Neeser Construction & AKDOT – Diverging Diamond Interchange
Neeser teamed up with the Alaska Department of Transportation to completely reconstruct the Glenn Muldoon Interchange for both drivers and pedestrians by utilizing the Diverging Diamond Interchange project.
By Stephanie Crets
Alaska-based Neeser Construction is a general contractor that blends real estate development with design/build construction expertise, priding itself on having more than 45 years of industry experience. The company works on 10 to 12 projects at a time that vary in size and scope and in industry such as heavy civil, infrastructure and vertical construction, including commercial, residential and retail.
One of the company’s major projects is Alaska’s first diverging diamond interchange at the Glenn Highway and Muldoon Road Interchange. It is designed to allow opposing lanes of traffic to cross temporarily to the opposite side of the road to provide safer and more efficient access onto and off of the highway.
Neeser was awarded the project November 2015 by the Alaska’s Department of Transportation (AKDOT), and the project has been going strong since April. It’s a high-profile project that affects more than 80,000 commuters daily. Both Neeser and AKDOT expect the interchange to be complete by October 2018, but they’re pushing to get it done as soon as they can.
“We wanted to associate our name with it and build a great project that we can all be proud of,” Neeser Project Manager James Stelling says. “We’ll come in on budget and make sure the public’s happy and stays happy.”
The area of the project isn’t huge in itself. It will consist of about a one-mile radius of road with two new bridges and new ramps for drivers to get onto the highway in a diamond layout. Once complete, the design will be a learning curve for Alaska’s commuters, but AKDOT Project Engineer Jason Lamoreaux hopes that it will eliminate some of the road’s major problems. For example, the new interchange will remove opposing traffic for all left-turning and right-turning movements to and from the ramps and reduce high speeds.
“It’s a whole new design for everyone up here,” he says. “But some of the big problems we had was getting traffic backed up, and we had a number of T-bone accidents. This new design will virtually eliminate the potential for serious traffic accidents, while increasing capacity and safety factors. That will be a big bonus all the way around.”
Right now, the Glenn Highway and Muldoon Road Interchange is a two-lane road going across the bridge. Once improvements have been made, there will be four lanes for cars to travel across, doubling current capacity. “It will have higher capacity more than anything else around it and can handle a lot of future expansions,” Lamoreaux says. “What used to work 10 years ago is way over capacity. We needed something to handle the heavier traffic loads.”
In addition to driver benefits, the project will also improve the area for pedestrian traffic. Because the interchange is located near Bartlett High School, residential areas and shopping centers, there is a lot of foot and bike traffic. But many people simply walk across the highway or along the side of the road and don’t use the paths and walkways designated for pedestrians, which can be extremely hazardous.
“We’re trying to establish a more clearly defined pedestrian facility, rather than a shortcut,” Lamoreaux explains. “Some of that is blocking off the other options like cutting off shortcuts with better perimeter control and making pathways more direct. We will have more safe crossing points and signalized crossing points.”
Neeser’s main challenge during the construction process has been to navigate construction while maintaining the flow of everyday traffic. This has resulted in much nighttime work because the company doesn’t have to worry about the heavy load of rush-hour drivers. Neeser works in four different quadrants around the highway, moving 50 to 60 truckloads of material from each zone every day.
“You almost have to have four crews,” Stelling says. “The logistics of moving the material around on the site is a challenge due to traffic. We are unable to restrict traffic in any way during the day, but at night, we can. During the day we’ve got to build it unrestricted. But it’s all been working so far because the night crews are our saving grace.”
“One of the biggest challenges is that there is no detour around the project due to its location,” Lamoreaux adds. “All the way through our construction phase, we have to maintain traffic flow across the bridge and the highway. That’s a big factor for why this is a three-season project rather than a typical two-season project.”
Despite challenges, both Neeser and AKDOT are proud of what they’ve accomplished so far. But they won’t know for sure how well they’ve done until the project in complete in 2018. “I’m excited to see how the public handles it,” Lamoreax says. “Historically, there’s been a lot of kickback when we try new design techniques like roundabouts. So I’m interested to see how people will handle it because I think it will work great.”
“I’m proud of this site because we’ve already received multiple compliments on the pedestrian traffic control and the access we’re providing for them,” Stelling says. Additionally, Neeser has been able to smoothly move hundreds of thousands of tons of material and dirt in and out of the construction site in a very coordinated manner. “For a company not well know in the highway business, we’ve proved we can move as much dirt as the larger highway companies,” Stelling adds.