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I-10 work to be finished in December – four months early

Landscaping, artwork will follow

A crew installs a retaining wall on the west side of the interstate Friday. The fill dirt came from other parts of the Interstate 10 construction job, and all of the old road was broken up and used as fill.

A crew installs a retaining wall on the west side of the interstate Friday. The fill dirt came from other parts of the Interstate 10 construction job, and all of the old road was broken up and used as fill.

The sprawling $200 million Interstate 10 widening project that has frustrated Tucson drivers since June 2007 is on track to be finished early and on budget, a state engineer said.

“We’re on the downhill side,” said Roderick Lane, the senior resident engineer in charge of monitoring the construction job, which has every exit and onramp from 22nd Street to Prince Road closed.

Lane expects traffic to be normal and all exits open on the new road by December. It was scheduled for completion in April 2010.

That’s good news for drivers who have had to deal with periodic closures of freeway underpasses and busy frontage roads along the five-mile project. The freeway also has been closed at times and there are gridlocks from accidents and stalled vehicles.

It’s also good news for contractors. Sundt Construction and Kiewit Western Co. will get an extra $23,000 per day up to 40 days if the job is finished early, Lane said.

If they finish in December, that’s $920,000.

In coming months, crews will finish the cross streets under most of the seven overpasses. By midsummer, the continuous underpass closings should halt, though there will be a few short closures for finishing work, said Arizona Department of Transportation spokeswoman Linda Ritter.

“But nothing like it has been,” she said.

Local contractor Tony Lunetta was happy to hear the job is ahead of schedule. He has paid a high price in man-hours spent in traffic while fetching parts or traveling to job sites. He is relieved it will be finished ahead of schedule.

“Early is excellent, and on budget is even better,” Lunetta said.

The work has hurt some businesses, even some that aren’t in the construction zone.

Lunetta, a general contractor, has had jobs delayed for hours – with workers waiting on the clock for supplies – because of excess drive time around I-10, he said.

A four-man crew sitting around for four hours in the course of a week is not four hours of expenses to Lunetta.

“It’s not four hours of time, it’s 16 man-hours,” he said.

One recent string of delays cost him an entire day of pay on a weeklong job.

Flor Arellano, 17, lives just west of the Congress Street underpass, which has closed several times recently for bridge construction. The senior at Cholla High School has also had to deal with increased traffic on the frontage roads.

“Around 5 or 6 p.m., that’s when it gets really busy. When you have to go somewhere, you have to leave 20 or 30 minutes early,” she said.

The construction hasn’t irked everyone.

Cassandra Scheffman, 24, a Prescott College student and part-time employee of the Center for Biological Diversity, isn’t too bothered by the intermittent delays.

“I just deal with it when I have to deal with it,” she said.

After construction ends, the art and landscaping will take another year to complete – most of that landscaping work. Because of a budget delay on an earlier project at the Interstate 19 interchange, landscaping for both jobs will be completed at about the same time, Lane said.

The art for the Interstate 10 project will cost $1 million to $2 million, which bothers Lunetta. He would rather see that money spent on parks or other things that more directly benefit the public.

“It’s not that I don’t like art, but is it a necessary evil? You could do a lot with $2 million,” he said.

Because the project was done in one phase instead of three, as it was originally planned, keeping on schedule was easier. If a delay hit one part of the job, crews were simply shifted to other areas temporarily to keep work flowing, he said.

There have been no major construction or traffic accidents in the job zone, though a tractor-trailer flipped over the barrier along the through lanes and a construction worker’s hand was crushed, Lane said.

Among the final touches on the road will be a 4-inch layer of rubberized asphalt, which will cut noise and allow water to seep in and reduce the risk of hydroplaning.

The work is among several widening projects that will eventually make I-10 outside of Tucson three lanes in each direction all the way to Phoenix. A timeline for the entire widening has not been set, though several stretches of the highway have been completed or are under construction.

Throughout the job, the construction workers and engineers have tried to keep traffic moving smoothly for professional and personal reasons, Lane said.

“We all live here,” he said with a chuckle.

Three bridges are not completed. All should be finished and  traffic should be moving under them in a normal way by midsummer.

Three bridges are not completed. All should be finished and traffic should be moving under them in a normal way by midsummer.

Interstate 10 was closed by crashes three times during construction  since June 2007. This blockage Friday was caused by a stalled vehicle.

Interstate 10 was closed by crashes three times during construction since June 2007. This blockage Friday was caused by a stalled vehicle.

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BY THE NUMBERS

3 – bridges over cross streets to finish. Bridges north of Congress Street are done. There are seven bridges in the project.

4 inches – level of rubberized asphalt that will be laid over the road to dampen sound and allow water to seep in

5 feet – the distance new bridges were raised compared with the old ones

250 – the maximum number of construction workers on the project at one time

25 – Arizona Department of Transportation staffers who are monitoring the project for compliance

$920,000 – the bonus the contractors, Sundt Construction and Kiewit Western Co., will get if the job is finished in December as planned

$200 million – the budgeted cost of the project, which the transportation agency expects to meet

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