The construction of the new tracks – on the ground and for the raised parts – required the use of numerous cranes which worked in tandem to lift beams and precast concrete elements.
After starting to work on the $ 815 million, 10.3-mi. SH 288 Toll Lanes Expansion Project (Drive288) in Houston – an initiative of the developer Blueridge Transportation Group (BTG), in partnership with the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) and their joint venture partners, Almeda-Genoa Constructors (AGC) – the Construction teams are eyeing the end of this year for the completion of the massive undertaking.
AGC is a fully integrated joint venture between Dragados USA, Pulice Construction and Shikun & Binui America, collectively known as DBJV that was created specifically for this project. The primary design engineering firm for the design / build project is Stantec.
This is a P3 project, the first of its kind in the Texas area. The SH 288 Express toll goes from downtown Houston to southern Brazoria County.
“It provides a vital route for commuters, as well as freight and commercial trucking,” said Raynese Edwards, project manager for Blueridge Transportation Group LLC. “In addition, it also serves as an emergency escape route in the event of a hurricane. The SH 288 Express Toll Lanes project will accommodate additional traffic, improve access to Texas Medical Center and downtown Houston for commuters coming from the south side of the carriageway, and improve operation efficiency of HS 288. “
The work led to the construction of toll lanes, two in each direction within the existing median SH 288, from US-59/69 to the Harris / Brazoria County line, the construction of new bridges and new ramps and exits, various types of infrastructure, new led lighting as well as drainage being added.
“One of the challenges in building the eight replacement direct connectors was keeping the traffic open and moving during the connector construction,” said Enrique Martin, CEO of Blueridge Transportation Group. “We were successful in designing temporary ramps and connectors to keep traffic going while building new ones in the same location only at a higher elevation than originally. BTG is responsible for maintaining the toll lanes and LPG for the next 40+ years. From an environmental perspective, we have worked closely with the Army Corp of Engineers on some of the wetland work. “
But it was not just about building new infrastructure. Four-lane toll roads were built in the middle of an existing general-purpose lane in an urban community. Constant communication regarding the construction was essential to share with surrounding communities.
The rest of the work for the project focuses on cleaning, replacement and a checklist of items required for completion, including landscaping.
“Unfortunately, our challenges are mostly weather and vendor related,” said Edwards. “The past year has been very difficult when it comes to deliveries. However, the one thing that was constant during COVID 19 was that construction in the city of Houston continued. This project was completed by crews from day and night We were not allowed to close the general-purpose lanes during the day, so the work that needed to be completed was done in the evening from 9:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. During the day, from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 pm, we closed service lanes and some streets in the city, well over 5,000 lane closures for this project.
The construction of the new tracks – on the ground and for the raised parts – involved the use of numerous cranes which worked in tandem to lift the beams and the precast concrete elements; person lifts; excavators, including Daewoo models; chargers, such as Mack models; various rollers and pavers.
In more urban areas, space was limited, but in many areas, crews had ample space to bring in materials and equipment and establish development sites.
The construction of the tracks in the middle zone was equivalent to four tracks, which allowed several teams to work unhindered and move from one stage to another. Asphalt and concrete could easily be poured and processed by the crews.
Excavation work for the new sections of road had excavators and graders preparing the ground, with loaders nearby to fill. Prior to placing the underlayment, base and asphalt pavement, large sections of the areas for the new tracks were prepared.
Part of the excavated material was reused on site. Materials to be recycled or moved off site have been stored.
The planning of the road works was meticulous, which maximized team time and synchronized material delivery with operations. The teams were able to work on both sides of the new tracks simultaneously.
The project was divided into six segments, according to Edwards.
“While the builder was AGC,” said Edwards, “maintenance and operations for the next 40+ years are the responsibility of BTG. They are not just responsible for the toll lanes, the responsibility is a right of passage to right-of-way, which includes general-purpose and sidings. In addition, federal funds were associated with the project and DBE targets were set and exceeded for the use of subcontractors.
“We also had to coordinate with the HCTRA [Harris County Toll Road Authority] to the ring road to build the direct connectors, ”she added. “Another coordination was with Brazoria County as the toll road continues for five miles from Clear Creek, where the Harris County portion ends. However, the county of Brazoria is responsible for this section, we have just attached ourselves to theirs and vice versa. “
Previous construction steps
Some of the early work on the project included building a new Southmore Bridge, which measured 200 feet. long, two lanes in each direction with dedicated turning lanes, landscaping and a pedestrian bridge on either side. This was completed between 2018 and 2021.
“The bridge was demolished over a weekend starting on a Friday evening and completed on a Sunday afternoon,” Edwards said. “The work was done by sawing and removing debris. He was timed with numerous trucks on site for removal. The major challenges, again, were the weather conditions. Especially the hurricane season and the rain. Both of these issues have caused delays. Additionally, there have been delays in obtaining the structures fabricated due to COVID19. “
Construction of the new bridge began shortly thereafter.
“The steel structures had to be fabricated and delivered to the site,” said Edwards. “The bridge is concrete with steel girders. There were difficulties in completing and delivering the structures during COVID19. The plan of attack was to demolish the majority of the bridge overnight so that Saturday and Sunday could be spent. removal and cleaning so that the general-purpose tracks would be ready for Monday morning commuter traffic. ”
Cranes – various types and models – were essential for work on bridges, including the Southmore Bridge and those spanning canals and wetlands. Deck crews, in most situations, had enough space to store materials and maneuver freely, which sped up operations.
The underground infrastructure works proceeded as planned.
“The work was done both before some road work and some was done in parallel with the work,” Edwards said.
The management team of the JV includes Shikun Binuia, Dragados and Pulice Construction.
“[The constructors] worked with BTG as a cohesive team, with weekly meetings to discuss upcoming work and progress, ”said Edwards.
The excavation and demolition activities generated 25,000 tonnes of concrete, 11,300 tonnes of asphalt, 2,000 tonnes of steel and 1,500,000 tonnes of earth and rock.
Large quantities of new materials were brought in, including 210,000 square meters. of concrete pavement, 50,000 tonnes of asphalt, 4,300 tonnes of steel and 48,000 linear feet of pipe
Peak days had over 800 JVs and contract staff on site. The subcontractors included local and regional companies.
Additional equipment consisted of bulldozers, off-road trucks, lighting, generators and other standard parts.
“Obvious wear occurred throughout the job, particularly of the tires,” said Edwards. “The key to maintenance on a long term project like this is making sure that you have developed relationships so that when needed your maintenance company can come quickly. The maintenance equipment and supplies were kept with the construction office. The JV established relationships based on AGC and not on the other companies that were part of the JV. We had people in place almost a year before the actual construction.
In the Houston area, the joint venture partners have purchased and leased equipment from a number of local and non-local companies.
“Our contractors also used their own equipment that they owned or rented,” Edwards said. “Relations with dealers were essential.