MassDOT has some concrete problems
For journalists, the Big Dig is the gift that keeps on giving. For state transportation officials, it is the never-ending nightmare.
The latest problem for the $15 billion project is pieces of the roadway in the Tip O’Neill Tunnel that were supposed to last 30 years are crumbling after just 10 years, prompting $1 million in repairs and daytime work that is causing issues for drivers and could affect the morning and evening commutes.
According to Department of Transportation officials, the problem stems from the decision by project manager Bechtel/Parsons Brinkerhoff to use concrete on steep slopes in and out of the tunnel and at the entrance to the Zakim Bridge. The concrete is crumbling and separating from the steel reinforcements, causing potholes and other roadway defects and triggering lane closures while repairs are done, though some are being put off until next year. Officials estimate at least $1 million will have to be spent on the unexpected problems, including the shutdown and lane closures at the foot of the Zakim Bridge, where a 600-foot section of roadway will be repaired later this month.
This harkens back to all the problems of the Big Dig, from falling ceiling tiles to underground leaks, but the current mess may sound more familiar because of the substance of the issue: concrete. Bechtel/Parsons managers chose to use concrete because of its purported durability on steep slopes, but that has been shown to be more effective in warmer climates than the freeze-thaw conditions in New England.
There was some history for the road engineers to study as well but the lessons were either ignored or never learned. When Interstate-495 was first built, it terminated at I-95. The final 10 miles of the north and south stretches from Franklin to Foxboro were paved with concrete slabs, the idea being that concrete had a longer life and more durability than traditional asphalt. The concrete’s lack of elasticity, an inability to withstand the freeze-thaw cycles, and heavier traffic after the road was finally opened and extended to the Cape caused crumbling sections and sharp potholes, and eventually pushed transportation officials to replace the concrete with asphalt.
There’s also some serious problems around the state with concrete bridge supports chipping and crumbling along the state’ highways, adding even more costs to an already overburdened maintenance budget, not to mention safety uncertainty.
Until global warming takes a firm foothold, it’s a pretty good bet that the use of concrete in the frigid northeast will not be warmly embraced.
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