(WASHINGTON) - It is hard to put the absolute size of the I-69 project into words, but if one steps on the new White River Bridge, the interstate that is the largest continuous highway project in the nation start to take shape.
Nate Smith of the Washington Times-Herald reports that nowhere is it more evident than on the East Fork of the White River, where a bridge stands that only a year ago did not exist.
The bridge has as many as 40 workers, thousands of hours and millions of dollars in concrete and labor in it's creation. A bridge that will have concrete across its entire span in two weeks, engineers say.
And, a looming deadline above it from on high. A deadline that says this bridge and the interstate it spans has to have cars on it by the end of 2012.
State Department of Transportation officials said last week they will meet it.
"Every contractor has recommitted to us that their portion of I-69 is going to be done by the end of 2012," INDOT Press Representative Cher Elliott said."Of course there have been bumps along the way with weather, materials, equipment. Every project has issues or concerns, every construction project.
"There has been times weather has put a contractor behind where they wanted to be, but on the flip side weather has allowed to get ahead where they wanted to be."
Presently, construction on I-69's Sections 2 and 3 in Gibson, Pike and Daviess counties, is anywhere from 50 to 75 percent complete, Elliott said.
Most of Section 3, which bisects Daviess County down the center to a very large interchange at U.S.231 and the Naval Surface Warfare Center at Crane, is 60 to 75 percent compete.
The U.S. 50 interchange, the most visible part of I-69 construction in Daviess County, is currently at 64 percent completion. This according to contractor Walsh Construction.
Further north, eight miles of interstate through mostly Amish farms, is 75 percent complete, Elliott said. That section is being completed by TJ Lambrecht construction. At the Crane interchange, Weber Construction said progress is at 60 percent.
South of U.S.50 is Section 2,which started later than Section 3, Elliott said, because of land acquisition from area coal mines. The section starts at I-64 and continue through Gibson and Pike counties.
Although INDOT planned to have a few setbacks due to rain, the drought and dry weather has sped up construction on the interstate by allowing contractors not to wait on usual Indiana weather. The dirt has stayed dry, dry enough to move and compact -- a key component of highway construction.
"One of the things we have to contend with is it might only rain an hour, but it washes out the entire day because we can't get to the dirt," Elliott said. "We've had so many non-rain days, of course that has made all the (Earth) layers clear out. Not only are you able to keep up on dirt work,but it allow crews to keep up with everything."
Elliott said the dry weather has allowed the contractor team to make up for delay that occurred before the current dry period we find ourselves in. An added bonus, she said, has been keeping overtime costs down for contractors. The $600 million for the Evansville-to-Crane portion of I-69 comes from state Major Moves money.
But there might be a very large problem coming ahead -- water. The drought and subsequent heat waves have lowered the water level in rivers and reservoirs, creating shortages that local governments along the corridor have countered with voluntary,and sometimes mandatory, conservation measures.
Concrete takes a lot of water, Elliott said, and if water levels do not rise, INDOT will have to speak with water providers on moving forward. On the U.S. 50 interchange, one temporary concrete plant built by Walsh is supplied by a 4-inch water main by the city of Washington.
Although there may be little concrete in place on some areas of the interstate, Elliott explained that concrete is like the "icing " on a very elaborate and multitiered cake that a road building is.
"A lot of dirt around here is extremely wet, so we've actually had to treat some of it to get it the right consistency. Then you have to compact it, get it set. Then you have to see what profile level that is, then you bring in more dirt, dry it, and set it up. You just keep doing that in layers until you get to a certain point where you have the right elevation," Elliott said."Then you bring in the stone.
"The stone has to be a certain level, then you have to roll it, compact it and push it into the dirt. Once you have all that, it is time to set forms and bring in concrete. That is what just blows my mind is how many steps there are and how many people have one step to do and they all seem to fall right into line just perfectly."
No structure is more elaborate than on the White River East Fork, where Force Construction has taken charge and is 90 percent complete with a bridge.Last week,ironworkers were placing the last of reinforced steel on the bridge for concrete.
In two weeks, the entire north- and southbound sections of the bridge will have concrete over it. All that is left is side decking and stripes.
Although there are local hires working on the project, two Washington-based INDOT employees have been supervising the bridge since barges were built to get it started -- Tom Brummett and Bryan Veale.
Brummett has been with INDOT for 27 years and requested to build this particular bridge.
"I wanted to build it right," Brummett said."It's in our backyard and I wanted to see it done correctly."
The relationship with Force and subcontractor Haye Drilling has been remarkable, Brummett said.
Hayes, a Kansas-based contractor, won an industry award for its work drilling the footers for the concrete bridge piers.
Building this bridge has been quick, Brummett said.
"Since we started last June,we've missed four days (of work)," he said.
The bridge will be named for two of Daviess County's Medal of Honor winners, Lt. Col. Don Carlos Faith and Pvt. Richard Taylor. The designation was sought by District 63 State Rep.Mark Messmer, R-Jasper, and a ceremony will be held closer to completion.
What is remarkable about the construction of I-69 in Daviess County is there have been few injuries in its construction. Elliott said a worker in Pike County sustained minor injuries in an accident in June and had to be checked out in an emergency room. He went back to work the next day. As for INDOT injuries, there have been none.
Also there has not been any trouble with protesters as seen at the start of I-69 construction in Warrick County. Elliott said the most INDOT has seen is petty theft involving tools and materials.
"We have had instances of vandalism and theft at job sites," Elliott said."I think one of the oddest instances is that someone drove one of the pieces of equipment and drove it out on the main line."
The end of 2012 deadline was imposed by Gov.Mitch Daniels and coincides with him leaving office. Elliott said the governor is briefed regularly on I-69 progress and is scheduled to make an official visit later this summer or early fall.
There will be some road for him to drive on, but will it all be complete by Christmas? Elliott hedged.
"We will be driving on this by the end of 2012. It might be New Year's Eve, but by the end of 2012," Elliott laughed. "We feel very confident we will hit that target."
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