Three Concurrent Projects Reconstruct and Widen 22 Miles of I-10 by Beaumont
When Communication Becomes the Most Critical Construction Strategy: TxDOT, Johnson Bros., and Williams Brothers Construction Coordinate to Keep $279M I-10 Widening Project Moving Safely and Smoothly
When you reconstruct and widen 22 miles of an already congested interstate with three separate, five-year projects built concurrently by different contractors in wet, sometimes unstable soil, communication becomes more important than any construction technique.
For Interstate 10 on the southwest side of Beaumont, Texas, safety and congestion issues led to an expansion from two lanes to three in each direction, part of a plan to widen I-10 between Houston and the Louisiana border. Contractors are removing the 50-year-old concrete pavement and reconstructing the full depth.
Because of the magnitude and environmental clearance issues, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) split the $279 million project into three segments with separate contracts. Williams Brothers Construction Co., Inc., of Houston is handling the two western projects – a $43 million, 5.2-mile section starting at SH 73, begun in 2016 and expected to finish in 2021, and the $108 million, 6.8-mile middle section begun in 2017 and expected to finish in 2022. Johnson Bros. Corporation of Roanoke, Texas, began the $128 million, 9.9-mile eastern section in January and expects to finish in 2024. Federal funding covered 80 percent of the project and state funding financed 20 percent.
As the long project proceeds, TxDOT, Williams Brothers, and Johnson Bros. prioritize regular communication and coordination to keep traffic and construction moving safely and efficiently through one of the area’s busiest corridors.
Strong Foundations in Weak Soils
Along with the pavement work in the final segment, Johnson Bros. is reconstructing one of the major interchanges to improve traffic flow. “The county road currently goes over the top of the interstate; we’re reversing the stack so it’s a conventional diamond interchange with the local road underneath the interstate,” said Kenneth Wiemers, Area Engineer for TxDOT’s Beaumont District.
As crews rebuild the interchange, they’ll construct mechanically stabilized earth (MSE) walls more than 20 feet high at their tallest points. “That additional load on our weak soils requires us to over-excavate, then drive in concrete piling to support the taller portions,” Wiemers said. Fifty-five rows of piles, each 8 feet apart, will support 440 feet of the MSE walls.
“Between the retaining walls, we’ll install wick drains to speed moisture removal and help long-term consolidation happen in the short term,” Wiemers added.
As an extra measure to ensure stability, “We’re requiring surcharge loaded settlement periods, which add some time and complexity to serving our local connectivity needs,” Wiemers said. “The settlement periods are designed to give us smoother pavement for a longer time. The plan is to wait six months for each side of the roadway to settle, but we’ll monitor along the way and shorten that time period if possible.”
Channeling Water Away
To help with drainage throughout the construction corridor, “We allowed the contractors to move water from the existing grass median to the frontage road ditches,” Wiemers explained. “Unfortunately, it was a very wet winter and spring this year. Getting those pipes installed in the final segment was a bit of an issue because the frontage road ditches were full of water. We had to have a little bit of a dry spell to accommodate the future wet spells.”
Although TxDOT planned the widening of I-10 before Tropical Storm Harvey impacted the area, drainage improvements will help mitigate future issues along the interstate. For instance, in the middle section of the project, “In coordination with the Jefferson County Drainage District No. 6, we’re increasing the size of the Taylor’s Bayou bridge to help facilitate their master plan for drainage in the county,” Wiemers said. “We analyzed all the different crossings and coordinated with the drainage districts. In the third segment, some of the crossings increased slightly in size and some stayed the same.”
As with all Texas interstate projects, TxDOT designed the corridor with a 50-year Annual Exceedance Probability, meaning a 2 percent chance that the drainage structure capacity will ever be exceeded.
Coordinating for Safety
Maintenance of traffic will continue to pose one of the biggest challenges for the I-10 project. “Traffic during construction is very dense, especially on the detour lanes,” said Sarah Dupre, Public Information Officer for TxDOT’s Beaumont District. “Maintaining local connectivity and access while phasing replacement of traditional diamond interchanges has proved challenging between safety, space, and local business needs.”
To minimize issues now that all three projects are under construction, “We have a lot of coordination between Williams Brothers, Johnson Bros., and TxDOT – especially any time there’s a change in phasing,” Wiemers said. “The projects are designed so we can always move traffic from one end to the other, but sometimes things get done a little faster or a little later and we have to make adjustments to our transitions of traffic moving from temporary lanes to the permanent pavement.”
Reduced speeds and increased signage promote safety amid all the construction activity. In addition, “We worked with the Sheriff and Department of Public Safety offices to provide additional pull-out points that help with speed limit enforcement,” Wiemers said. “At the moment, with barriers in place throughout the corridor, sometimes you have six miles before you can make a turnaround. Additional emergency crossovers in the middle of the phases help increase safety and the response of emergency personnel.”
As each project finishes and new lanes open over the next five years, drivers throughout the busy corridor will enjoy quicker and safer commutes.