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West Virginia DOT Improves I-64 Over Kanawha River

by: Larry Bernstein
A joint venture of Brayman Construction Company and Trumbull Corporation are improving multiple sections of I-64 near Charleston, West Virginia.
A joint venture of Brayman Construction Company and Trumbull Corporation are improving multiple sections of I-64 near Charleston, West Virginia.
Completing an infrastructure project involves coordinating multiple moving parts. For the Nitro-St. Albans I-64 Improvement project, which is taking place just outside of Charleston, West Virginia, the team has an excessive number of entities to coordinate. The West Virginia Department of Transportation (WVDOT) and the team assembled for the five-phase construction project are moving forward on the project as they coordinate with their many partners.

Built in 1966, the segment of I-64 being worked on crosses over the Kanawha River, the largest inland waterway in West Virginia. This part of I-64 has an average daily traffic count of 70,000 vehicles. This represents an increase in traffic, which has led to congestion, sudden stops, and collisions.

The widening of the roadway – among other elements being addressed in the project – will alleviate the increased congestion in the area. It’s expected that the widened I-64 will not just improve traffic volume capacity, but it will also enhance safety and support continued economic growth in the area.

Multiple Construction Elements
Throughout the five phases of the project, multiple construction elements will occur.

I-64 is being expanded from four to six lanes between exits 40 and 45, which is approximately 5 miles long. Upon completion of the expansion, I-64 will be six lanes between Teays Valley and Charleston, thus alleviating a heavily congested area.

The Donald M. Legg Bridge, which spans the Kanawha River, is a truss bridge that was built in the 1960s. “While the bridge has been updated, it requires regular maintenance and upkeep and has reached the end of its lifespan,” says Jason Hamilton, an area Construction Engineer with WVDOT, who is overseeing the project.

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As part of the project, the team is building a new I-64 west-bound slab-on-girder bridge north of the existing truss bridge. In addition, the existing river piers of the Donald M. Legg Memorial Bridge will be rehabilitated to carry a new slab-on-girder bridge for I-64 eastbound traffic. Each bridge will have four lanes in each direction, including three travel lanes and a dedicated auxiliary lane from the entrance ramp to the exit ramp. Previously, there was a total of two lanes in each direction.

Other elements of the project include: a new interstate bridge, rehabbing an interstate bridge, a new underpass structure, a new overpass bridge, and upgrading two interchanges.

The team is currently working on phase two. It includes widening a section of I-64, installing the new I-64 westbound river bridge, and installing two new bridges.

Project Challenges
With multiple phases and construction elements, the team is looking at a complex project. Making it more challenging are all the entities involved.

Besides the standard entities – utilities, local governments, local businesses, etc. – there are two railroad companies. That’s because CSX is on the western side of the river, while Norfolk Sothern is on the eastern side of the river. Because the team is working in the water off barges, there’s the Army Corps of Engineers, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Projection, and the U.S. Coast Guard.

Coordinating a traffic plan has also been a challenge. “We’ve reached out to emergency responders, political reps in the area, and police and fire as part of our traffic management plan,” Hamilton says. “When we were blasting to bring the embankment cuts down and make room for the new bridges and road, we needed help with traffic.” The local authorities were helpful and ensured safe passage.

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Another challenge is the workspace. The contract stipulates two lanes must always be left open. To facilitate this, the team shrunk the lane sizes from 12 to 11 feet and are using existing shoulder as temporary travel lanes. “It’s been challenging to find working room,” Hamilton says. “We’ve been shifting traffic sometimes to the outside and sometimes to the middle depending on the place.”  

Choosing Design-Build
The project is being delivered via the design-build method. Hamilton cites a couple of reasons for going design-build. The first is that projects that are done in this manner move faster. And second, design-build tends to encourage innovation and creativity on the part of the contractor.

Serving as the general contractor is Brayman Trumbull, a joint venture. Both Brayman Construction Company and Trumbull Corporation have served as general contractors on state projects in the past in the area. HDR, Inc. is the design consultant.

Budgeted for just over $224 million, the project is a bit over budget currently. Hamilton attributes that to some change orders that have added value to the contract. “You don’t always know what you’re getting into when doing rehab/rework projects,” Hamilton says. The team came across some undercuts of roadway and old concrete pavement, that needed to be repaired to get to a good road. While the contract did allow for some quantities of repair, more was there than what was budgeted.

The project is being funded by the Roads to Prosperity program, that was created by West Virginia Governor Jim Justice. The $2.8 billion program was created in response to the finding of a Blue-Ribbon Commission on Highways, which showed funding for West Virginia infrastructure was severely insufficient.

The project began in the spring of 2021 and is scheduled for completion in fall 2023. However, due to issues with obtaining permitting, coordinating with all the entities, and some land use issues, the project is behind. 

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When the massive Nitro-St. Albans I-64 Improvement project is complete, there will be increased capacity leading to a decrease in congestions. The roadway will also be safer and provide a smoother ride also the two main river bridges will have auxiliary lanes leaving drivers plenty of time to either merge or exit at the next exit.

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