Launch Slideshow

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Infrastructure Construction & Maintenance

Infrastructure Construction & Maintenance

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    Day 2: Several weeks before McMullen Booth Road closed, CSXT crews assembled the entire replacement track off of the existing tracks. The resulting 336 linear feet of #146 rail and ties, welded and anchored together as a single piece, weighed nearly 10 tons. After removing the old rail bed, CSXT crews and the county contractor's three track excavators moved the new assembly into place. This process took just a few hours, whereas assembling the track in-place takes weeks. Photos: Pinellas County

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    Days 7 and 8. Before construction, CSXT established the theoretical proposed elevation of the new rails, which are designed based on the new roadway approaches. The final profile grade can deviate from the elevation by as many as 6 inches. The closer the actual final elevation of the railroad is to the theoretical elevation, the less redesign is required for the roadway approaches, eliminating delays. After the new ballast was compacted, CSXT used a vibratory leveling machine with infrared laser technology to set the final profile grade of the new rails, saving more time.

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    Days 9-11. The original full-depth rubber crossing had deteriorated to asphalt patches. The replacement called for installing rail seal and prefabricated concrete panels between the rails and 2 feet outside the rails. After the panels were installed, the county's contractor poured in place 5-foot-wide reinforced concrete aprons adjacent to the panels. CSXT shaved two to four days off the duration of the road closure by using high-early-strength (HES) concrete, which reaches 3,000 psi in 24 hours.

Pinellas County is Florida's second-smallest but most densely populated county, and it has the additional distinction of being one of the most oddly configured: 38 miles long, 15 miles wide, and surrounded by water on three sides.

This makes for some interesting transportation challenges.

Where the peninsula is most narrow, the workhorses of north-south traffic are two six-lane arterial highways running parallel to each other at just 1.3 miles apart. One is a state-maintained highway (U.S. Highway 19) and the other is county-maintained McMullen Booth Road.

Since the early 1990s, U.S. Hwy 19 has been undergoing a transformation by means of an ambitious Florida DOT project to build controlled-access elevated mainline bridge structures—also known as flyovers—at five major intersections. The structures allow through traffic to travel without stopping for traffic-control devices.

To date, four flyovers have been built; two are under construction. During construction, traffic is restricted to two through lanes in each direction and is frequently rerouted depending on the stage of construction.

The result? You guessed it: motorist confusion and a heavier-than-normal burden on the county road.

To complicate matters, since 1998 CSX Transportation Inc. (CSXT), which operates the largest railroad in the eastern United States, has been implementing an extensive rail bed maintenance and improvement program. Fifteen key public railroad-highway grade crossings in the county were targeted for systematic maintenance: replacement of ballast, rotted rail ties, damaged or undersized rails, and laser leveling of the track along the entire rail line. Wherever the roadway crossings of the rail corridor occurred, the entire roadway crossing would have to be fully closed.

In the fall of 2000, CSXT announced that one such grade crossing improvement project would occur on McMullen Booth Road less than 1,000 feet south of the intersection of another road whose parallel intersection at U.S. Hwy 19 was under fly-over construction. The improvements would require the railroad crossing to be closed for an entire month.

Because of concerns about traffic volumes and the fact that the primary detour route was in itself compromised because of a construction project, CSXT postponed the improvements and focused on eight smaller, lesser-traveled crossings instead.

Unfortunately, the reprieve was short-lived. Pressure to replace the grade crossing on McMullen Booth Road mounted when the crossing failed twice in 14 months, requiring emergency repairs and partial road closures. Finally, in 2006 CSXT determined that the condition of the crossing posed a threat to rail traffic and the McMullen Booth Road improvement project began.