Granite completes push to open highway

Brian Roll, project manager for Granite Construction, says the hardest part of the U.S. 395 widening project wasn't placing the massive steel beams used to expand the bridge over the Truckee River at Kietzke Lane, nor even keeping tens of thousands of cars moving safely each a day.

The biggest challenge, Roll says, was erecting large retaining walls such as those at Villanova Drive and Mill Street. With businesses close to the freeway, workers had little room for heavy equipment or to stockpile the materials.

The company's success in handling those challenges as well as the headaches of working through a difficult winter paid off with a $2 million bonus from the Nevada Department of Transportation.

Granite, which is headquartered at Watsonville, Calif., completed the nearly all of the freeway project nearly three months ahead of schedule, winning the $2 million incentive from the state.

The $31.5 million project began in April of 2010, and on August 26 Granite completed work on the majority of the expansion, which in some places includes seven northbound lanes. The remainder of the work, including installing three sign structures that span the freeway, including a Dynamic Messaging System, is expected to be completed near the end of September. However, Granite still will perform landscaping improvements underneath several freeway overpasses that should carry the company through the end of the year, says Scott Magruder, spokesman for the Nevada Department of transportation.

Roll says extensive planning, detailed scheduling and the company's ability to draw on a large labor pool helped Granite complete the job early. The job initially was planned by NDOT for multiple phases to be constructed one phase at a time, but by using several crews Granite was able to work on multiple sections of the freeway at once.

"Nationwide we can draw on whatever we need; it is sort of a unique aspect to working for Granite," Roll says. "NDOT had this plan to work from the north to the south, which we essentially did, but we were working on things such as the widening and retaining walls down at Villanova while we were working on the bridge at Kietzke. It was little mini projects working within one larger project."

Granite Business Manager Jim Grogan says there is significant financial incentive to any construction company to finish a job early, such as reduced payroll and other overhead costs. The milestone incentive wasn't reached without significant cost to the company, either, he says. Expenses occurred in hitting the project milestone included hiring multiple crews and the loss of 40 working days in the contract in order to combine phases.

"There is definite benefit to the public to get it done early, to say the least," Grogan says. "Without question it is a safer roadway and a less congested roadway."

In addition to working within the constraints of the existing freeway and businesses, Granite could only perform certain functions during nighttime hours 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. because it was required to maintain three lanes of travel during daytime commutes. The company would shut northbound traffic down to one lane but was required to have it back open to three lanes for the morning commute.

"We had to be efficient when working at night," Roll says. "That's eight hours, but you get 6.5 hours of a working shift by the time traffic is set up and taken down."

By completing the work early, Roll adds, Granite can dedicate more resources to the $72 million improvements it's conducting on Interstate 80. That job should be completed by the end of the 2012 construction season.

Raising the massive steel beams that were used to widen the Kietzke Bridge was actually one of easier aspects of the job, Roll says. Erecting the many new retaining walls proved much more difficult.

"When they widened the road, there was about 10 to 12 feet from the bottom of the walls to the right-of-way. There's no turning around. Instead of (triple transfer) trains, we had to use 10-wheelers on it. It was teaspoons instead of buckets. Probably the hardest thing was getting all the materials into the tight spaces."

Granite often had to close a lane and receive permission from surrounding businesses in order to access certain workspaces.

Despite the addition of new northbound lanes, which now outnumber the southbound lanes seven to four in some spots, the current configuration most likely will stand, Magruder says, since southbound traffic flows never posed a significant problem.

"The whole goal was to really improve merging on and off and heading over to Sparks and Reno," he says. "This will allow for much better merging on and off the freeways from Glendale and Mill, and also help to reduce the amount of motorists weaving in and out of traffic."

Lead-footed motorists eager for a return to 65-mile-per-hour speed limits may have a lengthy wait, though. The 55-mph zone, which starts just before Neil Road due to work on the Meadowood interchange and continues through the Spaghetti Bowl, may stand until next year due to the construction work on Interstate 80, NDOT's Magruder says.

NDOT is evaluating whether to keep the 55 mph speed limit in place until the Meadowood interchange project is completed next summer due to backups that occur from traffic merging onto I-80, Magruder says. The department is expected to make its determination in the next few weeks.


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