Reconstruction of I-196 hits high gear April 12
Three weeks from today, the big fix on I-196 goes into high gear and a lot of motorists — about 72,000 per day — are going to take note of it. Hefty incentives for the contractor hopefully will get traffic flowing normally again later this summer.
From April 12 until late July or early August, the Gerald R. Ford Freeway will be closed to through-traffic at College Avenue to allow major freeway widening and reconstruction between the Grand River and Fuller Avenue in NE.
Five overpasses that span the Ford Freeway will be replaced, and four lanes — two in each direction — will be added this construction season to a 1.75 mile stretch of I-196, the major east-west corridor through downtown Grand Rapids.
According to John Richard of the MDOT Grand Region, the $40 million dollar project is funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and will employ between 400 and 500 people.
Art Green said this project is “absolutely” the biggest expressway reconstruction project in West Michigan this year.
Green, the MDOT manager on the project, said some preliminary work is underway now by the general contractor, Walter Toebe Construction, of Wixom. West Michigan companies already involved in the prep work include Diamond Concrete Sawing, DVT, Give-Em A Brake Safety and K&R.
Prep work includes installation of new retaining walls, but, in general, the construction crews have been staying out of the way of traffic, said Green. That will change April 12.
“They’ve got a good amount of stuff going. And when that April 12 date gets here, they’ll really be able to hit it hard,” said Green.
In addition to replacement of the pavement and the addition of lanes in both directions and a concrete median barrier, MDOT is replacing the Coit Avenue overpass, both spans that carry I-196 over Lafayette Avenue, the Eastern Avenue overpass and the Diamond Avenue overpass.
A third through-lane in both directions will be added, plus a fourth lane to facilitate weaving/merging will be added in both directions between the interchanges at Ottawa Avenue/Ionia Avenue, Fuller Avenue and College Avenue, according to the MDOT Web site.
Although the eastern Ford Freeway will be closed to through-traffic starting April 12, access to downtown Grand Rapids will be maintained during the project via the Fuller Avenue and College Avenue interchanges for westbound I-196, and Ottawa Avenue and College Avenue interchanges for eastbound I-196.
Through-traffic will be directed to take I-96 to U.S. 131 to continue on I-196, or to use M-6 (Paul B. Henry Freeway) as an alternate route. Electronic message boards and signs will be used during the project to keep motorists informed.
Green said the first stage, which will have the most impact on traffic, will last from April 12 to late July or first week of August. He noted that MDOT has offered the contractor an incentive payment of $250,000 if stage 1 is complete by Aug. 6. If stage 1 is finished by July 29, “they will get an additional $200,000,” said Green.
Stage 2, which begins as soon as stage 1 is complete, requires the contractor to keep two lanes of travel open in each direction on the new expressway, according to Green. A third incentive of $250,000 has been offered to the contractor if stage 2 is complete by Nov. 15, according to Green. However, the Diamond Avenue bridge replacement over I-196 will continue into 2011, possibly causing some delays at times.
MDOT also has clauses in the contracts that charge contractors $6,000 a day for every day they are behind schedule, according to the Web site.
The overall project is a complete rebuild of that 1.75 mile stretch of the Ford Freeway, including new lights, on and off-ramps, improvement in intersection sight distances, guardrail improvements, and more.
Although MDOT has received a noise variance from the city of Grand Rapids, which would allow work to proceed around the clock, Green said, “You’ll likely see them working two long shifts, basically like a 16-hour day.” The noisiest construction processes, such as pile driving, will be done during daylight hours when it would bother the least number of people.
More information about the I-196 reconstruction is available at www.michigan.gov/I-196, or on the MDOT I-196 Twitter page: www.twitter.com/MDOT_I196
Ford Freeway construction alerts can be received via e-mail by signing up on the MDOT Web site.
"Project completion" is when all barrels, barricades, construction signs, etc., are removed from the project site and no more restrictions are scheduled. The I-196 project completion is scheduled for June 2011.
According to MDOT, every effort was made to allow traffic through the work zone during stage 1, while keeping construction to a one-year timeframe. Due to space restrictions on the freeway, however, and the extensive nature of the bridge replacements, state and local officials decided they had to detour through-traffic while allowing limited local traffic access to College Avenue. The only other alternative during stage 1 was completely closing I-196 to all local and through-traffic, but that was determined to be unacceptable to local officials and business leaders in the downtown area.
The westbound off-ramp to Fuller Avenue has already been widened to accommodate dual left turns, and the existing Fuller Avenue roadway was resurfaced from the bridge to just past the ramp intersections. Lafayette Avenue will be temporarily widened to accommodate one lane of traffic in each direction while under construction.
Work also will include the removal of a portion of the median island at the Ottawa Avenue interchange to accommodate dual left-turn lanes from the eastbound Ottawa Avenue off-ramp to Michigan Street. Portions of Michigan Street will be altered with pavement markings and signal timing adjusted to maintain two through-lanes in each direction at all times. These changes will be adjusted based on the different phases of the construction. Finally, the completion of the 2009 College Avenue interchange construction project will enhance the traffic flow while I-196 is under construction.
MDOT is working closely with the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce to keep the public informed about downtown access via www.grandrapids.org
"A project of this magnitude creates a positive ripple effect for employment and the economy," said Jeanne Englehart, president and CEO of the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce. "Not just in the jobs it creates immediately, but through the long-term benefits of a beautiful new gateway to our downtown and the type of infrastructure we need to position Grand Rapids for future growth."