I-630 Reconstruction Adds Capacity Near the Arkansas State Capitol
Relief in Little Rock: I-630 Reconstruction Brings Much Needed Upgrades to Combat Increased Commuter Traffic
Many Americans face daily issues on their commute to work. Backed up traffic, poor road conditions, and other issues leave many believing there’s a great need to upgrade infrastructure in the United States. The I-630 project in Arkansas is one example of upgraded infrastructure, and its sole purpose is to increase capacity and reduce congestion.
The project is taking place over a span of 2.5 miles, and it continues the widening of I-630. It’s taking place in Little Rock, just three miles or so from the Arkansas state capitol building. The interstate serves as a lifeline for commuters striving to get into the capitol from the east and west. It also serves as a major artery for three different interstates and is a hub of the downtown area.
I-630 was originally built in the 1960’s and has an average daily traffic of 116,000. That number is expected to rise to 138,000 by 2037. The traffic is primarily commuter traffic.
Bridges and Noise Barriers
I-630 was originally constructed as a six-lane highway. The project will expand I-630 to eight lanes. Auxiliary lanes are being added in some segments, so sections with on/off ramps will have five lanes.
In addition to the road work, three bridges are being rebuilt and widened and a pedestrian bridge is being added. Two of the bridges are over creeks and each of them will have their superstructure removed, as well as a portion of the substructure.
Two bridges being removed and replaced completely. “The Rodney Parham Road bridge had spread footing foundations, but under the new design, we are putting in drilled shaft foundations in three different phases,” says Tom Cramer, Senior Project Manager for Manhattan Road and Bridge, the contractor in charge of the job. Cramer – who oversees the budget, schedule, production, and safety – said, “The new foundation will be able to handle the increased capacity and wider loads and has a smaller footprint.”
Noise barriers are also being installed on the north side of I-630. These types of barriers have never been used in Arkansas. Unlike typical noise barriers, which are concrete with steel posts, the ones being used on this project are lightweight. “They installed very well and they’re aesthetically pleasing,” says Cramer. They are also less expensive than traditional barriers.
“The neighborhood association was behind this decision,” says Mark Windle, Vice President of Manhattan Road and Bridge. Windle was instrumental in the bid process for the job and is responsible for tracking the budget. “The majority of the noise barriers are up, and the feedback has been positive,” he says.
Other aspects of the project include adding overhead signs, installing new lighting, and adding traffic signals. Some pavement along the original six lanes was deteriorated, and it’s being replaced.
Traffic and Other Challenges
Getting work done on a roadway as busy as I-630 is a significant challenge. “There’s no down time in the area,” says Windle. “Little Rock is the home to all state government agencies, major business, and tourism.” In addition, there’s a large stadium near the project that hosts high school football games and other events.
Therefore, lane closures were limited to enable commuters to travel to and from their destinations. Significant traffic and construction can be a dangerous mix. “Safety is our number one goal. We follow our own internal guidelines and national expectations,” says Cramer.
Working in the congested area has also impacted equipment choices. “We used an overhead hoisted crane to build the interstate and to install a portion of the bridge,” says Cramer. “It was decided due to access and the limited amount of width to construct in the area.”
Communicating with the driving public is a priority on this project. “We’ve engaged a local marketing company, and they have billboards alerting the traveling public of changes to their commute,” says Windle. Information has also been shared via television and radio as well. Windle adds the state has also helped to keep the driving public informed.
Another typical challenge the project has had to deal with is weather. For the most part, according to Cramer, the weather has cooperated. And when it did not, the team has been able to compensate. “We’ve gotten some things done in less time than we allotted,” says Cramer. “We’ve maximized the work we could complete during good weather through creative production and resource allocation.”
Finally, the team has run up against some points where the existing conditions were not what was expected. One surprise was the pavement, which was deteriorated beyond originally thought in some areas. To compensate for this, “We did some redesigns and adjusted in order to keep the project on track,” says Cramer.
Schedule and Funding
Because of the team’s flexibility on these fronts, they are slightly ahead of schedule. The project began in July 2018 and is expected to be complete in April 2020.
Planning has also helped to ensure the project has remained on schedule. “When we began and pursued this project, we committed lots of resources, such as manpower and equipment,” says Windle. “We over-equipped to make the schedule, and so far, that has worked well. You can’t plan enough.”
The winning bid for this project was $87.4 million. This project is part of the Connecting Arkansas Project (CAP). Taxpayers voted for a half-cent sales tax to pay for a number of construction projects throughout the state. The I-630 project is receiving additional funds from the state as well as the federal government.
Upon completion of the I-630 project, the route will be less congested, safer, and better prepared for future traffic increases. Cramer and Windle are aiming to save commuters 15 minutes on their commute. When this occurs, the project will be looked at as well done.