Moves to Slash Project Delivery Time
By John Latta, Tina Barbaccia and Mike Anderson
Could the Stimulus continue to bring the highway industry benefits long after its funding pool has run dry?
“One thing I believe we’ve learned from the Recovery Act is the importance of bringing a greater sense of urgency to that work,” says FHWA Administrator Victor Mendez, who addressed the Transportation Construction Management (TCM) conference in Florida last month.
One area where that urgency just might bring about some significant — and valuable — changes is in dramatically shortened project delivery times. Mendez wants practices that can make us wait for more than a decade for a big transportation infrastructure project to go from idea to everyday use. So does John Mica, the new chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Mica wants to cut that time in half, as did his predecessor as chairman, former Minnesota Democrat Jim Oberstar.
What’s more, Mendez and Mica have had meetings since the Florida Congressman took over the committee, and indications are that the two men work easily together.
For Mendez, an initiative he introduced last year called Every Day Counts (EDC) would be the scaffolding with which to build shorter project delivery times.
“I see Every Day Counts as an innovation initiative,” he says. “It introduces new technologies, new ideas and new ways of thinking. It challenges the way we’ve been doing business and proposes a better, faster and smarter approach for the future.”
EDC is built on “two pillars,” Mendez continues. “First, we have a number of specific strategies designed to shorten project delivery time, which currently stands at about 13 years for a major project. We’re looking at ways to shorten delivery time on the planning side and the construction side.
“On the planning side, we intend to guide state and local agencies in using under-used flexibilities in the law, in being more tolerant of risk, and in minimizing some of the duplication of effort that currently delays projects. We can do all that while still protecting the environment and delivering top-quality work,” he told the TCM conference.
“On the construction side, we’re advancing new forms of innovative contracting – like Construction Manager/General Contractor (CM/GC) – that bring the contractor to the table earlier in the process.”
CM/GC also offers a better handle on costs, risks, possible problems and potential solutions, according to FHWA. Mendez also sees a potentially significant project delivery time saving, “by doing some things concurrently that under the traditional approach have to be done in sequence.”
The second pillar of the EDC initiative addresses another Mendez priority: increasing the use of under-used technologies, ones that he says “have been languishing on the shelf – so to speak.” Officially, EDC is focusing on:
pre-fabricated bridge elements, which allow bridges to be built off-site, and then assembled onsite like a giant Lego set;
safety edge, an adjustment to paving equipment that shapes the edge of the road at a 30-degree angle, so it’s easier to steer back on, if you start to drive off;
warm-mix asphalt, which can be put on the road at lower temperatures than hot mix, resulting in less fuel consumption;
adaptive signal control, a technology that lets traffic lights adapt to real-time traffic conditions; and
geo-synthetic reinforced soil, which can save time and money on smaller bridge projects.
But Mendez is on record as saying he would do all he could to bring any new technology, as long as it has a solid case, to bear on problems such as project delivery times. This includes spearheading efforts to update or amend legislation or regulation that is at present acting as a roadblock in Washington, and helping states do the same if they want to unlock their own bureaucratic congestion.
“We’ve gotten people to discuss not whether we can shorten delivery time, but how we’re going to do it.” Stakeholders in transportation infrastructure should, he says, “acknowledge that we should take a look at new technologies and not just rely on what’s worked in the past. You and we have to believe that we can cut the time it takes to deliver a project and still maintain its quality. You and we have to believe that technologies that seem new today should become common practice tomorrow.”
Survey says . . .
What the survey says is that Americans understand our transportation infrastructure needs better than many people in Washington think they do, and that they’re willing to pay for what has to be done to keep it a vital American asset.
An exclusive Rockefeller Foundation transportation infrastructure survey shows overwhelming bipartisan support for federal investment in transportation and infrastructure projects, according to the foundation.
Four in five voters agree that federal funding to improve and modernize transportation will boost local economies and create jobs. Two in three voters say that making improvements in infrastructure is very important, and most voters say that in its current state the nation’s transportation system is barely adequate. Voters seek better and safer roads and more public transportation options, widely agreeing that the United States would benefit from an expanded and improved public transportation system.
Survey results show that 71 percent of voters think leaders in Washington should seek common ground on legislation related to roads, bridges and transit systems, including 66 percent of Tea Party supporters and 71 percent of Republicans. Two out of three voters say that improving the country’s transportation infrastructure is highly important. Nearly half of all voters say that roads are often or totally inadequate, and that only some public transportation options exist. Eighty percent of voters agree that federal funding to improve and modernize transportation will boost local economies and create millions of jobs, and view it as critical to keeping the United States as the world’s top economic superpower.
Find the full report at www.rockefellerfoundation.org.
Red Means ‘STOP’
Red light cameras saved 159 lives in 2004-2008 in 14 of the biggest U.S. cities. If cameras had been operating during that period in all large cities, a total of 815 deaths would have been prevented. So says the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).
“The cities that have the courage to use red light cameras, despite the political backlash, are saving lives,” says Institute President Adrian Lund. And the backlash wasn’t long in coming with camera opponents such as the National Motorists Association and the Best Highway Safety Practices Institute challenging the findings.
Support came from the National Campaign to Stop Red Light Running Executive Director Leslie Blakely, who says that, “Many studies have documented that photo enforcement reduces crashes and saves lives, but this is the first study that demonstrates the cumulative benefit over time and across programs.”
The IIHS studied 99 U.S. cities with populations of more than 200,000 and compared those with red light camera programs to those without. To see how the rate of fatal crashes changed after the introduction of cameras, IIHS compared 2004-2008 to 1992-1996. The researchers found that in 14 cities that had cameras during 2004-2008, the combined per-capita rate of fatal red-light-running crashes fell 35 percent compared with 1992-1996. The rate also fell in the 48 cities without camera programs in either period, but only by 14 percent, said IIHS. Based on its data, IIHS researchers concluded that the rate of fatal red-light-running crashes in cities with cameras in 2004-2008 was 24 percent lower than it would have been without cameras.
Here’s an idea for these times of trying to balance hard-to-find transportation funds with the need to keep improving safety.
Since 2004, Utah has been installing cable median barriers along highway corridors that had a significant history of crossover crashes. The first installation was on two sections of I-15, with 18 miles of cable barrier set up for $3.08 million. In the two years before the cable barriers, there were 35 crossover crashes with fatal or serious injuries on those sections of the highway. Between 2005 and 2007, that number dropped to four. Utah estimated a benefit-cost ratio for those projects ranging from 23:1 to 35:1.
The cover photo for our August 2009 issue was a breathtaking picture of work on the Hoover Dam Bypass Bridge taken by Jamey Stillings. Since then, I don’t believe I’ve missed a chance to direct people to Jamey’s growing online photographic collection of the bridge being built. Talking to Jamey, it was impossible not to feel the passion he invested in this project. Now you can see his Hoover Dam bridge photographs at
http://www.bridgeathooverdam.com and I’d bet the farm you’ll be blown away by them.
For the record, the Federal Highway Administration, in conjunction with the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) and the Nevada Department of Transportation (NDOT), officially opened the new segment of U.S. 93 – formally known as the Hoover Dam Bypass – to traffic on the night of October 19, last year. The Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge is the central portion of the Hoover Dam Bypass Project. Construction on the nearly 2,000-foot-long bridge (with a 1,060-foot twin-rib concrete arch) began in late January 2005. This signature bridge spans the Black Canyon (about 1,500 feet south of the Hoover Dam), connecting the Arizona and Nevada Approach highways nearly 900 feet above the Colorado River. It is the longest concrete arch span in North America.
– John Latta
“This is like giving Bernie Madoff another chance at handling your investment portfolio.”
– House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chairman John Mica, blasting the Administration’s high-speed rail plans.