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Walsh Construction Co. and Milestone Contractors Bring I-69 Into Final Phase in Indiana

by: Debra Wood
Crews pour the concrete deck for the Smith Valley bridge on a section of I-69 near Indianapolis. (Photo courtesy of I-69 Finish Line, the Indiana Department of Transportation)
Crews pour the concrete deck for the Smith Valley bridge on a section of I-69 near Indianapolis. (Photo courtesy of I-69 Finish Line, the Indiana Department of Transportation)
Contract five includes construction of a roundabout. (Photo courtesy of Walsh Construction)
Contract five includes construction of a roundabout. (Photo courtesy of Walsh Construction)
Crews set a beam at the Southport interchange, which will open this year. (Photo courtesy of Walsh Construction)
Crews set a beam at the Southport interchange, which will open this year. (Photo courtesy of Walsh Construction)
American Structurepoint engineers make a site visit at one of the bridges in contract five. (Photo courtesy of Walsh Construction)
American Structurepoint engineers make a site visit at one of the bridges in contract five. (Photo courtesy of Walsh Construction)
The Walsh team on contract five. (Photo courtesy of Walsh Construction)
The Walsh team on contract five. (Photo courtesy of Walsh Construction)
Contract five includes 4.5 million cubic yards of earthwork. (Photo courtesy of Walsh Construction)
Contract five includes 4.5 million cubic yards of earthwork. (Photo courtesy of Walsh Construction)
Walsh crews work on a deck pour in contract five. (Photo courtesy of Walsh Construction)
Walsh crews work on a deck pour in contract five. (Photo courtesy of Walsh Construction)
Crews work on the at SR 144 interchange. (Photo courtesy of I-69 Finish Line, the Indiana Department of Transportation)
Crews work on the at SR 144 interchange. (Photo courtesy of I-69 Finish Line, the Indiana Department of Transportation)
The County Line Road interchange includes roundabouts. (Photo courtesy of I-69 Finish Line, the Indiana Department of Transportation)
The County Line Road interchange includes roundabouts. (Photo courtesy of I-69 Finish Line, the Indiana Department of Transportation)
Crews place beams at Myra Lane. (Photo courtesy of I-69 Finish Line, the Indiana Department of Transportation)
Crews place beams at Myra Lane. (Photo courtesy of I-69 Finish Line, the Indiana Department of Transportation)
Work progresses on the I-69 Finish Line project, converting State Route 37 into a limited-access interstate highway, between Martinsville, Indiana, and Interstate 465 in Indianapolis.

“This is the newest interstate in the nation and the only new interstate under construction at this time,” says Tim Miller, Senior Project Manager with HNTB Corp. in Indianapolis.

The state has considered upgrading SR 37 for decades to increase mobility, improve safety, and reduce congestion along the corridor, Miller reports.

The Finish Line represents the final sections along the 142-mile I-69 corridor between Evansville and Indianapolis. In Morgan County, about 25,000 vehicles travel on SR 37 daily, in Johnson County 33,000 vehicles, and in Marion County – near I-465 – about 48,000 vehicles.

I-69 Finish Line
Originally, SR 37 had 92 at-grade intersections, including commercial and residential driveways, and local, county, and state roads. When this project opens to traffic, there will be 10 interchange locations, some already in use. With fewer access points, the department estimates there will be 1,300 fewer vehicle accidents annually once the highway is complete.

“We already see the safety benefits of what this interstate will provide,” Miller says. “Anytime you can reduce conflict points, especially in high-traffic areas, there is a direct correlation with a fewer number of crashes.”

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The number of lanes in each direction will largely remain the same between Martinsville and Indianapolis, with two lanes in each direction in the southern sections and three or four lanes in each direction in the northern sections approaching I-465.

The Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) divided the project into five construction contracts. The first three are complete, or substantially complete, in the southern areas and the last two are under way.

HNTB designed contracts one and two in Martinsville. Lochmueller Group of Evansville, Indiana; CMT of Indianapolis; and WSP of New York designed contracts three and four in Morgan and Johnson counties. The department let contract five as a design-build best-value contract received by Walsh Construction Co., headquartered in Chicago, and Milestone Contractors of Indianapolis, with American Structurepoint of Indianapolis serving as design partner.

Funding for the I-69 project came from the state’s 2017 Next Level Roads plan, which accelerated substantial completion from 2027 to 2024.

Construction of the Entire Corridor
“It’s gratifying to see how contractors, designers, workers, and local agencies have pulled together to get this job done,” Miller says. “It’s been tightly choreographed throughout.”

Construction began in 2018 with contract one in Martinsville. Milestone Contractors completed the upgrades to local roads and built the Grand Valley Boulevard overpass.

Walsh received contract two and began work in late 2020 along the mainline through Martinsville. Crider & Crider of Bloomington, Indiana, began contract three in 2021 to build local access roads and overpasses.

Multiple contracts have been constructed at the same time, so coordination has been critical among contractors; the department; officials from various utility companies, emergency services, local governments, and the school system; and the traveling public, Miller reports.

“It’s been a positive and rewarding experience, not only for the communities, but also for the contractors,” Miller says. “It shows the dedication of the workers and the management team. Everything is working together.”

Six miles of interstate opened in December 2021 and an additional 12 miles in December 2022, up to State Road 144 near the Johnson County line.

“This is more than concrete and asphalt, we’ve also invested in aesthetics to mark the gateways with monuments,” Miller says. “We are intentional in making sure we are a good partner and the roads fit in with the communities they traverse.”

In total, crews will place more than 3 million square yards of pavement, both asphalt and concrete, along the 26-mile corridor. More than 35 lane miles of access roads will be built to serve the homes and businesses along the former state road. The project has included relocating 27 miles of gas lines and 25 miles of power lines to make room for the new interstate.

Contractors also are installing 40,000 linear feet of noise barriers, plus sidewalks, bicycle paths, and paved shoulders. Care is being taken to grade areas under the bridges to allow wildlife to pass beneath some structures.

The team used as much existing right-of-way as possible, but the project required additional right-of-way for added capacity. Some wetlands and forested areas were taken as part of the project. Therefore, INDOT will construct or preserve more than 30 acres of new wetlands, 350 acres of trees, and more than 14,000 linear feet of stream improvements as mitigation measures.

The project is managing traffic by shifting all vehicles to one side of the roadway at a time. When the new sections are ready, switching vehicles onto the new road, while work progresses on the existing sections. The mainline bridge work was coordinated into maintenance of traffic plans.

Current Construction Activities
Work in contracts four and five cover the remaining 8 miles of highway conversion in Johnson and Marion counties, the interchange with I-465 and added capacity on I-465.

Rieth-Riley Construction of Goshen, Indiana, and Crider & Crider received the $345 million contract four and are working on I-69 from SR 144 in Johnson County to Fairview Road in Marion County, including construction of interchanges at SR 144 and Smith Valley Road, with the Smith Valley interchange expected to open by the end of the year. The deck was poured in March 2023.

The Walsh-Milestone Joint Venture received the $728 million design-build, best value contract. The team will work on I-69 from Fairview Road to I-465, add lanes on I-465, and construct interchanges at County Line, Southport Road (scheduled to open this year), Epler Avenue, and I-465.

“It’s not too often you get a chance to be involved in a project like this,” says Michael Coplen, Senior Project Manager with Walsh. “We’re building the single-largest INDOT contract to date, where the focal point is the new interchange ramp system between I-69 and I-465. The magnitude of work on this project alone is pretty impressive.” 

It includes 45 bridge structures, 4.5 million cubic yards of earthwork, and approximately 130 lane-miles of new pavement. The design is 100 percent complete.

“We are off and running in the execution phase,” Coplen says. “Years 2023 and 2024 are the heavy lift for the construction phase of the project, where we will increase our manpower by 200 percent as compared to last year.”

At the I-69 interchange with I-465, due to the soil conditions and the size of the bridges, 40 drilled shafts of depths of 110 feet to 130 feet will support the structures. Construction of the I-465 interchange will last through 2024.

In addition to work on I-69, the Walsh-Milestone team is widening I-465, adding one lane in each direction. Eastbound lanes will be reconstructed and added this year and westbound next year. Additionally, the White River bridges on I-465 along with 11 others will be replaced.

I-69 Finish Line is scheduled to open to traffic in late 2024.

“The keys to success for a project like this include outstanding teamwork, solid planning and excellent communication,” Coplen says. “For this project to be a success, we need to deliver it safely, provide a quality product that will last its intended life, deliver on time, all while maintaining budgets. All three legs of the Indiana Transportation Team – INDOT, contractors, and designers – share these common goals, and we are working hard every day to make sure they are met.”

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