Indiana and Kentucky DOTs Partner FixFor41 Program to Improve US 41 Bridges
Bi-State Partnership Creates Success for FixFor41: Indiana and Kentucky Soon to Complete $27 Million Rehabilitation of Seven US 41 Bridges
The FixFor41 program is not your typical bridge maintenance project. Rather, it represents a cooperative bi-state partnership between Indiana and Kentucky that involves the rehabilitation of seven U.S. Route 41 bridges – including a major Ohio River crossing – and the highway pavement between them.
Led jointly by the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) and the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet (KYTC), funding for this $27 million venture is split equally between both states. Phased construction began in May 2017, with work spanning from the interchange area at U.S. 41/Interstate 69 in Evansville, Indiana, to the Indiana-Kentucky border.
“Indiana is the crossroads of America. Business, industry, trucking – it all rolls through Indiana,” says Jason Tiller, the Communications Director for INDOT’s southwest Indiana district. “We’re excited to be working on this project because we know that we’re doing our part to make sure that freight gets to Evansville, a major corridor, safely and in a timely manner.”
The project is scheduled to be substantially completed this summer. Once all work is finalized, the lifespan of the bridges and roadway will be extended by an estimated 25 years.
INDOT is serving as the primary contract administrator on this border-bridge project, even though all seven bridges are technically located within Kentucky. These structures include: three bridges at the Ohio River, and northbound/southbound crossings at Eagle Creek and Cheatam Slough.
In addition to DOT staff, key members of the project team include two Indiana-based firms: E&B Paving, Inc. (paving/bridge contractor) and Butler, Fairman & Seufert (civil engineering). American Structurepoint and RQAW, two other companies also operating out of Indiana, were contracted to assist INDOT with performing bridge and roadway inspections.
Project officials divided the FixFor41 program into three segments. Because this stretch of U.S. 41 is subject to heavy traffic, the design of the 3.8-mile construction zone (1.4 miles in Indiana and 2.3 miles in Kentucky) has to allow for two lanes of traffic in each direction to remain open at all times.
Phase 1, completed in summer 2017, consisted of rehabilitating a southbound cantilever bridge spanning the Ohio River, known to locals as one of the “Twin Bridges” that connects Evansville to Henderson, Kentucky. Major work activities included placing a 3,000-foot overlay on the bridge deck and performing necessary joint repairs to the structure. To ensure safety for both construction workers and drivers, speed limits were reduced to 35 miles per hour and a temporary concrete barrier wall was installed to divide traffic from the construction work.
Also in this initial phase, workers erected a metal detour bridge over Cheatam Slough, which was used as a temporary crossover during subsequent phases to speed construction progress and enhance safety for the traveling public. This 390-foot-long, 26-foot-wide structure was designed by Acrow Bridge, a provider of prefabricated modular steel bridge solutions. According to Megan Hardesty, an INDOT Project Engineer/Project Supervisor overseeing the FixFor41 program, this temporary bridge is one of the first of its kind to be used on an INDOT project.
“It was specifically designed to handle the amount of traffic that U.S. 41 deals with every day, which is around 80,000 vehicles,” Hardesty says. “We’ve been monitoring it regularly to better understand how it works, how it handles vehicle loads and what kind of maintenance it requires. So far it’s handled our project needs extremely well.”
Activities occurring during Phase 2 (fall 2017 to fall 2018) and Phase 3 (fall 2018 to summer 2019) have involved further roadway pavement work as well as maintenance on the other six bridges. Specifically, workers are performing deck replacements on two Ohio River overflow and two Cheatam Slough structures, and placing overlays on the Eagle Creek crossings.
“To speed work, the general contractor added microsilica to concrete used for bridge reconstruction,” Hardesty notes. In concrete applications, this mineral admixture can improve strength and durability while also reducing permeability. “This additive actually seals the bridge deck while the concrete is being poured, eliminating an extra step for the contractor and enabling workers to move on to another section of the roadway faster,” she adds.
The majority of construction activities have been taking place between Mondays and Fridays, from 7:30 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. “The project will be substantially completed this summer, most likely July, allowing us to return all traffic to its normal configurations. The final punch list items, such as seeding and removing erosion control materials, should wrap up this November,” Hardesty notes.
On a project of this scope and scale, traffic control is usually one of the most challenging obstacles. For the FixFor41 team, the biggest hurdle involved maintaining safety on the two-lane Twin Bridges. During reconstruction of the southbound structure, all truck traffic was allowed to remain on the bridge’s single open lane while other motorists were diverted onto the northbound crossing. The roughly 30-foot-wide northbound bridge was reconfigured to contain three 10-foot lanes – two running north and one going south.
“With this configuration, a lot of minor accidents caused by speeding or distracted driving have occurred,” Hardesty says. “To reduce the amount of time spent in gridlock, we coordinated efforts to have Kentucky State Police – as well as towing and wrecking services – available on either side of the bridge during most project activities. Due to this strategy, when an accident does occur during peak traffic times, it typically only takes about a half hour for the cleanup.”
Another major issue involved pothole maintenance, particularly during brutal winter weather occurring during Phase 3. “Statewide, our roads took an incredible beating. On this particular project, the pavement is fairly aged, and many of the potholes formed along a joint within the asphalt median crossover. This joint was being compromised because it wasn’t built to withstand the excess southbound traffic that was on it,” Tiller says.
Hardesty adds, “These potholes – easily 2 to 3 feet wide and relatively deep – would just pop up overnight, causing many tires to blow the instant they hit.”
Due to potential liability issues, INDOT typically does not perform routine maintenance when a road is under contract by a third-party construction contractor. However, the excessive emergence of potholes—along with a shortage of hot-mix asphalt—increasingly impeded project progress.
“This problem got to a point where the contractor just couldn’t keep up with it – it was either patch potholes or do work. So, after contending with a lot of red tape to restructure the maintenance agreement, INDOT’s crews were enlisted to handle the pothole fixes,” Tiller says. “Eventually, we acquired the hot-mix asphalt we needed to make more permanent repairs and, thankfully, haven’t had as many issues lately.”
Teamwork and Transparency
Very soon, all bridges and pavement under the FixFor41 program will be ready to handle at least a couple more decades of transportation needs. While the complexity of bi-state collaboration can sometimes be difficult, when you have a great mix of team-oriented industry experts, projects are kept on track through synergy and highly effective decision-making processes.
For INDOT, project success was supported by key players such as Patrick Craig, an engineering staff member who initiated the collaboration between Indiana and Kentucky. Also there’s Robert Kirschgessner, another INDOT Project Engineer/Project Supervisor overseeing FixFor41. These individuals and others have been instrumental in moving the project forward, and in keeping the public informed about its progress.
“From a public involvement standpoint, we have been extremely active. We have held multiple public hearings in both states and are very transparent about our plans for this project. We have also kept citizens updated through our social media channels, to make sure everyone knows what is coming,” Tiller says.
In the spirit of continued transparency, the INDOT southwest district team invites readers to learn more about its projects by following its social media accounts on Facebook (@INDOTVincennesDistrict) and Twitter (@INDOTSouthwest).
Photos courtesy of Jason Tiller, Indiana Department of Transportation