Louisiana DOTD Increases Accessibility with Tarbutton Road and I-20 Interchange Project
Much-Needed Relief: Long-Awaited Tarbutton Road and I-20 Interchange Project Clears Congestion in Lincoln Parish
Access is a major component in good transportation. Greater access means smoother flowing traffic and improved safety. The Tarbutton Road and I-20 interchange project in Lincoln Parish, Louisiana, will improve access in the area and save commuters time.
The project will take place in Rushton, Louisiana. While the population of the town is just over 22,000, it is home to Louisiana Tech University. Grambling State University is in nearby Grambling. The area itself is also growing and is in need of congestion relief.
To Be Completed
As the project has been on the books for two decades, the need is clear. Prior to the completion of the project, there was no access to I-20 from Tarbutton Road. “Commuters had to take service roads to the next interchange, and it became congested during significant events,” says Erin Buchanan, Public Information Officer, for the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD).
This project includes the removal of the existing Tarbutton Road overpass and the installation of a new overpass and associated interstate ramps. The new ramps can be used to get traffic off of I-20 in both the eastbound and westbound directions in the event that the existing ramps are full, providing congestion relief to the corridor.
Buchanan explains further, “The new overpass will be adjusted in order to align and help traffic flow.” The roadways were also adjusted to flow smoothly. The overpass was widened and modernized as the original was built in the 1950’s and had reached the end of its lifespan.
The two north and south service roads will each be converted to one-way traffic aligning to the direction of the adjacent lanes of I-20. The north service road will be converted to only westbound traffic, and the south service road will be changed to only eastbound traffic.
Buchanan says, “This will improve the efficiency of traffic that is entering and exiting the interstate, as well as enhance flow between the new interchange and the next existing interchange which is approximately 1.5 miles to the east and is the primary exit for Louisiana Tech University.”
Multiple parties contributed to the $25.5 million needed to ensure this long-awaited project could happen. The bulk of the funds ($14.6 million) are coming from the state while, the City of Ruston contributed $2.6 million, and $8.3 million is coming from federal money. So far, the project is on budget, according to Buchanan.
Originally expected to be a three-year project with completion in early 2021, Buchanan says the project is slated to be ready for traffic by early summer of 2020. The team is on track to complete the project six months early, despite 2019 being the rainiest spring on record in the area.
Buchanan ticked off a few reasons for the team being ahead of schedule. These include minimal traffic impacts, no setbacks, and the great teamwork among all project partners. “This has been key in not only staying on track schedule-wise, but also budget-wise,” says Buchanan. “The team has monthly formal progress meetings that have been supplemented by daily communication and resolution of issues that has allowed the project to stay on track.”
While all these elements have been important, getting to work right away fueled getting the project to finish ahead of schedule. Immediately upon issuance of the work order, the earthwork subcontractor expedited construction of the new header at the north end of the new Tarbutton Road bridge over I-20. This is where a 23-foot-high non-plastic embankment had to be built.
This effort allowed the four month settlement monitoring period of the embankment to be accomplished during the winter of 2017-2018, which allowed base and pavement construction to begin in the spring of 2018. “Had this timing been otherwise, the project would not be ahead of schedule,” says Buchanan.
Like every project on a highly used thoroughfare (the average daily traffic for I-20 in the area where the work is taking place is nearly 46,000), maintaining traffic has been a challenge. To handle this challenge, the contractor proposed an alternative sequence of construction involving the elimination of the traditional crossover detours. The standard process would have involved shifting eastbound I-20 traffic to the westbound roadway and maintaining two-way traffic on that roadway for portions of the work, and then shifting westbound I-20 traffic to the eastbound roadway.
As an alternative, the contractor proposed to construct the on-and off-ramps and then shift traffic to these ramps during nighttime closures of each I-20 roadway in order to place the steel girders and construct the deck of the new Tarbutton Road bridge over I-20. This required construction of short detour roadway sections for handling both eastbound and westbound I-20 traffic because of significant grade differences between new and existing Tarbutton Road.
Despite the added construction, “This approach resulted in an underrun of nearly $1 million, while at the same time providing for safer movement of traffic through the project site and expediting the construction work,” says Buchanan.
Redirecting traffic also is less complex because the interchange is new. Therefore, commuters did not have to adjust to closures and the interchange is not part of their daily routine.
“This project is significant not only for improved traffic flow,” says Buchanan, “but also on the educational front as Louisiana Tech University, Grambling State University, and Ruston Junior High School, will all benefit from the upgraded roadway and new access ramps.” Major events at the universities will no longer be a sure-fire recipe for congestion due to poor or limited access.
In addition to access, DOTD believes the interchange project has the potential to enable economic development through businesses seeking highly visible access on I-20.
When the Tarbutton Road and I-20 interchange project is complete, commuters in Lincoln Parish, Louisiana, will have more access on and off to the area. Whether commuters are coming to or from the growing city of Rushton or one of the universities, they will also recognize a relief in congestion.