Is Hyperfix highway construction’s new wave?

When Brad Koester tells you “schedule was everything” on Indianapolis’ Hyperfix project, it isn’t idle talk.

The Walsh Construction senior project manager faced a daunting calendar. Walsh crews and subs had 85 days to complete the project or face a $100,000-a-day fine for each day over. The maximum bonus carrot was equally big: $3.6 million. With staff working weeks that were typically 80 hours plus, the Chicago-based contractor completed the project in 55 days and got every bit of that bonus. And the company did it in part by using rental equipment.

What’s a Hyperfix?
The Indiana Department of Transportation coined the term to describe something they’d never attempted before: Total shutdown of the downtown intersection of I-65 and I-70 for an extensive reconstruction. In fact, says Jonathan Wallace, public information officer for INDOT, “we don’t know of any other project in the United States where traffic on a downtown interstate has been blocked 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

Several factors drove this unusual approach: The segment was only three miles long; an alternate route was available in I-465, which completely encircles the city; and there was a boatload of work to be done on pavement more than 25 years old.

INDOT also argued using the Hyperfix method would mean Indiana taxpayers would save more than $1 million in lost wages and productivity for each day traditional construction would add.
The $28 million project included:

· Rehabilitating 33 bridge decks.
· Rehabilitating about 35 lane miles of highway.
· Adding a travel lane for I-70 eastbound traffic.
· Widening the south split of the two interstates, adding 4,000 feet of merge lanes.

But it required finesse to announce to a city that you planned to block the approximately 175,000 cars and trucks that travel this segment every day from using the road. INDOT gave six months warning to commuters and sanely didn’t start the project until the day after the Indianapolis 500 weekend. The Indianapolis Star ran a series of Hyperfix-is-coming articles detailing alternate routes and reasons for the shutdown. INDOT also conducted a series of community meetings to talk about the project and received a $1 million federal grant to provide $2 bus rides to downtown from various points in the city.

But downtown merchants held their breath. Would blocked traffic mean blocked revenues?

Rental on the job
They can stop holding it.

“It’s amazing to look at this now and remember what it was like during the first weeks of the project,” said J. R. Collard, project manager for Walsh Construction, on July 18, two days before the governor of Indiana was scheduled to cut the ribbon opening the revamped stretch of highway. “There were times I wondered if we were going to get this done or not. It really gives you a feeling of accomplishment.”

Rental equipment was in on the action from the very beginning, especially since most Walsh-owned equipment was busy on projects elsewhere. Working off the job’s equipment schedule, Walsh’s equipment manager determined what the company would rent on Hyperfix. “We looked for the best hourly rate the rental companies could give us,” Koester says, “considering the hours we spent on this job, monthly rates weren’t as important.”

While the two concrete paving trains came from the company fleet, the firm rented excavators, telehandlers, dozers, rollers and graders, primarily from two local equipment dealers, MacAllister Machinery and Brandies Machinery & Supply.

“We were especially pleased with how the telehandlers worked,” Koester says. “We used them to carry tools and equipment, plus we used the bucket to backfill the bridge abutments. They really came in handy during the bridge demolition since they were able to climb up the slope walls and telescope out and drag the concrete debris down to the bottom, as opposed to using an army of laborers with shovels performing the cleanup.”

For the project, which at the start ran 24 hours a day, Walsh chose to buy its light towers, usually a rental item. “We were looking at it long term,” Koester says. “They’ve already been shipped to another project we have in Peoria.”

Even in a work zone completely cut off from traffic, the drunks will still find you. Workers inspect the damage after a 21-year-old Indiana man plowed into freshly laid concrete and totaled a texture/cure machine in the fourth week of the project. Photo: INDOT

A plan of attack
Awarded the project in January, Walsh had about five months to create its plan of attack. “It worked on paper, so it should work out in the field, right?” Koester comments with a laugh.
Walsh managers broke the project into what Koester calls “manageable chunks. We knew we had to keep access to the bridge work while we were paving and vice versa,” he says. So the company split the project in half, and concentrated on bridge work in one half and paving work in the other half, switching out as they met in the middle. Both the bridges and the paving were critical path items. “We couldn’t afford to lose time on either operation so we tried to keep them semi-isolated from each other,” Koester explains.
First on the schedule was demolishing the bridge decks and pavement surfaces scheduled for rehabilitation, a round-the-clock operation. “We ran the demolition especially hard just to get out of the gate,” Koester says. After the demolition, crews did limited night work, accomplishing most of the rest of the work in long days.
“We didn’t want to subcontract any critical activity we couldn’t control,” Koester says, which meant that Walsh did most of the bridge and concrete paving work. About half of the dollar volume of the job went to subcontractors, and Koester has full praise for their efforts.
“Our subcontractors really understood what we were doing here and they brought in just about everything they owned and every worker they had,” Koester notes. “They showed up and they showed up in force.”
He also appreciates the partnership he experienced with INDOT personnel, particularly project engineer Tim Conarroe. “There’s no way this could have happened if we had had an adversarial relationship. Working hand-in-hand with INDOT has been key.” Conarroe’s office was in Walsh’s under-a-viaduct jobsite facility, a converted warehouse.
The pavement work involved both full-depth removal and patching and crack repair with asphalt overlays. The majority of the work, though, involved 12-inch concrete paving.
Although the project had a high-velocity schedule, the materials and methods used were standard. “Really, we used a brute force method,” Koester says, “with multiple crews and shifts. We hit it as hard and as fast as we could with as many people as we could.”

But it was in the middle of
the road, Officer
One unexpected challenge, especially in a work zone completely shut off from traffic, occurred at 2 a.m. June 20. That’s when a 21-year-old driver, later charged with public intoxication, plowed his pickup truck into 300 feet of freshly laid concrete, finally coming to a stop when he crashed into a texture/cure machine, totaling the $200,000 unit.
“We were fortunate because we had wrapped up paving at midnight that day,” Koester relates, “otherwise he could have hurt our crew. Luckily we had another texture/cure machine up in our Chicago equipment yard, so it didn’t affect our schedule much.” Still, when the stopwatch is continually ticking away as it was on this job, the few days lost for such an inane reason had to be frustrating.
Another aggravation was the weather, particularly in early July when Indianapolis experienced an unusual series of storms. The wet weather caused the loss of some paving days while crews waited for the grade to dry out.

All’s well that ends well
“A job like this would have been tough to do in a full year if we had to do it under traffic,” Koester says. “The logistical constraints as well as the safety concerns on a typical phased project would have had a major impact to the schedule.”
To do this amount of work in such a short time frame meant “everything really had to click,” Koester says. “We attacked the critical path activities as hard as we could. You had to understand what was important. You could afford to give up some efficiencies and labor dollars to keep on schedule. It’s an easy decision when you have a $100,000-a-day bonus/penalty whether to do something you would not do on a typical job.”
Including subcontractor crews, labor reached a high of about 200 people during the rapid-fire demolition start of the project, much of it dedicated to jackhammer work.
“Keeping everyone’s morale up was key for a job like this,” Koester says, noting the long, long days now behind him. “Everyone kept a positive outlook on what we were doing here. We realized we had a chance to do this, and do it well.”
Adds Collard: “This was an interesting job, but I sure don’t want to do another one next week.”