The 2024 ACEC/Iowa Engineering Excellence Awards winning projects in the Transportation Category:

Transportation Grand Place Award (1st Place in Category)
Grand Conceptor Award (1st Place All Around)


Firm: HDR

Client/Owner: Iowa Department of Transportation
Project: I-80/I-380 System Interchange Reconstruction Program 


One of the busiest corridors in the region, the Interstate 80/380 System Interchange is a vital link in the transportation system for Iowa and the nation, supporting connectivity, mobility, freight movement and economic vitality.

Both I-80 and I-380 are critical freight corridors; I-80 is part of the Primary Highway Freight System (PHFS), and I-380 is part of the regional Avenue of the Saints connecting Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN, and St. Louis, MO. This interchange connects the region to the PHFS and the wider national interstate system.

The I-80/380 System Interchange Reconstruction project is located near Coralville and Iowa City, Iowa, in Johnson County, at the junction of I-80, I-380 and U.S. Highway 218. The original interchange was functionally obsolete and no longer had the capacity to reliably and safely handle increases in traffic and freight growth regionally and nationally. As a result, the Iowa Department of Transportation committed to this significant investment in the state’s transportation infrastructure and secured a $50 million Infrastructure For Rebuilding America (INFRA) grant, which accelerated this project by two years to reduce excessive congestion during reconstruction of this vital interchange.

Construction began in 2017 to redesign the I-80/380 Interchange so it could accommodate growth and the forecast increases in traffic. This comprehensive project:

• Increases capacity and improves traffic operations within the region, ultimately benefiting the general public, commuter and freight traffic, including the rural agriculture and manufacturing economy.
• Improves safety and reduces congestion. A pre-construction safety analysis showed that the new interchange would significantly reduce the number of serious injury and fatal crashes over 30 years. Traffic models predicted a savings of 64 million hours of
travel time.
• Improves travel reliability. The previous I-80/380 interchange had experienced frequent crashes and travel incidents. Similarly, the I-380 corridor north of the Interchange had one of the highest levels of rural incidents in the state. The newly designed interchange is expected to make travel time more reliable and relieve a major chokepoint on the regional and national freight system.
• Supports regional employment and economic growth. Interstate 380 north of the interchange is the busiest rural portion of interstate in Iowa, with over 53,000 vehicles per day where I-380 crosses the Johnson County/Linn County boundary. Between the Cedar Rapids and Iowa City metro areas, there are nearly 18,000 daily commuters.

The redesigned interchange includes construction of 26 bridges, removal of 80 lane miles of old pavement and paving of 113 new lane miles, resulting in 33 more lane miles added to the highway system. The reconstructed interchange and additional lanes allow more vehicles to travel safely and reliably through the area, reducing traffic congestion and crashes.

As part of the reconstruction, the project team widened I-80 to eight lanes and I-380/US 218 to six lanes, and replaced four loop ramps of the clover-leaf interchange with directional ramps. Additionally, auxiliary lanes were included in some areas between adjacent interchanges, to provide drivers more time to merge in or out of interstate traffic. By replacing the loop ramps and creating a higher capacity interchange, the project improves traffic flow, reduces the frequency of unexpected delays and reduces crashes and potential for rollovers.

The team completed much of the construction along the I-80/380 interchange approximately 3 months ahead of schedule and on budget. Local officials commemorated the opening of the safer, wider interchange with a ribbon-cutting ceremony on August 25, 2023.

Uniqueness and/or Innovative Applications of New or Existing Techniques
3D BIM Model

BIM has recently emerged as a rapidly developing technology for transportation infrastructure planning, design, construction, and asset management. The information-rich 3D models offer many advantages over traditional 2D project delivery methods, including the integration of technologies and practices that employ digital tools and a data-centric approach for improving life-cycle delivery and managing highway assets.

In an effort to move the bridge industry as a whole toward BIM implementation, the Iowa Department of Transportation initiated a pilot project in 2020 to investigate the advantages of developing a BIM model throughout the project life cycle. Three curved steel plate girder bridges, which are part of the I-80/I-380 System Interchange Reconstruction Program, were chosen for the pilot project based on
schedule and level of complexity.

Use of Online Meetings

Communication of upcoming traffic impacts was a key component of maintaining public support for this project. HDR collaborated with the contractor to inform area stakeholders and first responders of the construction closures and the changes to traffic patterns. 2024 ACEC of Iowa Engineering Excellence Award Submittal I-80/380 System Interchange Reconstruction Program | Coralville, IA

We developed a comprehensive public relations plan to achieve stakeholder approval. Print and web-based channels were utilized to communicate project information. Details about overnight closures and detours were provided on 511ia.org. The project website included project updates, traffic impacts and potential delays, information about 380 express bus service, and live traffic cameras. Project staff attended community events and held in-person meetings to educate the public about the project. Our efforts reinforced the Iowa DOT’s reputation, built a community of support and leveraged resources in a purposeful and meaningful way.

In 2021, the return of fans to college football stadiums following the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 saw an increase in traffic impacts throughout the I-80/I-380 System Interchange. The project team worked closely with both University of Iowa Athletics and the Iowa State Patrol to plan gameday traffic communications to guide fans heading to and from Kinnick Stadium and to help mitigate the traffic delays. Communication efforts included specially designed maps showing alternate routes for both pre- and post-game traffic and a press release to local news publications. The press release included details on the alternate routes, warned fans of the potential delays and encouraged them to enjoy their time in Iowa City.

Use of online meetings was significant during COVID to finalize development of final design plans for the last large letting. Online meetings were also beneficial for including central Iowa DOT staff and contractors who were not able to make it to weekly in-person progress meetings. During the early phases of COVID, due to social distancing needs, in-person attendance to weekly progress meetings was limited to the prime contractor leads, lead inspectors and GEC.

TIM Application

The Iowa DOT identified Traffic Incident Management (TIM) as a project priority early in the development process, and several regional TIM meetings were held prior to the start of construction, beginning two years before major construction began. The project team fostered relationships with local first responders to discuss proposed staging, traffic impacts and emergency access, and to help update the Johnson County TIM Plans. In coordination with the Iowa DOT Traffic Management Center and Johnson County Area First Responders, the GEC helped guide the implementation of effective and efficient management of traffic incidents within and around the project limits.

During 2019, TIM efforts expanded to include the rollout of new “Highway Helper” trucks and a “Move Over” event. During this event, the Move Over, Slow Down law was promoted by media partners and law enforcement who explained the risks to highway workers and first responders during traffic incidents. Every year, over 100 law enforcement officers, fire/EMS personnel, DOT workers and tow operators are struck and killed on the nation’s roadways. The “Move Over” event was held on May 29, 2019, involving six different agencies. During this event, law enforcement issued 16 warnings and 66 citations.

Future Value to the Engineering Profession and Perception by the Public

The I-80/I-380 interchange project team immediately embraced the use of digital platforms to help ensure that the public could stay informed and
provide feedback throughout the project. In addition to the project website, project update and impact notification emails, and a project Facebook page, Iowa DOT hosted online versions of their public meetings three years in a row, beginning in 2018. Information in these public meetings included a project overview, information on upcoming construction activities and commuter impacts, and an online comment form. The existing use of digital platforms made it easier for Iowa DOT to pivot to all virtual engagement during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. These online meetings received approximately 1,100 views in 2018, 1,500 views in 2019, and 400 views in 2020.

By offering multiple methods of communication, Iowa DOT maximized the power of communication and reach for the project. As construction activities
ramped up, so too did the communication efforts. Public and stakeholder outreach was increased to include more social media, media interviews,
stakeholder presentations, monthly e-updates, and traffic impact notifications. Regular project updates provide opportunities for stakeholders to learn more about the project and construction activities. This allowed the project team to use the latest technologies to maintain a positive project image with the public during peak construction years and keep travelers informed of stage changes.

Social, Economic and Sustainable Design Considerations

This critical project will make it easier and safer for both commuters and freight haulers to travel through the area. Installing new directional ramps will
increase the safety and flow of traffic, replacing the current loop ramps that cause congestion and safety issues due to weaving traffic.
The modernized interchange will result in significantly fewer crashes, which means fewer injuries and fatalities. Over the next 30 years, models predict
approximately 64 million fewer hours of traffic delays and the estimated typical trip will be considerably more reliable or more likely to arrive on time
than is currently happening.

The benefit-cost analysis shows that the I-80/I-380 System Interchange, constructed under a two-year acceleration, is net beneficial to the nation’s
economy. The total project benefits of the accelerated schedule are expected to be $75 million in discounted benefits compared to the base (nonaccelerated) construction schedule. This includes over $25 million of direct cost savings to the project.

Perhaps the biggest impact of the new interchange is the potential development that comes with it. With several communities bordering the
ever-busy I-80/380, this new development could generate massive economic opportunity to eastern Iowa. Thousands of businesses use I-80 and I-380
to deliver goods and services, which has already had a big impact on the surrounding communities.

The interchange is critical in connecting major eastern Iowa metropolitan markets, with a heavy emphasis on manufacturing and distribution. As one of the busiest interchanges in the state, I-80/380 represents a vital link in the state and nation’s overall connectivity, mobility, freight movement, and economic wellbeing. For the years 2025 to 2045, the average number of vehicles traveling daily on I-80, I-380 and U.S. 218 is expected to increase substantially:

• I-80, from 48,900 to 84,900
• I-380, from 62,800 to 92,300
• U.S. 218, from 41,200 to 61,100

As the freight industry continues to grow, so too does the amount of freight travel in the area. I-80/380 serves over 90,000 vehicles and 15,000 trucks per day, and the Federal Highway Administration estimates a 300 percent increase of heavy commercial truck traffic at the interchange by 2045.

Additionally, the interchange provides direct access between two significant job markets. Nearly 18,000 Johnson and Linn County residents live in one county and work in the other, and an estimated 35,000 daily trips are taken between Iowa City and Cedar Rapids for educational, shopping and recreation. This interchange is also traveled frequently by visitors, students and patients of the University of Iowa hospitals and clinics.


The System Interchange Project had two goals: Increase safety and expand capacity. This infrastructure project improves regional and interstate travel by replacing all four loops of the prior interchange with directional ramps. The project team added an additional lane in each direction to both I-80 and I-380 in the project area. Bridges were staged, several over three years, due to needs for traffic staging. Therefore, many of the bridges were three different designs (phases). Work included vertical grade changes on I-80 and I-380, requiring temporary mesh wall construction.

This work all had to occur while keeping traffic moving through the area. Staging, contractor access, and emergency responder access was paramount as well.

Iowa DOT used a special letting date for this design-bid build project due to its complexity and schedule demands, giving the contractor extra time to review the plans during bid advertisement. Serving as prime contractor on the project is the joint venture of United Contractors Inc., a heavy highway construction firm working in the Midwest, South and Southeast, and Cramer & Associates, an Iowa-based contractor specializing heavily in highway work. In addition, there were over 39 subcontractors on the project.

The prime contractor reported that more than 200 workers were onsite each day during peak construction months. While most shifts were Monday to Friday from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., some contractors worked on Saturdays.

One unique piece of equipment was the wick drain drill rig. Wick drains were included in the project’s construction plans in some small areas of the project where settlement was of concern. Wick drains, also known as prefabricated vertical drains, are prefabricated geotextile filter-wrapped plastic strips with molded channels that serve as drainage paths to help remove water from soft, compressible soil to allow it to consolidate faster. These drains are typically installed by specialized equipment called a stitcher that is mounted on an excavator or crane and consists of a vertical mast housing a hollow mandrel. The mandrel contains a spool of wick drains, which are hydraulically pushed or vibrated into the ground. But
before that takes place, a wick drain drill rig pre-drills stiff soils to enable installation.

Temporary wire mesh MSE walls were included in the construction plans to allow for construction staging of the new roadway, which has a different profile (i.e., elevation) compared with the existing roadway in some areas. These MSE walls also allow for the maintenance of traffic between phases of construction.

One of the more complicated aspects of the project was relocations of high-voltage, high-power overhead transmission lines to accommodate bridge construction at several locations. The process involved establishing agreements between parties, placing temporary poles in the Iowa DOT ROW for interim line locations, collaborating on schedules and working to reestablish the permanent alignment over the new bridges once they’ve been completed.

To assist with staging and scheduling, work on this massive project was grouped strategically for efficiency while minimizing as much as possible the construction impacts to local businesses, residents and travelers. There were single-lane closures and full closures at night, as well as overnight ramp and road closures planned through most of the heavy construction years. At times, there were multiple closures occurring at the same time on the interchange at night.

A Critical Path Method (CPM) schedule was utilized by the project team to proactively manage the longest path of the project, minimize delay risks, and keep impacted stakeholders informed ahead of stage changes. The project included a Special Provision for Construction Progress Scheduling and for the contractor to submit three-week lookaheads each week for review by the Iowa DOT project managers, GEC, and inspection staff. The overall CPM schedule was referred to on a weekly basis in coordination meetings. This scheduling tool provided clarity for the project team on upcoming activities to closely manage and communicate with local first responders, businesses, and City staff. This information was also used to inform our Traffic Incident Management (TIM) team so they could look ahead and be prepared.

The project team managed all the construction activities while keeping traffic flow in mind as well. The team adhered to the project’s Transportation Management Plan, which describes the construction staging in detail to provide guidance for sequencing of construction work, defining maintenance and operations of traffic during construction, and validating safety and constructability of the interchange. In total, there were eight construction staging workshops during design, and a high-level meeting was held with the associated general contractors to help Iowa DOT prepare for this effort. This coordination with contractors continued during construction to work through issues including bridge construction, access to interstate work zones, and hours of operation. This helped the team manage the complexities of the project and optimize the balance between meeting traveler needs and contractor concerns.

Successful Fulfillment of Client/Owner Needs

To improve traffic operations further, HDR and the Iowa DOT pursued and were ultimately awarded a $50 million Infrastructure For Rebuilding America (INFRA) Grant to accelerate the overall program by two years. HDR assessed the baseline construction schedule and traffic staging and worked collaboratively with the Iowa DOT to update the plan to meet the new accelerated schedule commitments. The accelerated completion has significantly reduced the number of crashes and hours of delay during construction, providing benefits to the traveling public and the economy.

The benefit-cost analysis showed that the reconstruction project, constructed under a 2-year acceleration, is net beneficial to the nation’s economy. The total project benefits of the accelerated schedule are expected to be $75 million in discounted benefits compared to the base (non-accelerated) construction schedule.

HDR’s on-site traffic operations team worked directly with the Iowa DOT to manage the day-to-day traffic flow of the project and keep stakeholders informed of planned and unplanned closures and staging changes. We managed a variety of traffic operations strategies to mitigate the impacts of construction on traffic including intelligent work zones, traffic impact alerts, updated traffic signal timings on the local system, dynamic message signing, law enforcement collaboration and first responder TIM coordination.

In an effort to reduce impacts to travelers, the team updated their original construction schedule to avoid closures for both the Coral Ridge Ave. to I-80 westbound ramp, and the U.S. 218 northbound to I-80 eastbound ramp. Construction for these ramps was completed under traffic with minimal impacts, allowing travelers to continue to use them.

The project team worked with Iowa DOT to establish a design schedule that set the course for design deliverables while providing flexibility for interdisciplinary coordination and changes. The DOT visioned to include a co-located project office in Coralville, Iowa, near the project site, to provide local resources for the construction effort and to quickly mobilize the project team. The GEC, DOT, contractors, and consultant inspectors utilized the dedicated office space as needed.  The team completed much of the construction along the I-80/380 interchange approximately 3 months ahead of
schedule and on budget.

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