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Lower Shore Drive

September 20, 2016

Project: Lower Shore Drive
Challenge: Dealing with a substantial layer of clay beneath the road; avoiding gas lines during drilling; keeping intrepid cyclists and motorcyclists out of the work area during peak summer season
Solution: Using the best drilling equipment and materials at every stage of work; Communicating with local community members about the progress of the project

Owner: Emmet County Road Commission
Contract Amount: $322,856
Design Engineer: Brian A. Gutowski, P.E.
Location: Lower Shore Drive, Harbor Springs, Michigan
Date Started: May 25, 2016
Date Completed: September 20, 2016
Self-Performed 87%
Partners: Action Traffic, Payne and Dolan

It’s not difficult to see why Lower Shore Drive is one of the most popular rides in Northern Michigan for cyclists and motorcyclists alike. The roadway, located in the beautiful and quaint waterfront community of Harbor Springs, Michigan, puts cyclists and drivers just a stone’s throw from the shores of Lake Michigan. In the summer especially, the road offers unbeatable scenic views and a quiet, relaxed atmosphere.

Unfortunately, the design and construction of Lower Shore Drive did not share the pristine perfection of its geographical setting. Constructed more than 50 years ago—and on the side of a hill, at that—Lower Shore Drive was not a road built to last. On the contrary, by the time early 2016 rolled around, the road was essentially sliding down the hill, threatening all the homes on the waterfront side below.

Enter Team Elmer’s.

The problem with Lower Shore Drive wasn’t just that it was built on a slope, but also that it was built on clay. Because of the slope, water would run down the hill and funnel onto and underneath the roadway. Over time, this water flow caused erosion, washing out the soils beneath Lower Shore Drive. The problem was exacerbated by the presence of a clay layer underneath the road. Instead of draining away into the ground, the water under the road would sit on top of the clay and wash away even more of the soil.

With the foundation of the road settling because of the washed out sub-base soils, Elmer’s had to find a solution that would save the road, protect the houses along the lakefront, and prevent future shifting—all at the same time.

The solution was a soldier pile wood lagging wall—a retaining wall with a deep enough foundation to stabilize the slope and provide a barrier between Lower Shore Drive and the homes below. To offer adequate protection, the retaining wall had to span 300 feet along the Lower Shore Drive Roadway. It also needed substantial reinforcement and foundational work—qualities provided by 40-foot-deep H-piles and 60-foot-long grouted tiebacks, drilled perpendicular to the wall and underneath the roadway. Team Elmer’s also crushed and shaped 500 feet of the 24-foot-wide Lower Shore Drive, rehabilitating the county road thoroughly and ensuring that, this time, it would be worthy of the phrase “built to last.”

Other than some tough digging through clay and avoiding gas lines along the roadway, the project ended up being fairly straightforward for the Elmer’s team. In fact, the biggest challenge might have been keeping enthusiastic cyclists out of the road closure! Now that the project is finished, though, cyclists can enjoy an even smoother and more beautiful ride along Lower Shore Drive—all without worrying that the road might not be there tomorrow.

By the Numbers

  • Built a soldier pile wood lagging wall at 300 feet long to protect homes below the road.
  • Installed 10-inch H-piles at 8-foot centers and 40 feet deep.
  • Installed wood lagging between piles.
  • Drilled 3-inch grout tie-backs at 60-feet long and 8-foot centers.
  • Crushed and shaped 500 feet of 24-foot wide county road. 

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