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Michigan roadwork see increased risks, costs in the winter

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Road construction in snow

By SHAWN D. LEWISThe Detroit News

DETROIT — The pushing of Michigan’s roadwork into the colder months comes with great costs and risks for two of the area’s biggest projects.

Work laying concrete has continued on Interstate 696 in Macomb County and Interstate 75 in Wayne County despite temperatures below or at 40 degrees, which, according to the American Concrete Institute, is the temperature for which measures to prevent freezing must be addressed.

Costly precautions must be in place, including protecting fresh concrete from freezing by placing heaters along a route to ensure the concrete will take.

“Nobody wants to build roads in the winter,” said Kevin MacDonald, a principal engineer with Minnesota-based Beton Consulting Engineers.

In other words, he said, for every dollar spent on a road project conducted in July, it will cost between $1.30 and $1.50 in the winter.

MacDonald said the cost for heating and enclosing concrete pavement is approximately 30 to 50 percent of the cost of the material and labor, “depending on a number of factors.”

“Modern highway construction in cold, wet climates requires highly durable, as well as high-strength concrete,” he told The Detroit News . “This can be achieved in cold weather, so long as precautions are taken to ensure that the concrete has adequate strength.”

But MacDonald noted taxpayers usually are not footing the bill for the higher costs.

“Typically, these types of costs fall into means and methods over the contractor,” he said. “As such, the contractor will bear the cost.”

A Michigan contractor working on one of the major road projects said his employees are using necessary precautions, and they are being closely monitored by the Michigan Department of Transportation to minimize the risk.

Joe Goodall, vice president of Dan’s Excavating Inc. in Shelby Township, which is working on the I-75 project, said yes, contractors are working to prevent the ground from freezing.

Goodall said workers are “covering the concrete when temperatures look to be dropping below freezing overnight or throughout the following days. The specifications for cold weather protection are being met on the project.”

They also running heaters on the ground to keep it from freezing, he said.

“We are keeping the concrete within the specifications for cold weather paving by any means needed,” Goodall said.

The construction work is happening later in the season because the projects were delayed in September when the Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association instituted a work stoppage after multiple failed attempts to bargain a new contract with the Operating Engineers Local 324. A prior, five-year deal expired in June.

The construction rift prompted the shutdown or partial halt of 89 Michigan Department of Transportation projects and 75 local projects.

“We are bound by contract with MDOT to complete the project in a time frame, with the lockout and inclement weather after the lockout, we are continuing to complete the project in a timely manner.”

MDOT spokesman Jeff Cranson said state inspectors perform quality assurance on all contractor efforts throughout a project.

“So among other things, the inspectors will ensure the heating and housing is correct,” he said. “Ultimately, the contractor is responsible for the work completed, and a job is not accepted until MDOT engineers are confident in the quality.”

And so far, Operating Engineers 324 spokesman Dan McKernan said he has not heard any complaints from contractors about corners being cut to get the jobs done.

“Certainly, there is frustration from the workers for having to work through the winter when it didn’t have to be this way,” McKernan said. “But I talked to the agent who oversees the road workers, and there haven’t been any complaints. At the end of the day, MDOT oversees everything, and they are very strict.”

The American Concrete Institute recommends specific measures in its “Guide to Cold Weather Concreting,” noting that “the necessary degree of protection increases as the ambient temperature decreases.”

Cold weather concreting “results in extra costs because of potentially lower worker productivity and additional needed products such as insulating blankets, tarping and heaters.” But it adds that these measures also most likely will allow a project to stay on schedule.

Detroit averages highs of 36.1 degrees and lows of 24.1 degrees in December, according to date from the National Weather Service in White Lake Township.

Daniel DeGraaf, executive director of the Michigan Concrete Association, said placing heaters is a major element of keeping the ground warm. A hydronic heater is used to heat frozen ground or concrete surfaces by pumping heated fluid through closed-circulation tubing and a heat exchanger.

“The ground cannot be frozen when building a road on top of it,” he said. “It can be very expensive.”

He presented an analogy.

“Imagine running a furnace with the doors and windows wide open,” he said. “Not only do they have to heat the ground, but you can’t go as far with the work as you can on a fall day because you’re limited by how far the equipment can stretch.”

Meanwhile, Cranson said state inspectors will hold contractors accountable for the quality of the concrete.

“All materials must meet specifications,” Cranson said. “Inspection to ensure specification compliance; and enforcement based on significant research and testing.”

But Cranson acknowledged risks when concrete is worked on in the winter.

He released details that noted: “The top couple inches (estimated) of the concrete below the exposed surface could potentially act as a sacrificial layer, protecting the inner concrete mass from frost-related structural damage. But, if not protected from the cold weather exposure, this top exposed surface could undergo irreversible damage as it freezes. Over time, this damaged concrete surface will erode and scale away, ultimately resulting in loss of the pavement surface.”

Additionally, the details noted, “Placing concrete pavement on a frozen base could result in significant loss in structural support as the base begins to thaw in the spring. As the base freezes, the moisture within it will expand, thus, causing the base to heave up (water expands approximately nine percent in volume as it freezes). When the base thaws, it returns to its original elevation. This will, in turn, take the pavement downward with it. “

Cranson summed up the lengths being taken to ensure quality work on roads during the winter by saying: “Contractors and the MDOT engineers overseeing their work continue to work very hard to ensure a commitment to quality while they also work as quickly as possible to make travel lanes accessible to the public.

“It is a difficult balancing act in ideal conditions, let alone in inclement weather. Please keep in mind that the people fixing and building our roads are our sisters, brothers, friends and neighbors.”

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The Nation

Diesel prices continue inching upward

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The average price for a gallon of diesel nationwide rose exactly one penny for the week ending March 25, to stand at $3.08 per gallon, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). With the weekly increase, diesel costs 7 cents more than it did a year ago and 11½ cents above a recent low-water mark in late January, where the price hovered at $2.965 for two weeks and then at $2.966 for two more before beginning the current slow climb.

Diesel prices rose in every EIA region in the country with the exception of the Central Atlantic region of the East Coast, which saw a tiny $0.003 drop in diesel, to finish at $3.310, which is still the highest price to be found anywhere outside California and is 9.3 cents above what it was in the Central Atlantic a year ago.

North and south of the Central Atlantic, the New England and Lower Atlantic regions both recorded price increases of $0.014, giving the aggregate East Coast an increase of $0.008, to stand at $3.132. In New England, the price of diesel stands at $3.214, while in the Lower Atlantic, it is $2.995, one of four regions where diesel is still under $3 per gallon.

With a minimal $0.001 increase, the Midwest stayed just below the $3 threshold, at $2.993, while the Gulf Coast, as usual, enjoys the lowest diesel prices in the nation, at $2.876, up $0.007 from a week earlier.

Diesel also remains under $3 in the Rocky Mountain region, at $2.974, after a 3-cent gain, the second-largest increase, after California’s $0.038 price hike. The Rocky Mountain region is currently the only region in the country where diesel costs less than it did a year ago.

The overall price of diesel rose on the West Coast to $3.526, an increase of $0.029. California has both the highest diesel prices, $3.819, and the highest year-to-year increase, an even 15 cents.

Crude oil prices were split on Monday, Brent crude, the international benchmark for oil, rose by 18 cents, to $67.21 a barrel, while U.S. crude ended Monday’s session down 22 cents, at $58.22.

Early Tuesday, Brent was up 92 cents, and U.S. crude had added $1.28.

Click here for a complete list of average prices by region for the past three weeks.

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The Nation

Pothole season creating bumper crop of bumpy roads

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An Ohio Department of Transportation crew fills in a pothole. Conditions this winter and early spring have caused a notable increase in the number of road divots appearing this year. (Courtesy OHIO DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION)

A harsher-than-usual and prolonged winter is increasing the pothole repair workload for many state departments of transportation.

The Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) reported March 18 that its crews patched 400,000 potholes through the first two months of 2019, compared to the approximately 619,000 potholes they patched for all of 2018.

The agency plans to keep 300 pothole patching crews busy statewide with roadway repairs through April.

“We are working as hard as we can to fill the potholes,” said Becky Allmeroth, MoDOT’s state maintenance engineer and chief safety and operations officer. “Some potholes have to be repaired multiple times because of additional rain. The temporary repairs are not holding. We ask motorists to please be patient with us as the repairs are being done.”

She noted that her agency’s repair crews address the deepest potholes first and that until roadway temperatures rise and remain above freezing, repairs are made using a cold asphalt mix. She added that MoDOT spends approximately $15 million a year on pothole patching operations for the 34,000 miles of road it maintains.

“However, this is a short-term repair,” she stressed. “The long-term fix, a hot asphalt mix, isn’t effective until temperatures are warm for a prolonged period of time.”

The Ohio Department of Transportation noted in February that it had already used 2,574 tons of asphalt to repair potholes; up from 1,892 tons at the same point in 2018.

“Our crews have spent more than 39,000 hours patching potholes this winter,” said ODOT Director Jack Marchbanks in February 1 statement.

He added that potholes are a “common nuisance,” particularly when the freeze/thaw cycle weakens the pavement. This happens when water seeps into cracks in the pavement, then expands as it freezes. When temperatures warm up, and the ice melts, the pavement contracts, allowing even more moisture in to freeze and thaw.

“Add traffic on top and the pavement will eventually fail, creating a pothole,” Marchbanks said. “Roadways with a high volume of traffic are particularly prone to pothole formation.”

The Maryland Department of Transportation’s State Highway Administration has also stepped up its pothole repair work, noting in a March 7 statement that with “saturated grounds” from record-setting precipitation from 2018 into 2019, and the freeze/thaw cycle that is occurring during this transitional time of the year, “potholes are popping up everywhere.”

 

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Midwestern state DOTs contending with major flood damage

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Flooding in Nebraska earlier this month closed as much as 1,500 miles of roadway at one time, with many roads and bridges wiped out, (Courtesy: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Capt. Ryan Hignight)

A “bomb cyclone” that struck the Midwest earlier this month, causing major flooding across Nebraska and parts of Iowa and Missouri, is responsible for more than $1 billion in property losses, as well as damage to highways, roads and bridges, according to reports from those states.

The Nebraska Department of Transportation stated that more than 1,500 miles of roads were closed at the height of the flooding on March 18, with 15 major highway bridges completely washed out or severely damaged as a result of the high waters.

The Nebraska Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) reported that as of March 20 more than 80 percent was under emergency declaration orders, including 77 counties, four tribal nations and five special government areas such as unincorporated townships.

“This past week will forever be remembered for the historic, devastating flooding our state experienced,” Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts said in a March 19 statement. “In scope of reach, we believe it is the most widespread natural disaster in our state’s history.”

The flooding, caused by heavy rains occurring simultaneously with melting snow, was exacerbated by chunks of ice swept along by the waters that damaged buildings and infrastructure, NEMA noted.

Nebraska National Guard helicopter crews resorted to dropping hay to cattle stranded by the high waters to ensure they didn’t starve.

The Midwest flooding also triggered an emergency declaration by the Federal Railroad Administration on March 19.

“The large amounts of snow and ice resulting from the region’s recent winter weather have melted and swelled rivers, creeks and other inland bodies of water throughout the region,” the agency said in its statement. “Historic flooding throughout the region [witnessed] rivers rising to historic levels in over 40 locations, causing power outages and breached dams and levees.”

The Iowa Department of Transportation closed sections of Interstate 29 and established detours on March 15 in cooperation with the Missouri Department of Transportation and other public agencies, and placed restrictions on parts of Interstate 680, as well, due to flood damage.

Missouri DOT also issued a reminder to motorists on March 20 not to drive around road closure signs as “flooded roadways can be more dangerous than they appear because the road may have washed away or collapsed under the water. In addition, the water may be deeper than it appears and can hide hazards such as sharp objects, electrical wires or chemicals.”

Several state DOTs have been dealing with the impact of winter-related flooding and landslides this year.

On March 20, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine declared a state of emergency in 37 counties that suffered serious highway damage following severe weather that began back in February.

“Many of these roads are in dangerous condition, impacting the safety of Ohio’s drivers,” the governor said in a statement. “By declaring a state of emergency, Ohio can now access federal funding to help with the unplanned costs to repair the highways damaged by heavy rain and flooding.”

The emergency proclamation will allow the Ohio DOT and local governments to access federal emergency relief funds.

For example, the Federal Highway Administration provided $10 million Emergency Repair, or ER, funding to the Tennessee DOT March 15 to cope with roadway damage caused by “historical rainfall” in 72 counties in February. The Ohio DOT received $4.5 million in ER money from the agency the same day to help repair State Route 376 after a landslide caused by heavy rains forced it to close in late February.

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