view counter

Caution! Road Work Ahead

Highway construction is a long and bumpy road

Ready for the end of road construction delays on your commute?
    In early spring, heavy construction equipment arrived. Graders, backhoes and bulldozers dug into a summer of frantic activity, working on a backlog of road projects to alleviate traffic hold-ups and increase safety, in  part by adding left-turn lanes. As most road projects are concluded with new paving, timing counts. All the prep work needs to be complete so that roads can be laid before asphalt plants close for cold weather.
    It’s the prep work that seems to take forever.
    Temporary traffic lanes are marked and defined by orange striped barrels or concrete barriers. Those barriers, called Jersey walls, shield construction workers and their equipment from traffic.
    Loose stone, silt fence and wire gabion baskets filled with riprap come to control erosion. Roadsides are bushwhacked or dirt embankments are leveled. Drainage pipe and concrete storm-water structures have to be laid; you see them waiting their turn along the roadways. Only after all this is done can workers move on to grading. Grading means progress, as dirt on cleared areas is leveled in preparation for paving new or wider lanes.
    Removing sections of old, worn asphalt roadway is another part of the process. Behemoth milling machines destroy the old road surface, which will be replaced with fresh asphalt. Rotating drums underneath, outfitted with spiked teeth, cut and chop the asphalt and collect the chunks. From there, a conveyor belt moves the chunks up and into dump trucks waiting to transport it for recycling. It lives on mixed in new asphalt or crushed finer into gravel millings or stone dust.
    You’ve probably seen such a machine and marveled at its size, perhaps without knowing its purpose. You’ve certainly driven on grooved pavement, a result of milling before new asphalt is laid.
    We get used to driving on worn-out roads, wishing they’d be upgraded. Disruption and delays when road crews come our way breaks our routine, provoking irritation and complaints. It’s hard to see the big picture — eventual better roads — when you’re bumping along worse roads.
    Adding insult to injury, you need to be an inquisitive reporter to learn just what repairs are underway.
    That’s the assignment I took as large stretches of Rt. 2 in Southern Anne Arundel and Calvert counties were repaired this summer.
    Drivers on that busy stretch, at least 14,000 vehicles a day, have faced five months of torn-up roads. They’re not alone. Simultaneous work tore up roadways all over the counties and state.

What’s Doing on Your Roads?
    Who knew that you could find out what’s going on your roads at
ProjectLifeCycle/ProjectHome.aspx. On this State Highway Administration website, you can check the status of road construction projects, find commuter information and even see live traffic cams throughout the state. Just released online is a Mid-Summer Update, showing that all Rt. 2 projects, except one, are on schedule.
    It’s a site to get familiar with when your roads get their turn.
    Now underway in Calvert Country is Prince Frederick Streetscape Construction. At Main Street and Church Street in downtown Prince Frederick, the intersection roadway will be raised three feet to improve visibility, by tearing up existing roadway and adding fill materials to raise the surface. Also planned are brick sidewalks, bicycle compatible shoulders and road resurfacing and striping. During the eight weeks of construction, Main Street, Rt. 265A, and Church Street, Rt. 231, will be closed to traffic, with detours in place.
    On Cape St. Clair Road in Anne Arundel County, near the Bay Bridge, a project to widen the road and install a water main continues to disrupt traffic. Daytime lane closures there are forecast to go on for several weeks.
    Throughout Maryland, more is coming. Gov. Larry Hogan this year approved $1.97 billion for highway improvements. According to the plan, each county in the state was awarded one or two top road improvement needs, selected from the lists submitted annually to the State Highway Administration as part of the state’s 20-year highway needs inventory. This inventory becomes the basis for the Consolidated Transportation Program, which in the final version sends top priority projects to the General Assembly for approval. Work on the approved projects will begin in 2018.
    A large portion of that budget is for repairs to bridges, which have been identified with structural problems due to aging. Other projects include intersection rebuilding and left-turn lane additions.
    Road improvement is as slow in the planning as in the doing. Highway reconstruction underway now was planned and budgeted in phases over a period spanning up to a decade.

From Idea to Asphalt
    How does a road project get from idea stage to completed job?
    Hilary Gonzales, State Highway Administration liaison provided some answers.
    “Each project has its own unique schedule,” she reports. There are usually four phases: development of the concept or idea and its planning; preliminary engineering and design; right-of-way concerns; and utilities and construction.
    Once those phases are complete, a project is advertised for bid. Awarding a contractor with a notice to proceed on construction can take two to three months after the bid date.
    Projects proceed as funding permits. So for example, Gonzales says, “there may be funding available for planning and design — yet not for right-of-way or construction.” In that case, SHA could do site surveys but not acquire properties.
    During a typical study period, SHA examines such concerns as protecting the environment, traffic, existing rights-of-way, drainage and location of utilities for a planned project, as well as determining if additional land will be needed.
    SHA’s real estate division manages state-owned property and works with property owners who may be affected by upcoming projects. Staffers meet with engineers and property owners to determine how to complete safety improvements with minimum impact to residents.