Point of Beginning

A Model Community

April 1, 2010
All images courtesy of M.J. Engineering
The Round Lake Bypass project included construction of a 640-foot-long, four-span multigirder bridge over Ballston Creek as well as a pedestrian bridge (Zim Smith Trail bridge). 


When commuter traffic overtakes a small-town main street, locals tend to get concerned. The nearly 1,000 residents of the Village of Round Lake in upstate New York were no exception. And for good reason. The village is profoundly tied to its rich cultural past dating back to 1867, when a group of Methodist laymen and ministers visited Round Lake’s western shores to assess the proposed camp meeting grounds. Impressed by the area’s pine woods, pure spring water and access to nearby farms and train service, the church purchased 40 acres. By 1869, its camp meetings were drawing crowds of 20,000 for Sunday services--as well as national attention.

Today, the Village of Round Lake is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Preservationists note the local architecture’s distinct “campground Victorian” influence--i.e., camp houses converted to permanent Victorian-style residences--and the number of buildings devoted to philosophical, religious and cultural purposes. Round Lake is also an environmentally sensitive area due to the extensive wetlands that support numerous protected species, including the endangered Karner blue butterfly.

In recent years, Round Lake’s unique attributes have been threatened by rapid growth in surrounding areas resulting in new traffic patterns that clog the village center and threaten the wetlands. These challenges accelerated when Advanced Micro Devices Inc. began plans to construct a $4.6 billion manufacturing plant in the nearby Town of Malta. Although the economic development was positive for the overall region, it presented some concerns. “There was a potential to quadruple traffic,” says Brian Cooper, PE, director of engineering at Clifton Park, N.Y.-based M.J. Engineering and Land Surveying PC. “And that kind of increase would really affect the quality of life in the village.” To make matters more complicated, there wasn’t enough space within village limits to expand roadways as needed. To alleviate traffic congestion and provide for event and incident management, a bypass was needed to link Interstate 87 (I-87) and U.S. Route 9.

M.J. Engineering has a long history of working with the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT), and bypasses and roundabouts are something of a specialty for the consulting firm. The company was easily awarded the contract for the Round Lake Bypass project. However, everyone realized that a project of this scope would invite resistance from community members and special interest groups. Effective community outreach would be vital. Fortunately, M.J. Engineering had the tools to help ensure the success of this complex initiative.

DTMs were essential for community planning.

Visualizing Progress

The project goals included preserving Round Lake’s historic district; rerouting traffic passing through the village center; increasing safety for motorists, pedestrians and bicyclists; minimizing environmental and socioeconomic impacts; and improving the overall quality of life in Round Lake. These goals required substantial infrastructure--a 1.5-mile road, two concrete box culverts, vehicular and pedestrian bridges, and two roundabouts. Ultimately, 130,000 cubic yards of rock would need to be blasted. 

A finished view of the bypass.

To maximize communication efforts among all of the stakeholders, M.J. Engineering used several visualization techniques. One of the most effective was a digital terrain model (DTM) that was made available at all public hearings and information meetings. Developed early on in the design process with Bentley InRoads software, the model was based on a detailed photogrammetric survey provided by NYSDOT that was supplemented considerably by M.J. Engineering. RTK and conventional total station surveys were performed as needed. “Environmentally important features like streams and wetlands were obscured by forest, so we had to get in there to locate those,” Cooper explains. M.J. Engineering crews also surveyed to establish precise locations of pavement, inverts, curbs and other critical features.

One feature of the model was a dynamic drive-through that simulated a driver’s experience traveling through the proposed bypass. The community’s reaction to the drive-through was positive. “We didn’t hire a specialist firm to put a professional polish on it, but we had color, trees and pavement, and references to the existing roadways for comparison,” Cooper says. “People liked it.”

In the drive-through, the preservation of wetlands and mitigation of construction impacts were emphasized. Models and visualizations of alternate designs were created and offered for feedback throughout the design and approval process. Before final routes and layouts were approved, numerous alternatives were developed and rejected based on community feedback. Designs were not finalized until all revisions to roadway grading and alignments, bridge designs, and trail alignments were incorporated. 

Construction of the temporary causeway through Ballston Creek, which is on the right.

Fostering Collaboration

Good communication with NYSDOT was also essential, especially when managing more than 500 project files. To foster collaboration, the team used Bentley ProjectWise, an engineering project team collaboration system, to share project drawings and documents throughout the entire design process. “Both M.J. Engineering and NYSDOT have used ProjectWise successfully in the past, making it a particularly effective collaboration tool,” Cooper says. He adds that although there still were plenty of phone calls and face-to-face meetings, ProjectWise did reduce the total amount of time spent in meetings.

He also notes that ProjectWise worked very well for file transfers and was a superb tool for managing changes needed during construction. It also cut down on paper documents and eliminated the need for some reviewers to print out plans. When dealing with regulatory agencies, the InRoads DTM and ProjectWise worked together to ensure that current plans were submitted in a timely manner.

An InRoads-generated finished grade model of the project east of Ballston Creek. 

Ballston Creek was one area of concern in which collaboration especially paid off. The creek is modestly sized, so a culvert-crossing alternative was technically possible. But due to the environmental importance of this riparian corridor and the existing clay soils, the team determined that a bridge crossing was the best option. The resulting bridge design does not fragment the creek and allows for wildlife passage beneath the roadway.

To mitigate the impact of bridge construction, a temporary causeway was built on 6-foot diameter pipes as a pad for cranes and for other traffic. M.J. Engineering performed hydraulic analyses to avoid surprises during floods, and the firm designed the placement of heavy-duty geotextile fabric under the entire causeway. Later, when the causeway was removed, the fabric was pulled up leaving nearly untouched original ground. This solution facilitated and contained construction-vehicle traffic and allowed M.J. Engineering to create detailed plans for causeway removal and creek restoration after construction. Stormwater retention facilities were designed with wetland preservation in mind and included roadway treatment swales, four stormwater management ponds, and a stormwater wetland--all of which treat stormwater and control peak flows prior to release into surrounding wetlands and waterways.

In addition to preserving wetlands, the total protected acreage was increased. Working with NYSDOT, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC), M.J. Engineering identified a total of 100 acres of surrounding land that included wetlands and forested property for acquisition and preservation in perpetuity, and more than 6 acres of wetlands were created during construction. To protect the Karner blue butterfly, the team conducted a thorough evaluation of available habitat to avoid any impact on this species. The firm also worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the NYSDEC to ensure that no other rare or endangered animals, plants or habitats were located in the project corridor.

An InRoads-generated overview model of the proposed construction, which was used to help the community visualize the project’s impact.

Avoiding Conflicts

Utility coordination emerged as a major design challenge since space was limited and roadway alignments were constrained by the need to preserve wetlands, minimize other environmental impacts, and maintain the historic character of the area. “Careful subsurface utility exploration, surveying and the use of InRoads created 3D utility features that allowed for resolution of utility conflicts prior to construction,” Cooper says. “This was an important tool in achieving time and cost savings.”

The bypass was expected to require substantial grade changes, so extra care was taken with utility location. Underground Services Inc., SoftDig, a subsurface utility engineering firm, was subcontracted to do the work. The firm used its SoftDig system, a nondestructive, vacuum-based location method, to give accurate depths every 50 feet or so along utility lines. The company provided field reference sheets with utility depths at described points, and M.J. Engineering crews tied in ground elevation at these points so utilities could be brought into the model. “For state projects like this, we have to grade the quality of our utility information from A to D,” Cooper says. “And we were at level A for the majority of this project.”

Looking east under the Zim Smith Trail pedestrian bridge toward Ballston Creek. 

Having highly accurate utility information in the model proved useful during the design and construction phases. “We had a gas line in Curry Road where we were creating a roundabout, and we knew we were going to be excavating up to 8 feet deep,” Cooper explains. “InRoads helped us to plan the excavation and relocation in phases, which caused less disruption.” The utility modeling also helped with interference detection during design.

Limited space also forced the project team to make tough decisions about alignment locations. Working within the narrow corridors that would best preserve wetlands and minimize other environmental impacts meant that a large quantity of rock would have to be excavated and removed. This meant blasting. “To facilitate the required geometric design parameters, 130,000 cubic yards of rock earthwork was removed by up-to-date blasting methods that included strict safety-code protocols,” Cooper says. “Impacts to surrounding residents and business owners were carefully monitored during each blasting operation.”

Techniques used during design included InRoads horizontal control lines, COGO point generation and ASCII file creation from the COGO survey information. The same techniques were also used during construction to make field changes on-the-fly and avoid impeding contractors and delaying construction. “The physical constraints of the project site made it important for construction to be accurate and on time,” Cooper says, “and field adjustment helped us to do that.”

Looking west through an excavated rock section toward Ballston Creek.

Modeling Success

The Round Lake Bypass was completed in the summer of 2009. In a final review meeting held with John Nolan, the NYSDOT engineer in charge of the project, it was discovered that using the designed Inroads model, relative geometric information and GPS, the NYSDOT construction inspection team was able to create InRoads DTMs for contractor payment during various stages of construction. A final InRoads as-built model was also created for final payment. “This was the first major NYSDOT project in which this method was used,” Cooper says. “And the results validated the model-based and stakeless surveying methods we used.”

Comparing the design DTM to the as-built DTM showed that overall project quantities finished within 5 percent of the original total design InRoads-estimated quantities.

As a complex project in a historically significant and environmentally sensitive area, the Round Lake Bypass faced substantial design and approval challenges. Using an InRoads-based model to simulate the experience of a driver traveling through the bypass proved to be an especially valuable tool when explaining the project to the community. This visual communication won over the cohesive and highly involved community, allowing the vision of a much-needed infrastructure project to become a reality.