benjamin Franklin once said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” This truism certainly applies to infrastructure, and it was the motivating factor behind the South Mall Expressway project in Albany, New York.
Work on the South Mall Expressway project began in February 2016 and was completed in the fall of 2018. The work was done as part of a scheduled capital program to upkeep infrastructure. Between the years 1956 and 1975, New York State (as well as the rest of the country) built many bridges. The design life of these older bridges is 50 years, and some are reaching the end of their service life. "New York State recognizes there's a wave of need coming at us, and we are doing the best we can to preserve the existing infrastructure," says Sam Zhou, Assistant Commissioner of Operations and Asset Management for the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT). "We have made a big investment in infrastructure here in New York State, which is good for the traveling public and the state economy."
The state is also trying to spend its money wisely, hence the ounce of prevention. "This is a preservation project meaning do it now and save money, rather than letting the road deteriorate which is cost effective," says Jennifer Post, Spokeswoman for NYSDOT.
The Center of Albany
The South Mall Expressway is in the heart of Albany, the state capital of New York. It a major artery and connects Interstate 787, the Dunn Memorial Bridge, the Empire State Plaza and downtown Albany businesses and neighborhoods. Interstate 787 sees upwards of 100,000 cars a day. The South Mall Expressway which is two lanes (in both directions) is used by about 21,000 vehicles per day. In one direction, the expressway ends at a series of garages for the Empire State Plaza, which is the center of New York State Government and has a number of state facilities.
The area that was worked on is a singular elevated road which is made up of four bridges though commuters experience it as one road. Work included replacing the concrete driving surface of the road, replacing joints and bearings of the bridges, repairing the steel girders, and painting of the bridges. Repairs to the pavement leading up to and in the tunnel were also part of the project. This additional work was requested by the NYSDOT sister agency, Office of General Services. "Since we are already doing work there, it's more efficient to do everything at once," says Post. "It saves money and lessens the traffic impacts."
In order to remove the aging concrete, the NYSDOT used a hydro demolition machine. The high velocity 20,000 psi water jet hits the concrete and peels off a couple of inches of it. "It's cleaner, quieter, and more efficient than a jackhammer, " says Zhou. "It requires a small amount of water, which is collected and recycled." The hydro demolition machine was able to remove concrete at about 10 feet per hour for a 12-foot-wide lane.
The mono deck replacement takes out cracks in the concrete on top of the rebar and preserves the rebar. It replaces the old concrete with good concrete seal to off the entire deck. In this case, the team added three inches of concrete above the rebar.
Managing traffic was a major concern for NYSDOT. Because of this, NYSDOT applied the Drivers First initiative, which is to always keep the commuter in mind. The traffic in the area where the South Mall Expressway is located is particularly impacted by New York State's legislative session that runs from January to June. Zhou said, "Doing any work during legislative session is a challenge." He noted that if a lane had to be closed during rush hour, drivers would be majorly inconvenienced.
In order to compensate for the potential traffic issues, Zhou and the team built in a few stipulations for the contractor. The contractor was required to work at night and weekends for some of the lane and ramp closures. Lane closures could only occur during non-peak work hours. There was a limit on how many days the lanes could be shut down. Ramp closures occurred primarily during the summer since the legislature is not in session, and school is out. “We estimate a 20 percent reduction in traffic during the summer time and had the contractor do the major work from July to September,” said Zhou.
The self-imposed limitations extended the amount of time the project took. The construction took place over three construction seasons though Zhou says it could have been completed in one to two seasons were the restrictions not in place. During the first season in 2016, work was done on westbound route. The following year work was done on the eastbound route, and during the last construction season, work was done under the bridge, which had no effect on the traffic.
In order to keep the driving public informed, NYSDOT communicated extensively with the Office of General Services. They created a huge display to educate commuters how their daily commute would be impacted. The display was put in the concourse of the Empire State Plaza.
On Time and Under Budget
The South Mall Expressway project was completed on time and under budget. Zhou credits the Critical Path Method (CPM) with keeping the project running on schedule. "Contractors were required to develop a CPM schedule and revise it monthly to reflect the current status," said Zhou. "The project management team stayed on top of the CPM and reviewed it thoroughly."
The project was constructed via the design-bid-build process. The lowest bid of $22.4 million was awarded the contract. While there are still some finishing touches to be completed before the project is officially completed, Zhou says it will come in under budget. Again, he credits the CPM. Funds for the project came from both federal (80 percent) and state (20 percent) government. The state's portion of the funds came from the $21.1 billion statewide transportation budget.
With the South Mall Expressway project essentially complete, NYSDOT has provided the cure of quality roads. The state legislature, commuters, and residents can feel confident in the quality of the infrastructure in the area.
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