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Asbestos Contamination Delays $343 Million Interstate Project

Early this month, an announcement from the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) confirmed that a sizeable interstate project slated to begin in May would be delayed for at least another year due to significant amounts asbestos contamination found in soil and water samples, located at the future Duluth, MN, I-35 interchange construction site. State officials signaled there would be preliminary work, and other assessments performed before the infrastructure work commences. Still, the department will require more time to plan around the asbestos contamination that is delaying the project. Over the year, there will be lane closures due to the anticipated work, but the main infrastructure phase of the project will have to wait until the contaminated area is cleaned up.

Interstate Interchange Project Involves Removing Raised Sections of I-35 Roadways

The massive infrastructure construction project involves the removal of several raised  sections of Interstate I-35 down to ground level, in Duluth, MN. The removal of those raised highway sections will reduce merging hazards, and allow heavy truck traffic to be un-impeded from a majority of non-commercial motorists. These steps would help the flow of traffic from significant traffic congestions and enable the new roadways to handle oversized loads coming from the port, off of the St. Louis River. As a result, those lowered roadways would also eliminate the need for additional bridges and the cost of maintenance they would entail.

Asbestos Found In Many Mid- Twentieth Century Construction Application

Asbestos is a group of silicate mineral fibers that are first found to reside naturally in the earth. For centuries, these mineral fibers were used for thousands of applications all over the world. For example, the asbestos minerals were unearthed and applied in numerous commercial building products such as insulation, flooring, roofing, and industrial applications alongside as well. In the midpart of the twentieth century, asbestos was discovered to be extremely harmful to human health. Exposure to asbestos was found to cause lung disease, lung cancer, and mesothelioma cancer, which is created exclusively from asbestos exposure.

Mesothelioma Is Caused By Asbestos Exposure

Mesothelioma cancer is diagnosed in several forms, mainly classified as pleural or peritoneal mesothelioma. Pleural mesothelioma affects the lining of the lungs, and peritoneal mesothelioma affects the lining of the stomach or abdomen. In effect, these rare cancer types form as a result of asbestos particles or fibers becoming lodged in the lining of the lungs or abdomen. Over time, the buildup of these particles can cause the onset development of mesothelioma cancer.

Testing Found Significant Amounts Of Asbestos-Laden Contamination After testing, engineers and transportation officials found out that the worksite area was vastly consumed with asbestos contamination from the preliminary water and soil samples drawn for the project. Also, the treatment and work required to be done in the contaminated area will have to be completed. The project is already technically challenging to start because the current interchange runs directly through a neighborhood, known as Lincoln Park. Lane closures and detours would inevitably be diverted through this local neighborhood. Once environmental remediation of the asbestos contaminant removal begins, the construction traffic will increase tremendously; furthermore, adding to the interference that will severely interrupt local traffic.

$343 Million Budget Maybe $100 Million Short Of Actual Estimated Costs

Adding to the additional project work also comes with the expected questions concerning the apparent extra cost to the project. Currently, the interstate budget for the job is set at $343 million. Still, experts say that another $100 million may be necessary to cover the time delay caused by the environmental assessment and additional work that it will require.

Minnesota State District Engineers Cite Challenges Ahead

As MnDOT District Engineer Duane Hill stated, “We’ll be running traffic right next to a 45-foot excavation,” Huston said. “You’ll look out your window and down into a 45-foot hole. That all comes with a cost.” Every challenge is being met along with MnDOT by the contractors, Ames Construction, of Burnsville, Minn., and Kraemer, of Plain, Wis. It’s a project delivery method called “construction manager/general contractor,” and it brings the commercial entities to the table during designing, rather than coming on board when it’s time to build.

“If we did this under the low-bid method, we wouldn’t be working with contractors right now,” Hill said. “We’d be out in the field trying to figure things out in real time when there’s equipment sitting out there, and the meter is running.”

Demolished Buildings Buried Underground Are Root Cause Of Contamination

Soil and water contamination causing the initial delay, are quite substantial. The root cause seems to stem from the remnants of demolished buildings, which contained asbestos, that was buried underneath the ground, years ago, instead of being taken to landfills or certified disposal facilities. Unfortunately, since the soil has been turned up, the area around it has turned into a problem for the state of Minnesota, and Duluth residents are experiencing today.

Water And Soil Removal Will Enhance Project Delay In Addition To Budgeted Cost

As conditions stand, the state will have to make sure the contaminated soil is excavated, removed, and then replaced with clean fill dirt. In turn, the contaminated soil cannot be stockpiled or spoiled around the site for later pickup, due to environmental issues and regulations, so the soil will have to be trucked offsite to a designated disposal facility or land-fill. Presently, the cost to haul contaminated soil out and clean fill-dirt in will run around $60 an hour or broken down to about $2 per minute.

On the other hand, due to the site’s proximity to the St. Louis River, the water level will be near ground level. In this case, the water table level will require water diversion methods such as pumps, sheet piling, or holding wells to be used to divert asbestos-contaminated groundwater.

After the water is diverted or contained, it will have to be removed and taken for treatment due to the known asbestos contamination that is present. Contaminated water will need to be treated, either by the nearby Western Lake Superior Sanitary District or by costly on-site treatments. “It’s preliminary, but it looks like a good deal of the water can be taken by WLSSD — but not all of it,” Pat Huston, major projects and assistant district engineer, said in December.

Additional Excavation Hurdles Will Lead Add To Project

Upon further discovery, there are now more hurdles that Minnesota Transportation authorities and contractors are dealing with to complete the needed interchange work. In effect, a storm sewer is now required to be removed and relocated, in addition, to extra structural supports that will be necessary to secure the existing interstate interchange temporarily. Those supports will have to be utilized due to complicated excavations that will occur near a large culvert, that diverts several large creeks, located within the interchange.

Furthermore, once these extensive excavations take place, there will more likely be other utilities unearthed as a result. These encounters will also take time and effort away from proceeding with the initial phase of the infrastructure project’s actual start and completion date. Residents and state officials do not want any more delays than necessary or have to halt the project because of a lack of funding. In agreement, both parties agree that the extraordinary task of dealing with the asbestos contamination needs to be adequately handled and look forward to starting the enormous job of undertaking this challenging interstate project.

Asbestos Contamination Exposes Harmful Health Risks

Soil and water contaminated with asbestos are incredibly harmful to human health. Asbestos exposure alone exclusively leads to over 3,000 newly diagnosed cases of mesothelioma cancer, in the United States, on average, every year. The latency period for developing peritoneal or pleural mesothelioma has been known to last as long as 20-50 years. If you or a loved one are possibly suffering from the harmful side effects of asbestos exposure, please do not hesitate to call an experienced asbestos or mesothelioma attorney.

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