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Behind the barriers on I-394

Brian Johnson//August 7, 2015

Behind the barriers on I-394

Brian Johnson//August 7, 2015

Matt Zeller, executive director of the Concrete Paving Association of Minnesota, points to exposed concrete being repaired as part of the $13 million Interstate 394 resurfacing project. (Staff photo: Bill Klotz)
Matt Zeller, executive director of the Concrete Paving Association of Minnesota, points to exposed concrete being repaired as part of the $13 million Interstate 394 resurfacing project. (Staff photo: Bill Klotz)

A couple of hours before rush hour Tuesday afternoon, a steady flow of traffic on eastbound Interstate 394 near downtown Minneapolis whizzed past dozens of construction workers with yellow vests and orange hardhats.

The workers, separated from the traffic by concrete barriers near the Penn Avenue overpass, were making progress on a $13 million resurfacing project that’s intended to make the road smoother, quieter and more durable.

Though traffic was moving well at mid-afternoon, the project has captured commuters’ attention because of short-term lane closures that have caused frustrating delays during peak traveling hours.

Minnesota Department of Transportation officials say the worst will be over soon.

The overall project includes bridge repairs and other work and will continue into October. But the I-394-related traffic impacts could be in the rearview mirror as soon as late next week, said the Nariman Vanaki, project engineer for MnDOT.

MnDOT’s strategy was to close lanes during the week for about a two-week stretch, which results in delays during peak drive times, but allows the work to be completed more quickly compared with weekend-only closures, he said.

“It’s a getting-it-done-quickly and ripping-the-Band-Aid-off-quickly kind of deal,” Vanaki said.

On the construction side, there are a lot of moving pieces.

The project includes managing the logistics of getting crews and equipment on and off the site in a high-traffic area, hauling out the old concrete for recycling and minimizing disruptions to the traveling public.

“The flow of the project has to go in a linear motion,” said Todd Callahan, division manager for St. Michael-based PCi Roads, which is performing the work. “You can’t just keep going around in circles.”

The project area runs from Highway 100 to Interstate 94 in Golden Valley and Minneapolis.

Workers are removing asphalt over the old concrete, taking out the bad concrete, repairing road joints and using “diamond-grinding” to smooth out the concrete pavement and create a quieter road surface, Vanaki said.

After that initial diamond grinding, a second pass with a grinder will make it even quieter, he said.

That second pass is a reference to the “Next Generation Concrete Surface” method, which is touted by the American Concrete Pavement Association as the “quietest nonporous concrete texture developed to date.”

Vanaki said it’s expected to be a 15- to 20-year fix.

Besides the I-394 work, the project includes a new deck for the Lyndale Avenue Bridge over Dunwoody Boulevard, Wayzata Boulevard improvements, better bike and pedestrian lanes, guardrail repairs and more.

MnDOT covered the road surface with asphalt about 20 years ago to create a quieter road surface in the noise-sensitive area. The idea was that asphalt would be less noisy than concrete.

One problem: The asphalt started to crack as the concrete joints underneath expanded and contracted, said Matt Zeller, executive director of the Concrete Paving Association of Minnesota.

Visiting the project site on Tuesday afternoon, Zeller ran his finger across the horizontal tines on the concrete road surface, which is exposed now that the asphalt has been removed.

The tines are going away because they’re causing the noise.

“Here is the noisy stuff; the tines that go this direction,” he said. “This is what we’ve got to get rid of. This will all be diamond-ground off.”

Zeller said the tines were supposed to prevent hydroplaning. The new road will have a diamond-ground concrete that’s designed to offer the best of both worlds — safety and less noise, he said.

About 90 workers are currently on the project, doing everything from bridge and catch basin work to concrete joint repairs, including “partial depth repairs” and “full depth repairs” that go up to 9 inches deep into the road bed.

The workers are putting in long hours to get the job done quickly, with some of the tasks being done at night. The night shift is relieved at about 6 a.m. by other crews, who are putting in 12- to 13-hour days, Vanaki said.

Callahan said the workers are good at what they do.

“These are well-seasoned crews out there,” he said. “You can’t just go out and hire [just anyone] to do this work. And not only the people, but the specialized equipment to do it. It’s not something you go down to the John Deere dealership and buy.”

The workers are separated from the traffic by concrete barriers. For the most part, they are a safe distance from the vehicles when they’re cutting, sweeping and pouring concrete.

When traffic is diverted and the work environment is safe, “the production increases so much,” Callahan said. “It’s definitely a plus for everybody in the industry and the traveling public. It’s a great work environment here.”

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