Working to beat “A Hundred-Year Storm”
The scenes were dramatic – a freeway flooded with water up to 14 feet deep. Cars, submerged, their drivers having to climb out to safety. A torrential late summer downpour had caused several Metro Detroit roads and freeways to fill with water, but none so drastic or dangerously as the I-75/I-696 interchange in Hazel Park. It was August of 2014, and while it may
have been the worst that area had ever experienced, it wasn’t the first or the last time it would flood. A solution was needed.
That solution has come in the form of a new project underway by Jay Dee Contractors. Since last May, progress has been made on the ambition creation of a new tunnel running alongside I-75 between 12 and 8 Mile Road. The 20,565-foot-long, 14.5 foot internal diameter tunnel will serve as a reservoir for water on the freeway, capable of handling a “hundred year storm.” And it has put Operating Engineer 324 members to work.
Since the project kicked off in May, Jay Dee has hired a number of Operating Engineers to do a variety of work on the project. Right now, excavation has begun on the first main shaft, alongside the 75/696 Interchange. Site prep, including terrain clearing, began in May of 2019, and digging the first shaft started after the new year. Working at a pace of approximately fifteen feet down per week, they are closing in on the final depth of 85 feet. That is keeping 324 members busy with the excavation, moving the removed materials, and operating the cranes that deliver a constant supply of equipment, tools, and workers to the floor of the excavation site.
General Superintendent Demetrious McClay gives a tour of the current site at the interchange and gives a feel for the magnitude and impact of the project. McClay is referred to as “the man making it all happen,” and not a minute goes by without his radio going off with updates around the site. Today, in addition to work on the shaft, there is a new crane coming online, and work has begun setting a roof onto a shop building for the project.
OE324 member Jason Fullerton has been on site since May and worked on a variety of tasks including running a boom truck and rigging for the multiple cranes. “The team here is really safe,” he says, referring to Jay Dee. “They take very good care of us and are really a great team.”
Fullerton points out one of the benefits of working on a project like this. “This is a year-round job,” he says, “so we’ve been busy all winter. There hasn’t been a slow moment yet.”
Project Manager Mina Shinouda explains the project in detail. When this first shaft is completed, the company will lower down a state-of-the-art Tunnel Boring Machine (TBM). While efforts above ground will turn to some of the 6 drop shafts with Adit connections that appear along the tunnel’s route, the TBM will bore to the pumping station 2 miles north.
The tunnel will be made up of pre-cast concrete segments, and when the underground journey to the station is complete, the TBM will be returned to the first site and run south to complete the tunnel’s second half.
Shaft Superintendent Martin Valles can hardly contain his excitement when discussing the Tunnel Boring Machine. As a Michigan transplant from Washington, Valles has been with Operating Engineers 324 for 4 years and is excited to start the underground part of this project.
“Our little mule,” he says, while showing a picture of the TBM on his phone excitedly. Valles explains that the TBM is electric, with pneumatic and hydraulic parts, and requires 13,200 volts. Since it is electric, it doesn’t expel dangerous exhaust into the tunnel.
The project is scheduled to last for three years, explains Shinouda, and will require several different disciplines of Operating Engineer,. “We have excavators, cranes, bobcats, loaders,” he says, “and we run year-round.”
This tunnel project is one piece of a much larger segment of an even larger project (I-75 construction) he points out. “Dan’s Excavating is doing the roads with Ajax Paving. CA Hull will be doing the bridge work, and we (Jay Dee) will be doing the tunnel. It’s a big project, and a lot of people will be working on it.”
For the drivers of I-75, the tunnel should provide the safe commute that has been lacking for years when the rain is heavy. And for Operators like Fullerton – who says “signing up with 324 was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made” – it’s a chance to create another monument. And while this one may go unseen and maybe even unknown, its importance is a testament to the work OE324 does to build our infrastructure and keep Michigan running.