HARRISON – Dewayne Rogers, Clare County Road Commission’s managing director, had an extraordinarily busy 2023. Reading the adjacent article on page 2 (link below) of this issue, it’s easy to see the multitude of projects and maintenance his department of 49 people has assisted in developing and bringing to fruition over that time – all to the benefit of Clare County residents.
What is not noted there, is the far-reaching response Rogers has received for his innovative use of ultra-high performance concrete in precast bridge decking panels. These panels were first used for the Mostetler Road bridge placed in 2022, and again in 2023 for three more projects – on Athey Avenue, Dover Road and Colonville Road – each with its own specific challenge, as detailed in the previously referenced article.
In a Jan. 4 interview with the Cleaver, Rogers described the process, current project plans, and the notice that UHPC process has brought nationally. Rogers said the initial difficulty for this process was being able to produce enough of the concrete to pour the actual bridge deck [which he said had never been done with that particular mix]. That issue was solved by borrowing a truck from Superior Concrete and mixing it onsite at the road commission.
“It was successful, and since then it’s kind of spurred other people to try things with it,” he said. “Hopefully, it will keep snowballing. St. Clair County and Midland County have both done large batches with the truck.”
Precasting for 2024 has already begun, and Rogers said the panels being poured that day would be stored until spring, when they would be placed on Colonville Road.
“And we’re working on designing three other bridges for this summer,” Rogers said. “Once they’re designed, I think we can do three more this summer. It’s a budget thing, but I think it’s doable.”
Those bridges currently in design include ones for Cook Road and Monroe Road in Freeman Township, and Trout Avenue in Hamilton Township. Noting that a weight restriction sign at a bridge indicates something not right with it, Rogers said the goal is to replace that bridge and have that sign go away.
Crew numbers vary from three to six with these projects. When asked about the time frame to complete a bridge replacement, Rogers referred to bridges done in 2023 on Athey and Dover, saying that was a similar situation to what will be done on Cook and Monroe.
“The one on Dover, the guys put in in 14 days, which is amazing,” he said. “Start to finish, these could potentially take two to three weeks.”
The Trout Avenue bridge is expected to take three to four weeks, as it being about 15 off the ground presents some added difficulty. Essentially, the aging steel beams are in need of repair, and doing so before structural failure is just plain smart.
As the Mostetler Road bridge was the first such application used in Michigan, that project drew the attention of road commissions in other states and resulted in an invitation for Rogers [and a representative of the company that sold the road commission the beams for the Mostetler bridge] to attend the a national conference in Washington, D.C., in January 2023. I
“We partnered together to talk about his beams in conjunction with what we did with them, and the new bridge we built,” Rogers said. “That was really cool – there were people from all over the country there. I think the conference had 5,000 people there. I talked to people there from Massachusetts, Montana, New York, and they were very impressed.”
Making connections is an integral part of growing a resources knowledge base, and that seems to be what Rogers has done.
He also said he enjoyed people stopping to talk with him, and receiving their business cards, including a professor from Florida International University. “He gave me his card because he’s on a big national committee and he wanted info from me,” Rogers said. “It’s not just Michigan anymore, it’s national.”
Awareness of Rogers’ bridge work was not limited to the east coast, but also spread west resulting in another invitation. This time it was to attend the Midwest Bridge Preservation annual meeting.
“Midwest covers Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, all the way down to Kansas, and back up to Colorado, North Dakota, South Dakota,” Rogers said. “All those states had their state DOTs, and local agencies were there as well, counties, cities. City of St. Louis, Missouri, was there; Kansas City was there.”
Rogers said he presented there, as well, but this time the presentation included the Mostetler, Athey, Dover and Colonville bridges, which showed the first bridge was not a singular success. His presentation also incorporated maintenance and preservation things being done in Clare County.
“That was really great, too,” he said, adding that he had expected multiple questions after his presentation, but received none. “I got a comment from a guy in Kansas when I presented, that basically said what we’re doing in Clare is absolutely amazing.”
He also sat on a panel with five other people the next day, receiving questions from attendees – questions he deemed general, but also centric to the questioner’s own problems.
“What really opened your eyes is everybody is the same,” he said. “And I truly feel like Clare County is on the upper echelon among people all over the country. You’re having dinner with these people or mingling throughout the day, and it’s the same problems, same issues, same questions. And I’d say ‘Oh, we do this,’ and they’d say ‘Oh, really? Can I get your card, and if I have questions I’ll call you?’”
It was obvious that Rogers enjoyed being perceived as the “go-to guy” and handing out his own cards.
“Sometimes you feel like you’re so far behind,” he said. “But yet, we’re not nearly as far behind as some other people. We’re doing good, I think.”
While he did get invited to this year’s National Bridge Preservation annual meeting in Utah, Rogers is not planning to attend. He is, however, going to attend the National Road Show at Perdue University in March.
“Your name gets out, and I randomly got a phone call asking if I would do a presentation,” he said. “So, I’ll do a 50-minute one – that’s a pretty long one.”
Asked to compare the two conferences, Rogers said the one in Washington was huge, and included college students as well as “super smart” folks: professors, the people who are behind the engineering math.
“And the guys like me who are in the field,” he said. “That was kind of a broad spectrum, and that conference had everything from roundabouts, bikes, electric vehicles, transits, railroads, bridges, concrete or asphalt – almost everything you can imagine about any type of transportation.”
The South Dakota meeting was described as “a completely different vibe” as it dealt solely with bridges, offered information on materials and products, etc., and attendees were pretty much all “in the same boat.” Rogers spoke of meeting two men who sell epoxy and water proofing material for bridges.
“They were intriguing because they’re very smart with their product,” he said. “Then you start bouncing ideas back and forth. One guy said he’s coming up to Clare this summer … wants to take a look.”
That led to conjecture about injecting product into gravel roads to minimize maintenance – always an interesting possibility.
“I think what we’re doing is really on track,” Rogers said. “I think we’re being as efficient and cost effective as we can.”
He went on to note there are 42 bridges in the county, and there are some culverts that turn into bridges. However, he does not want people to think that’s the road commission’s strong point.
“The innovation we kind of ran with, that I’ve worked with U of M on, I think nationally is growing,” he said. “Pretty soon, I think it’ll be kind of old news. But we’re on the cusp of that, kind of helping it move along. So, I think the recognition’s there. More locally, as we didn’t have a bridge crew before, there wasn’t a lot of recognition on that. That being new, it kind of got the spotlight.”
Rogers said he doesn’t know if people realize that the bridges are just one piece of the road commission’s puzzle. That puzzle continues to have new pieces, such as the tree pruning equipment, the Knucklehead shoulder pulverizer which breaks up and re-incorporates lost gravel back onto the road. On tap for this summer is continued trenching, shoulder widening and pavement widening as was started last year on Rodgers Road.
“We’ve got roughly 20 miles slated for this year, which is huge,” he said, adding that the CCRC shop had to fabricate the grader blade to do the needed trenching.
The interview included a stroll through the truck garage which revealed a lot of things. First were the two rebar-imbedded bridge panel forms lying on plastic sheeting on the concrete floor, ready to receive the specially formulated UHPC mix. Rogers said he has been impressed and pleased by how efficient and productive his bridge crew has become at preparing the sites [demo/excavating] and placing the new bridge panels and finishing the project.
Of course, the vision for the road commission to be up-to-date and viable into the future can’t be achieved by sitting on hands, so the road commissioners and Rogers are looking into how they can fund a rebuild of the current facility. While the structure appears to be in fine repair, it is in the neighborhood of 60 years old.
That brings the observer to the second thing noticed in the truck garage: the dump bed of a truck which was not fully extended while being hosed down. Firstly, the truck bed cannot fully extend because there is not enough ceiling/roof clearance to allow it, and secondly, the wash down is taking place in an area shared by other vehicles.
Rogers affirmed there is definitely a need for a dedicated wash bay. He also pointed out structural rust, etc., as well as the fact that newer equipment is taller and doesn’t fit. Also, there is more equipment onsite and some of it must be stored outside, which speeds deterioration of metals.
“Our facility is really getting aged,” he said. “It seems to be a common thing throughout the state. A lot of other road commissions have recently built new facilities: Isabella and Gladwin in the last two years; Kalamazoo is building one right now – there’s a lot of people upgrading. I feel that for us to keep growing and be as good and efficient as we possibly can, a new facility would go a long way for that.”
Rogers said that in the meantime, the road commission is trying get its road system rating numbers up, get all its bridges unrestricted with no weight limit postings on any bridges, get its trucks upgraded to an appropriate level.
“And if we get a new building, I think we’ll be sitting really good,” he said. “That’s my goal.”
So, that was Dewayne Rogers’ very busy, productive year, and a glimpse at what lies ahead in 2024.
© Clare County Cleaver
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