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Improving Erie County's Interstate 79
By Scott Kulka, Vice President, Russell Standard Corporation

Russell Standard Corporation's Union City Branch eagerly took on the challenge of prime contractor for a project on a stretch of Interstate 79 in Northwestern Pennsylvania, which included 4.5 miles of full-depth Superpave bituminous paving on broken concrete, extensive structure work, drainage improvements, ROW fencing, guide rail, lighting, pavement markings and signage improvements. The reconstructed stretch of 5½ miles of I-79's northbound and southbound lanes running between its interchange with I-90 to its interchange with SR20 or 26th Street in the City of Erie, Erie County, Pennsylvania was opened to traffic in October 2001.

This was a two-year project, with the northbound lanes being reconstructed in 2000 and the southbound lanes being completed in 2001. The overall price-tag was approximately $20,000,000, which was funded with both Federal (80%) and State (20%) monies.

The roadway work initially required extensive earthwork to lower grade at the four existing overhead structures to maintain clearance restrictions and still allow the appropriate pavement typical section of 16" for new construction areas. This earthwork began with the rubblizing of the existing 10" reinforced concrete pavement to 8" minus in gradation. Rubblizing was specified by PENNDOT for the concrete that was to be removed and re-used in new roadbed sections as base material. Russell Standard Corp. then proceeded to remove the existing pavement section and the appropriate earth to the correct elevation. This task was complicated by the access restrictions outlined in the contract that required the construction of haul roads for the construction traffic on the project, which included the asphalt paving operations. Extra effort was afforded to separate the broken concrete from the excavated material for re-use purposes as well. On one location, subgrade was of a condition that required an undercut of an additional 3' to stabilize. This area also required some drainage modifications that the new subgrade elevation dictated.

The project was divided into sections by its different designs therefore creating many different work areas, which progressed independently. Some utility work also was being performed concurrently, so coordination among the many subcontractors was critical to the schedule of the project. Their production and efficiency was crucial as well. Swank Associated Companies from New Kensington, PA, had the exhausting task of completely replacing two sets of structures. The first set spanning Walnut Creek, a single span with spread concrete I-beams and integral abutments that are anchored to pilings. The second set spans 32nd Street in the city, which offered its own concerns being in a residential neighborhood over a high volume street. This structure is a single span adjacent concrete box beams and stub abutments. Because of the traffic volume on 32nd Street, PENNDOT required the beam setting to take place at night to minimize the disturbance to the surroundings. Swank also repaired all of the projects overhead structures' deteriorated surfaces. The bridgework was rounded out with the overlay of a badly deteriorated deck on the 26th Street bridge over I-79, a curved girder bridge whose deck was deteriorated because of high reinforcing steel content. Russell Standard Corp. undertook the chore of grinding the deck, installing a waterproofing membrane, and placing a bituminous overlay, which involved closing the exit ramp and a temporary detour while the work was performed. This detour was significant because 26th Street is a major East/West route through downtown Erie. So, closing the exit had a major impact.

The existing concrete roadway that was not removed for new construction was specified to be broken and seated then overlaid with full depth Superpave asphalt pavement. Antigo performed the breaking operation with a guillotine-style drop hammer hammer, which broke the concrete into 24" minus size pieces. Russell Standard Corp. then took over seating the fractured concrete with a 50-ton proof roller and overlaying it with numerous lifts of Superpave mixes. The final two lifts of Superpave mixes consisted of PG76-22 asphalt binder material and required special attention to detail in all aspects. It is a very temperature-sensitive material that requires some additional attention for the entire process to unfold smoothly, including the ride. Russell Standard Corp. supplied the project from their batch plant located on Pittsburgh Avenue in Erie. The resulting stretch of highway boasted a noteworthy drop of International Roughness Index(IRI) rating, which fell from >160 to 37.2.

On July 26, 2001, Russell Standard Corp. lost its President and friend, Robert E. Everhart, in a tragic car accident. As a tribute to his memory, the Union City branch adopted this section of highway constructed during the course of this project and in cooperation with PENNDOT are placing a memorial in honor of Bob at one of the exits.

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