Independence Excavating (IX) completed a 1 ½ year project for the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission (PTC) in the spring of 2017. This project was located in New Baltimore, approximately one-hour east of Pittsburgh. The scope of our work involved remediation of a portion of the mountain that had been sliding onto the turnpike since it was originally constructed. This was a problem that dated back as far back as when the Pennsylvania Railroad occupied the right of way in the 1920s. The slide was reactivated when the Pennsylvania Turnpike built “America’s First Super Highway” in the 1940s. This was a problem the turnpike spent more than 30 years studying and designing a solution. The project was not only a monumental moment in turnpike history, but also marked the first prime contract for IX under the PTC!
The New Baltimore Slide Remediation project was part of a major reconstruction for approximately 15 miles across what is considered the most dangerous stretch of highway on the turnpike. Before the major reconstruction could take place there were two major obstacles in the path – mountains! The IX piece of the puzzle stretched over approximately 2 miles of windy roadway.
All of the IX work was performed in the overlooking hillside of the notable St. John the Baptist Catholic Church and Retreat Center. The church is a historic, beautiful structure that has been an early monastery, Sunday haven for turnpike travelers and an anchor to the New Baltimore community.
In order to do the job in the safest way the project had to be divided into 7 stages of construction. Stages 1-3 allowed IX to safely move traffic away from the slide area, which was done by installing new drainage and making pavement improvements in each direction of traffic. Stage 4 involved the fun stuff – moving almost 4 Million CY of dirt! Lastly Stages 5-7 replaced the turnpike to its original condition. The next phase of the major reconstruction will remove and realign the turnpike to flow alongside the newly excavated mountain slope.
The journey began in the early winter months of 2015 when the IX team helped conduct a Partnering Session with PTC and all major companies involved with the project. The meeting served as a great ice breaker to introduce everyone involved from design, engineering, construction, and ownership. It really put the job into perspective for everyone and gave IX a better understanding the amplitude of the project.
Several aspects of this project made it a challenging endeavor for our Pittsburgh team:
1) Roadway allowable working hours were strict with tight windows forcing IX to complete a large portion of the roadway work during the night. Adding night time poor visibility to already the most dangerous stretch of highway was not an ideal combination. There were a few accidents in the work zone along the main flow of traffic, but thankfully no one was ever seriously injured.
2) Of the total 4 Million CY of earth moved on the project, 2.4 Million CY was the remediation of the slide. This area was completed in cuts of up to 80 feet into the slope of the 1/4 mile hillside, removing the saturated, failing soils and reconstructing the entire hillside. The New Baltimore Slide Area was designed in such a manor the removal process was extremely meticulous, and often times the work areas were very confined for the large equipment.
3) The Independence team laid out an aggressive schedule which often times required multiple shifts a day for many months. During the busiest time of the project, IX had over 75 employees working almost around the clock.
In the end the job finished ahead of contractual schedule, and the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission was thoroughly impressed by the workmanship, dedication, and character shown by every employee of Independence Excavating.