Elam Construction Wins in Steep Winter Grades
BY Sandy Lender
Daily commuters and tourists traveling north on state highway 145 to festivals in Telluride brought the heaviest traffic past the SH145 resurfacing project for Elam Construction of Grand Junction, Colorado. Michael Brennan’s team at Alert Traffic Inc., Bayfield, Colorado, handled the setup of work zone parameters on the two-lane highway to keep the crew safe in the narrow valley, leaving quality control in the hands of Elam’s capable team.
At the helm were Highway Division Manager Jim Cox, Superintendent Brad McCracken, Paving Foreman Shaun Jessup and QC Manager Tom Micklewright. Leading a committed paving crew, the team not only placed over 31,000 tons in two lifts of in-spec hot-mix asphalt (HMA) at elevations of 8,000 to 10,000 feet on steep grades, they garnered the 23rd Annual “Best in Colorado” Asphalt Pavement Award for resurfacing a rural highway from the Colorado Asphalt Pavement Association (CAPA).
“Elam Construction has been a producer member of CAPA since 2008,” CAPA Executive Director Tom Peterson shared. “Our Rural Highway Resurfacing Award Category is our most competitive category, and this year we had a record 13 projects nominated. Elam’s overall score of 319 is outstanding and one of the highest rated projects we have ever had. This is the 23rd year of our award program and one common denominator we have seen in award-winning projects is a very high level of teamwork and project partnering between the contractor and the owner/agency.”
The agency for the SH145 resurfacing was Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) Region 5, represented by Resident Engineer Tim Webb. Webb communicated primarily with Highway Division Manager for Elam, Jim Cox, who is a member of both the mix design and QC teams. The teams’ quality control during the project contributed positively to the smoothness results at the end.
“A quality finish to an HMA pavement has to include quality in design, production and placement,” Webb shared. “This project had the right design with a fine-graded, low-void leveling course with a standard graded ½-inch nominal maximum aggregate size (NMAS) thin lift top mat. Elam then plant-produced consistent properties with consistent quantity rates, which allowed the paving crew to maintain their intense focus on great quality control of the placement and compaction.”
Design for a Win
The two lanes of SH145 didn’t require milling or reconstruction. Webb explained: “The existing SH145 pavement consisted of an aged HMA surface, which had resulted in moderate to extensive transverse and longitudinal cracking, as well as some isolated map cracking. There was not evidence of geometric or further deeper, structural failure. We have had great success with our fine-graded low-void leveling course overlaid by a standard graded ½-inch NMAS thin lift treatment on roadways of this age and condition.”
The project overall included guardrail replacement and replacement of all signing and delineators on the project, both of which Elam subcontracted to Gonzales Construction Co. Inc., Dolores, Colorado. Elam was also able to subcontract the cleaning of culverts and the concrete deck repairs on the existing bridge to GA Western. Culvert replacement and paving fell to the Elam team.
Paving included 12,304 tons of a 1-inch thick HMA (ST) leveling course with 7.2 percent PG58-28 binder, and 18,765 tons of a 1 ½-inch thick HMA (SX) overlay with 6.3 percent PG58-34 binder including Evotherm warm-mix asphalt (WMA) chemical additive made by Ingevity, North Charleston, South Carolina.
“The WMA additive, Evotherm, was used only in the top mat,” Webb explained. “The HMA was produced and placed at conventional temperatures however, and the additive was used ultimately only as a compaction aid.”
“Evotherm was used on the project and I believe this did help us on compaction,” Chad Saunders said. “Because of the extensive haul distance to the project, we used Evotherm to provide a larger window for our rollers to achieve compaction.”
Communicate in Mountain Time
One of the reasons the crew looked for a compaction aid was haul distance. You see, this project presented Elam Construction with a few challenges due to its location.
“We had a number of concerns on the compaction issue,” Cox said. “Distance to truck material from the plant, cooler weather, afternoon rain storms, all of which affect the temperature of the HMA. Mario Fernandez was the operator of the breakdown roller [a CB64] and was especially attentive to the roller patterns we had established. I believe it took total dedication and attention of all employees on the project to achieve the results we were looking for.”
The average haul for the asphalt mix was 55 miles one way.
“Communication between the plant and paving crew could only be achieved by communication services that were located on the south end of the project [in Rico], and our project extended north for 12 miles. Therefore, we communicated at least every half hour by having someone make the trip to the south end of the project. It was like a rolling communication.”
As mentioned above, the many miles Elam Construction paved ranged in elevation, but it also ranged in weather conditions. You see, this project got interrupted, yet still had a bonus-worthy finish.
“We had encountered a situation on another project that required an additional paving crew to get things back on schedule,” Cox explained. “When we returned to this project, our crew knew the importance of finishing during the shortened window, so they focused on safety and quality of work to insure we didn’t take a backward step. I’m very proud of the whole crew and the dedication they showed in achieving our goal, of finishing the project on time and providing the State and traveling public the best job we could produce.”
Webb remembered the foul weather that plagued the summer portion of the project. “Yes, we had some rain in the beginning, which got the project off to a slow start in the summer. But we still finished on time. The WMA additive on the top mat helped with compaction in the cooler temperatures of the fall season later on.
“As mentioned, this additive was needed to aid in compaction due to the cooler fall temperatures combined with long hauls during placement. This approach and placing the top mat on a new leveling course allowed for consistent compaction and in-specification mat densities for Elam resulting in very decent density incentives.”
Those incentives reached the thousands of dollars for Elam, even before the award from CAPA came in. The quality incentive Elam received was in excess of $23,000. The roadway smoothness incentive Elam received was in excess of $184,000.
“We worked on the centerline joint by increasing our QC involvement, thereby providing our roller operators the information they needed to ensure compaction was obtained,” Cox said. “Our densities ranged from 88.5 to 92.5.”
Mike O’Leary of Ingevity spoke with pride about the crew’s performance. He spoke of the hundreds of inches of snow, thus snowmelt, the area receives per year and how such weather patterns could have been disastrous for a paving crew. In addition to afternoon rain squalls, the crew faced temperature variations of 35 to 40 degrees during the day.
“But they didn’t compromise anything at all when it [the project] got pushed to November,” O’Leary said. “They paved in November in the mountains and still got density. They achieved their TSRs, their densities, their smoothness, all their quality parameters in paving were met. If we hadn’t used the chemistry [Evotherm], we would never have gotten that project done.”
“For the steep grades on this project, we confined our paving to an uphill operation for both lanes,” Saunders said. “During paving of the 12 miles of Lizard Head Pass, we rose in elevation 1,400 vertical feet. Some sections of the highway reached approximately 7 percent and 8 percent grades.”
They used a number of belly dumps for windrow paving to maintain a consistent paving speed. A Weiler pickup machine fed a Cat 1055E paver. Three rollers took care of compaction: the CB64 mentioned above, a CB54 in the intermediate position, and CB54 for finish rolling.
“The award judges awarded near perfect scores in overall appearance, longitudinal joints and transverse joints, and commented ‘excellent ride quality and joints are near perfect’,” Peterson shared. “This award is well-deserved and speaks to the commitment to quality from Elam Construction and the excellence in oversight and partnering from CDOT Region 5.”
“Elam and CDOT worked great together with true partnering fundamentals,” Webb concurred. “Challenges, and thus opportunities, will always be present on a construction project; however, it’s a matter of how the owner and contractor view each other that determines how they will interact to resolve in such a way to deliver a great quality project that the traveling public benefits in the end. This successful partnership combined with day-to-day consistency of great on-site, field construction practices and paving by Elam contributed to a smooth riding, potentially long-lasting product.”