Shortening time, not lives

April 2, 2018
SCDOT attacks accelerated construction project with heightened safety measures

About the author: Henderson is CRM-West's resident construction manager for the I-385 improvements.

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Imagine refinishing all of the hardwood floors in your house, while still living in it. That's very similar to what we are doing during the reconstruction of I-385." 

This statement is frequently made by Area Manager Randy Green as he addresses community groups interested in their project. Green is a member of the South Carolina DOT Construction Resource Managers (CRM-West) team, responsible for providing information to the media and community about the department's accelerated projects in upstate South Carolina. I-385 is currently one of the largest components of a program of accelerated highway improvements, which SCDOT refers to as the "27 in 7 Program." This program will provide in just seven years what would normally take 27 years to plan and construct through traditional means.

The I-385 Improvements Project is widening 5.8 miles of interstate between I-85 and downtown Greenville, S.C. Serving an urban corridor, including nearby major corporations such as Michelin Tire and BMW, I-385 averages more than 60,000 vehicles per day. Engineers are expecting a 50% increase to over 92,000 by 2020. By adding more lanes and upgrading the interchanges, SCDOT will provide the needed capacity for I-385 to operate more safely and efficiently.

The interstate will be widened from four to six lanes and in some places to eight. Eight bridges are being replaced or improved, and interchange ramps and intersecting streets are being upgraded.  

Auxiliary lanes will be added to the outside of I-385 between I-85 and Roper Mountain Road and between Haywood Road and Pleasantburg Drive. Motorists traveling between these interchanges may stay in the auxiliary lane, not forced to merge with traffic in the through lanes. The widening project also includes the installation of double concrete median barriers to prevent crossover collisions and to provide for a landscaping planter, enhancements to the intelligent transportation system (ITS) and new permanent electronic message boards.

Upstate GRID, part of the South Carolina State Infrastructure Bank, is making all of this possible by financing the $132.5 million project, which should be completed by the end of 2004.

Traffic control and work-zone considerations were a major part of the early planning for this project. I-385 is the major artery for travelers into downtown Greenville to work, shop and enjoy attractions at the Bi-Lo Center Coliseum and Peace Center for the performing arts. Both centers are located near the northern end of I-385, as is the Law Enforcement Center housing both the Greenville County Sheriff and Greenville City Police Departments. Emergency medical services and fire department facilities also are located nearby and need access to I-385 and intersecting streets for call response. 

Project phasing and detour plans were developed with sensitivity for these stakeholders and practicality for the construction operations. Several public information workshops were held, in addition to required public hearings, to present options and solicit input from the general public, utilities and local officials. Several decisions were made regarding work phasing restrictions at adjacent interchanges and lane closure times on the I-385 mainline:

* Two lanes in each direction of I-385 must be available for traffic during all stages of daylight construction;

* Single-lane closures and detours are permitted only between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m., Sunday through Thursday; 

* No lane closures are permitted during inclement weather, holidays or when a major function is held downtown. The closure restrictions are enforced with a stiff liquidated damages provision of $2,900 per 15 minutes of unallowed lane closure time; and

* The project sequence schedule was developed to concentrate work in alternating interchanges to minimize traffic impact and provide relief routes for interchanges under construction. 

The mainline work was sequenced to allow median work zones to be established early in the construction. Approximately 7 ft of the shoulder along the existing travel lanes was milled out and replaced with full-depth pavement to make room for shifting traffic toward the outside. This allowed enough room within the median to use temporary concrete barriers to establish a median work zone approximately 38 ft wide. This approach allowed many of the existing outside guardrails and barriers to remain in use and minimized impacts to existing storm drainage components. The drainage work, permanent concrete barriers, sign foundations, ITS, paving and median planters could be constructed within the temporary barriers during daylight hours. As the median work was completed, the temporary barriers were removed and traffic shifted back toward the median, and outside work zones were established with the same temporary concrete barriers. Improvements were then finished on the outside behind the protective temporary walls.

Temporary guardrails also were included in the project scope to be used wherever traffic shifts caused clear space dimensions to fall below the minimum required for driver recovery.

Rob Loar, project manager for Blythe Construction, stated that the coordination and review team created to evaluate detour, traffic shift and sequence plans made many improvements toward work-zone safety for both workers and motorists.

A major initiative to improve function and safety of the Haywood Road interchange during construction was spearheaded by SCDOT Program Manager Christy Hall. She worked closely with local merchants, property owners and city officials to accomplish a 28-ft shift of the new interchange bridge to allow the creation of left-turn lanes from Haywood Road during both stages of new bridge construction. This shift was accomplished with minimal impact to right-of-way and existing structural design. The benefits included an improvement of non-peak traffic flow of approximately 80%, less initial demolition of the existing bridge and more working space for the construction crews. As a follow-up to this shift, Blythe proposed phased construction plans for each ramp and eliminated closures except for nighttime paving operations. This proposal was also incorporated into the interchange plan revisions.

Personnel from SCDOT, CRM-West, FHWA, Greenville City, Greenville County, state and local law enforcement agencies and the designers met several times to develop plans for emergency response and to confirm jurisdictional responsibilities. FHWA Operations Engineer Tad Kitowicz' recommendation to assign a full-time traffic officer as part of the construction contract was incorporated into the project scope. 

The Greenville County Sheriff's Department Traffic Division provides the full-time officers, since their jurisdiction covers the entire length of the project. Additional deputies are provided to assist with lane closures and detours as needed. Greenville City police officers provide additional speed enforcement and crash investigation within city limits. The

South Carolina State Highway Patrol provides these same services outside city limits. These agencies have done an excellent job of driver behavior modification to increase project safety. Frequently, Greenville Police used a vest- and hard-hat-clad officer for radar monitoring in the work zone. This has proven to be one of the most effective means to slow drivers as they motor through the zone. Statistics consistently show that crash fatalities and serious injuries dramatically increase as speeds exceed 55 mph.

Planners recognized early in the project that a full-time towing service would be beneficial for quickly clearing disabled vehicles from the work-zone confines. There are many project locations where no shoulder exists for emergency pull-off. Rapid clearing of the roadway reduces the likelihood of secondary crashes due to traffic back-ups. Full-time wrecker service, provided at no cost to the motorist, and a disabled vehicle storage area were added to the contract scope at the start of construction. 

Randy Green works closely with SCDOT Communications Director Pete Poore to get the word out about project activities and the new road benefits. Green is responsible for updating the I-385 pages on the SCDOT website ( www.scdot.org /Projects/I-385) and providing current information to the Greenville City cable channel and road condition hotline (864/467-ROAD). He and other team members frequently provide interviews and live updates for local radio, television and newspaper stories.

All inspectors employed by CRM-West and Blythe's construction supervisors on the I-385 project were trained in the latest requirements for work-zone setup and approved traffic control devices. 

The Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) establishes minimum criteria for the project signs, pavement markings, reflectors, signals, barricades, message boards, protective barriers and guardrails. The project used raised pavement markers and post delineators as channeling devices more extensively than recommended by the MUTCD. Portable electronic message boards were used extensively due to constantly shifting work operations and work-zone configurations.

Even though many protected work areas were established to separate workers and motorists, significant risks still exist with contractor equipment and operations. All workers and inspectors are required to wear appropriate personal protective equipment such as high-visibility vests, hard hats, safety glasses and sturdy footwear. Back-up alarms and flashing lights are used on construction equipment and vehicles.

Each month the project management team performs a comprehensive inspection during both daylight and nighttime conditions. This is in addition to weekly work-zone inspections required by the department. Night shift inspectors evaluate the effectiveness of traffic control devices and initiate corrections or improvements as required. 

The SCDOT Quality Management Audit Team visits the project quarterly. Work-zone safety is a major area of audit concern. Their comments, observations and recommendations are welcomed and acted upon after each visit.

The I-385 project also has participated in an ongoing SCDOT/Clemson University study focusing on safe night and weekend work-zone operations. Many recommendations regarding lighting, signage and pavement markings have already been implemented.

The I-385 project has had no worker injuries related to motorist intrusions into the work zone. Protective barriers prevented worker injuries or fatalities several times during the first two years of construction. The photo on p 32 of a crash impact on the temporary barrier wall shows just how close four workers were to catastrophe. The driver who lost control of her truck in this crash exceeded the posted speed limit and was apparently distracted. 

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