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Asphalt Flexibility Key in Rebuild of U.S. 98 After Hurricane Michael

Anderson Columbia Co. Inc. is working 7 days per week to repair a 40-mile stretch of highway thrashed by a historic storm. 


People driving U.S. 98 in Franklin County Florida are often captivated by the view of the Gulf of Mexico as they travel the Florida panhandle from Tampa to Panama City, Pensacola, and beyond. That picturesque view changed dramatically on Oct. 10, 2018, when Hurricane Michael crashed inland with top speeds of 155 mph. This Category 4 hurricane caused billions in damages and destroyed homes, vehicles, and infrastructure. It was the third-most intense Atlantic hurricane to hit land in U.S. history.

One of the casualties of the storm was U.S. 98. Hurricane Michael tore gaping holes in the pavement, rendering this vital lifeline for many communities undrivable. The Florida DOT quickly convened a bidding process to fix the road. Anderson Columbia Co. Inc. (ACCI), a large road-building operation with offices in Florida and Texas, was awarded the job. ACCI leaders were aware of the complexity of doing this kind of work, having completed a large hurricane relief rebuild in Walton County Florida in 2013.

Still the project was daunting. The storm had gouged huge holes in the highway, one of them 500 feet long. Many others were 20 feet long and most filled with all manner of debris including sand, wood from demolished houses, and even guard rail shredded by the storm. The paving project required work on a 40-mile stretch of highway, with 15 miles badly roughed up by the storm. 

Asphalt was specified for the project in part for its flexibility.

Brad Herring, who has been with ACCI for 20 years, was the general supervisor for the project. “Because this was a 2-lane highway, work had to be completed for the day, then turned back to traffic almost immediately,” he said. “We were also not allowed to do night paving since people’s homes were nearby the project. Concrete would not have been suitable for the project because we would have had to wait for the material to firm up before turning the road over to traffic. People simply could not wait that long to be denied use of this vital roadway.” 

After the first lift of asphalt, drivers could resume the work of rebuilding their lives after the hurricane, rather than try to dodge dangerous gaps in the road. Once ACCI workers cleared the debris, they placed 18 inches of graded aggregate base granite stone topped with a 1.5-inch layer of asphalt composed of 12.5 polymer asphalt with granite stone. A second 1.5-inch layer will be added later for smoothness. This is the Florida DOT spec, one that ACCI has used often. 

Another challenge for the team was the relative remoteness of the section. “There were not even grocery stores nearby,” said Herring. “So, when we came from the asphalt plant, which was about an hour away in Panama City, we had to bring everything with us.” ACCI also had to rent property for the project in order to park equipment such as bulldozers and excavators.

The weather was an issue as well. “It was 30 degrees here recently, unusual weather for Florida, and we are not allowed to pave in that temperature,” said Herring. “Then, of course, we have frequent rains, which can also limit us.”

Despite these conditions, the ACCI team has continued to keep its 7-day-per-week schedule. The team is still early in the project and later will rehab the shoulders as well as construct shoreline protection and guard rail patches. The initial project is slated to require 7 months while rehab of the entire 40 miles will require 5 years. 

Chuck MacDonald is a writer living in Annapolis, Md. He has been a frequent contributor to projects for NAPA and other organizations.