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Michigan DOT Rebuilds Southbound I-196

by: Larry Bernstein
Crews lay new pipe on a section of southbound I-196 near Lake Michigan.
Crews lay new pipe on a section of southbound I-196 near Lake Michigan.
The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) is in the midst of the southbound I-196 Rebuilding and Improvements project. Located in southwest Michigan just inland off of Lake Michigan, this project is one that commuters have been waiting to see happen for some time.

In 2012, the northbound side of I-196 was paved and MDOT’s plan was to do the southbound side the next year. Funding, however, was unavailable and the project got put on the backburner.

The funding has become primarily from the Rebuilding Michigan bond funds. The remainder of the monies for the $34 million project is coming from standard federal and state funds.

Sixty Year Old Pavement
This project is focusing solely on the southbound side of I-196, which is a Lakeshore route and a direct line from Chicago. The route is important for commuter, commercial, and tourism traffic. It carries many tourists and is a heavy commercial route bringing freight and commerce into the area from around the state.

The pavement on I-196 dates back to the 1960s when the route was constructed. There are many cracks on the road, as well as patches from earlier repairs. It also has drainage issues.

As part of the project, the pavement will be fully reconstructed from the base on up. In addition to the rebuilding and resurfacing, there will be culvert replacements. The team is installing a large box culvert, which will enable the route to be brought up to the new environmental guidelines and improve drainage.

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Four bridges are also being impacted. One of the bridges, which is having its deck resurfaced, goes over the Kalamazoo River while another is over the CSX railroad.

Besides roads and bridges, the Saugatuck Rest Area is being replaced with a new facility. “The building was functionally out of date,” says Matthew Block, an MDOT Operations Manager who oversaw the design of the project. “The new modern building will be energy compliant and meet current safety standards.”

Seven miles of pavement are being reconstructed, but traffic control expands for 5 miles making the length of the project 12 miles.

Material Challenges and Railroad Coordination
The cost of construction materials seems to be rising on a daily basis while availability is shrinking. “The availability of barrier wall has been a challenge on this project,” says Theresa Eilers, an Assistant Construction Engineer for MDOT who is serving as the project manager on the project. “Because of this, we split the project into two phases which helps with mobility issues and with the volume of wall needed.”

Rather than using the traditional barrier walls, a metal wall is being used. Eilers and Block note that this is the first time a metal barrier wall is being used in the area.

Coordinating with the railroad can be a challenge. However, Eilers says that it is going smoothly so far. Credit the good communication to a lesson learned.

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“We’ve learned that the earlier in the process we start coordinating with the railroad, the better,” Block says. “Because the railroad companies don’t have a local presence, there’s a geographic disconnect which makes trying to coordinate more challenging.” He notes that trying to do more with fewer people adds to the difficulties.

Schedule and Budget
As noted above, the project is budgeted at $34 million. “The project is on budget so far,” Eilers says. “We have good communication between inspectors and contractors about issues that may arise.”

The project began in March and is expected to be complete in early November. Eilers says the team is aiming to complete the first phase of the project by July 4. To date, there have been no delays. Block points to the box culvert as something that could potentially interrupt the schedule. “We were concerned about lead time for the box culvert,” Block says. “The contractor proposed casting it in place, and we are reviewing the proposal.”

Serving as the contractor for the project is Michigan Paving and Materials. They’ve worked with MDOT on a number of projects over the years. “We’re happy to partner with them on this project, as they’ve been a good partner with MDOT,” Eilers says.

Block who resides in the area and has served on outreach committees says people have complained about the project area in the past. No surprise considering the condition of the road.

“We’re looking at a better driving surface for motorists and fewer delays due to maintenance,” Block says. There will also be an improvement in safety due to repairs and upgrades related to side slopes, guard rails, and pavement markings. The new rest area facility will also be an upgrade and help people enjoy their ride.”

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“The road condition was like driving on a washboard,” Eilers says, “so when the surface is redone, it will help reduce the wear and tear on people’s vehicles and provide a smoother commute…We look forward to completing the project and providing the public with a good product.”

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