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The Highwaymen

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The Highwaymen | Feature, I-40, construction, TDOT

Mt. Juliet’s Jamie Fitzpatrick, the Tennessee Department of Transportation project manager over the Interstate 40 widening project in Wilson County, keeps a close eye on the work that should wind down by mid-December.

I-40 widening project aims for mid-December finish

If you drive Interstate 40 from Lebanon to Nashville, you see them day in and day out laboring in what once was the median or working off to the side of the road.

Clad in hard hats and translucent vests, from 75 to 100 construction workers, truck drivers and heavy-equipment operators grit their teeth, gird their loins and get to the down and dirty work of transforming eight-and-a-quarter miles of I-40 into a spacious eight-lane roadway.   

Countless tons of Wilson County rock and dirt have been plopped into dump trucks and carried away from the side of the road as I-40 expands daily before commuters’ eyes.        

TDOT photo courtesy of GEORGE HORNEL

A lot of the tasks still require pure arm and leg muscle, while taking a load off the workers’ backs are such massive pieces of rolling mechanical marvels as graders, pavers, rollers, shuttle buggies, articulated dump trucks, bulldozers and backhoes.  

“They’re out here 24/7 trying to get it done,” said Project Manager Jamie Fitzpatrick, 36, a 10-year veteran of the Tennessee Department of Transportation, who lives in Mt. Juliet and works from the Murfreesboro field office.

The goal in a nutshell he described as, “We’re basically taking a four-lane section and making it eight lanes. The job starts at the Central Pike overpass, and we go approximately midway from 109 to 840, so you’ll have eight lanes all the way through, four lanes eastbound and four lanes westbound.”

Bridgework updates

Regarding construction on the Cumberland River bridge on Highway 109 that connects Wilson and Sumner counties, the Tennessee Department of Transportation reports that the work is more than halfway complete and the project should be completed by June 2014. Crews are currently working on the steel portion (beams, cross members) of bridge number one over the Cumberland River. Crews are also currently working on the construction of the concrete deck for bridge number two.

 

Regarding the Cordell Hull Bridge over the Cumberland River that connects Highway 70 to downtown Carthage, the work is more than halfway complete and the project should be completed by June 2014. Crews are currently sandblasting and repainting the steel trusses of the bridge.

 

This aerial view shows some of the widening work going on as Interstate 40 grows to eight lanes from the Central Pike overpass to midway between Highway 109 and where State Route 840 connects to the interstate. 

TDOT photo courtesy of GEORGE HORNEL

The $55 million project began July 19, 2012, and TDOT eyes mid-December as the completion date.

From blasting rock, felling trees and putting up concrete medians to removing dirt and laying crushed stone and asphalt, the highwaymen are widening the interstate 24 feet on each side.

“This is really a straightforward job. The most interesting thing about it is that it is design-build,” Fitzpatrick said. “This is the biggest design-build project ever to be let in the state.

“It speeds up the whole process; whereas it used to take somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 years to get the job designed and get it built, now you’re taking that from a 10-year process to a two-year process. 

“The way we do our normal job, we come up with the plan in-house. Then we take those plans, and the contractors bid on those plans the way they think they can best build the job.

Trees and brush must be removed as the interstate expands by two lanes in each direction between the Mt. Juliet and Highway 109 exits.

TDOT photo courtesy of GEORGE HORNEL

“With this job we invited the contractors to submit a plan. We said we have an interstate partially eight lanes, partially four lanes, and we want to make it all eight lanes from this point to this point. Now you go out with your design firm and you come up with the best way you know how to give us that.”

Three firms bid on the job with Lane Construction, one of the top 25 contractors in the nation, getting the assignment.

Fitzpatrick said that between 75 to 100 laborers are working for the contractor and his sub-contractors, while TDOT has five to eight of its own contractors on the job daily depending on the workload.

The big chore has been getting the surface to subgrade before adding stone and asphalt.

“You’ve got to build up the slope to final elevation. That has to be done in lifts,” the project manager said.

He explained a lift by saying that the stone and asphalt is put on in layers: two 6-inch layers of stone, followed by 13¼ inches of asphalt put on in four lifts.

“You put on one layer of asphalt and you compact it. You have to let it cool. Then you come back and put on another layer. You compact that layer. It cools and so on and so forth. That’s how you build your road.”

By the way, one lane of interstate stretches 12-feet wide, and the pavement normally holds up for 14 or 15 years before needing resurfacing.

Fitzpatrick, who grew up in Lafayette and earned a civil engineering degree at Tennessee Tech, said, “I’m out here twice a day. I come here first thing in the morning and the last thing in afternoon before I go home.

“I live in Mt. Juliet, so I get to work in my community and improve it. People that I know drive 40 back and forth to work every day. My wife (Angela) works at Cracker Barrel in Lebanon, so she drives it.

“It makes you want to do a good job and keep it as safe as you can. When you start to see it being finished, you get satisfaction out of it knowing that you had a part in it,” the Tennessee highwayman said.

Writer Ken Beck may be contacted at kbtag2@gmail.com.

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