Oklahoma DOT Reconstructs Inner Dispersal Loop and Broken Arrow Expressway in Tulsa
Focused on the Future: Oklahoma DOT Upgrades Two Major Roadways in Tulsa to Keep Commuters Moving and Increase Safety
The start date of a construction project is dependent upon many things. However, one aspect stands out above the rest: funding. In Tulsa, Oklahoma, two major highway projects by the Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT) were dependent on funding approval, and the start dates were just a few months apart. The roadways being worked on are the Inner Dispersal Loop (IDL) and the Broken Arrow Expressway near downtown.
The IDL, which is a series of five different highways, surrounds the main downtown area. Each direction is referred to as a leg. One of the busiest highways in the area, Broken Arrow is a major thoroughfare that serves the downtown Tulsa area. Connecting to the southeast corner of the IDL is the U.S. 64/SH-51 Broken Arrow Expressway, which is a major commuter corridor for the downtown area.
IDL Pavement Reconstruction
The $25 million IDL project, which began in January 2019, is funded through a combination of federal (80 percent) and state (20 percent) funds and is focused on making pavement and bridge improvements. The pavement reconstruction will take place on the south leg of the IDL. The actual area of pavement being replaced from the ground up is approximately 1.5 miles.
Deteriorating pavement conditions on the south leg have led to increased maintenance efforts in recent years, and at times caused issues for drivers. So, patching the well-traveled road (average daily traffic of 62,000) was no longer an option.
Rebuilding roads can be challenging in the area as it sees scorching heat. In order to overcome the weather conditions, the contractor has been doing some concrete pours at night when the temperature is more moderate.
The contractor is taking additional steps to ensure the concrete temperature was correct. “They’ve set up a concrete plant on site,” says Seth Buchanan, an ODOT Assistant Division Engineer. Buchanan’s role includes providing oversight for all projects in the area, planning on the front end, coordination of contractors, and contract oversight. “This shortens the haul distance and allows them to more easily control the temperature of the concrete than if they were bringing it in from the ready-mix plant.”
In addition to the roadwork, the IDL project also includes rehabilitation of six bridges including four on the south leg and two on the east leg. “The work needed on the bridges varies from more to less extensive,” says Buchanan, “some bridges needed to have columns cut down and new beams installed.”
A Focus on Bridges
Similar to the IDL, the Broken Arrow Expressway project focused on bridges. The project began this past spring and is expected to be complete at the end of 2020. The Broken Arrow Expressway project has a nearly $14 million contract and is a split of federal and state funds in the same way as the IDL project.
Work on the project will focus on five structurally deficient or at-risk bridges. Each of the bridges were built in 1968 and have required increased maintenance efforts in recent years due to emergency repairs or other issues.
Updating bridges is part of a statewide effort in Oklahoma. “There’s been a push in the state over the last decade or so to eliminate structurally deficient bridges,” says Buchanan. Two of the five bridges being worked on fit this category.
Like the bridges involved in the IDL project, the range of needed repair varies. One of the westbound bridges is located over the Union Pacific railroad. Buchanan says the work to be performed on this particular bridge is complicated.
The bridge includes a horizontal and vertical curve and a ramp entrance comes on the curve. Currently, it’s a fracture critical bridge. “This used to be a typical design, but is no longer, so we are going to remove that aspect,” says Buchanan.
During the construction, the four beams around the railroad are going to be removed and re-erected while they remain on the ground. According to Buchanan, the team will be doing half at a time and the bridge will remain open for the duration. Other work on the bridge includes encasing the pier beams in concrete and sandblasting and painting the girders.
While traffic conditions are always challenging when work is taking place on busy roadways, it’s even more so in this case. The IDL and Broken Arrow Expressway works zones are adjacent to each other. ODOT urged drivers to plan ahead and to expect significant delays during peak travel times.
Maintenance of traffic became a challenge during the spring months of 2019 due to heavy rains. The wet weather led to worsening pavement conditions in the older sections of the south leg, which was still carrying traffic. “There was a rapid rate of deterioration of the pavement on that side,” says Buchanan.
This was not a complete surprise as the contractor was aware it could happen since the older pavement had been difficult to maintain during heavy rains in the past. ODOT and the contractor created rapid response plans to do emergency patch work to keep traffic moving while this critical maintenance work was done. Furthermore, the contractor did an overlay in the areas to be impacted on the Broken Arrow Expressway project in order to allow the pavement to handle the traffic shifts in the corridor.
Buchanan notes it’s been a smooth-running operation. “We had very good planning upfront as our consultant design team did vigorous field exploration,” says Buchanan. “When issues have arisen, the contractors have been good at working with us to come up with solutions.”
Because of this, both the IDL and Broken Arrow Expressway projects are currently on budget and expected to be completed on time or even early. Both projects include incentives for contractors to meet milestones and finish ahead of schedule.
Upon completion of the IDL and Broken Arrow Expressway projects, commuters will have a smoother and safer ride. It will also mean ODOT won’t need to spend time on patching and rehabbing the road, allowing them to focus on bigger projects. It’s a win for all in the area.