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Federal Highway Administration > Publications > Public Roads > Vol. 66· No. 3 > Making It Happen the Fast Way

Nov/Dec 2002
Vol. 66· No. 3

Making It Happen the Fast Way

by Ron Zeitz

Despite the attention and publicity that attended the extremely rapid reconstruction of the I-40 bridge near Webbers Falls, OK, little has been said about the mechanisms that made the fast reconstruction of this major east-west artery possible. Because of close partnering between the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT), the normal bureaucratic framework was, in large part, sidestepped in favor of record-setting decisionmaking at the highest level of each organization. The chronicle of events sheds some light on how it was that two different levels of government were able to restore the I-40 bridge to full operating capability so rapidly.

Photo of collapsed I-40 bridge
A pickup truck halted just short of the edge of the collapsed I-40 bridge, shortly after a string of two barges hit the Oklahoma structure on May 26, 2002.

Sunday, May 26, 2002

"On Sunday morning, Lubin and I learned about the bridge collapse about the same time—less than an hour after it occurred," says FHWA Oklahoma Division Administrator Walter Kudzia. "Lubin Quinones, my assistant division administrator, and I discussed by phone how we would get the word out to headquarters and how we could help the Oklahoma State DOT."

The conversation between the two top Oklahoma FHWA officials set in motion the administrative actions that would ultimately begin the rebuilding of the bridge. They decided that one of them should proceed directly to the accident site while the other would remain behind to answer the expected numerous phone calls as well as to begin to put in place the apparatus that would enable eventual rebuilding of the structure.

"Initially, the division emergency response coordinator was contacted at home," says Kudzia, "so that he could file the necessary incident report electronically to headquarters."

That step done, the next move was to communicate with ODOT officials. "The ODOT chief engineer contacted Lubin and made arrangements for Lubin to accompany him to the bridge site," continues Kudzia. "Looking at the early news reports and on-site aerial video coverage, we made a tentative judgment that the collapse was most likely not the result of a terrorist attack or failure of the bridge structure itself.

"In the interim, Administrator Peters [FHWA Administrator Mary E. Peters] called me. I provided her with what we knew about the incident at the time and that we were in the process of submitting an electronic incident report and that division personnel were en route to the site.

"It seemed like there were a lot of things that had to be addressed, all at the same time. We had to rapidly establish formal detour routes; I decided to let Lubin work with the ODOT folks to do that. By this time he had reached the site and was able to give me a more detailed status report on the situation. We discussed the detour options and the need for him to brief ODOT personnel at the site on the proper information they needed to submit to the division for rapid approval of emergency relief eligibility."

Photo of transportation officials listed below at bridge site
On June 10, (from left) Oklahoma Secretary of Transportation Herschal Crow, U.S. Senator James Inhofe, Oklahoma Director of Transportation Gary Ridley, and FHWA Administrator Mary E. Peters updated the media on the progress of the cleanup.

ODOT immediately began preliminary plans to implement detour routes, working with State police and local officials. "Getting viable detours established and operating was a critical need from the instant the bridge went down," says ODOT Director Gary Ridley. "The sheer volume of vehicles on a major east-west interstate prompted a decision to establish separate detours for each direction. The routes were established within 1 hour after the disaster occurred."

How to get started on rebuilding the bridge? Taking up the story again, Kudzia says, "I mulled over that one on and off as I continued to field a multitude of phone calls. One of them was a return call from Jim Cooper, director of FHWA's Office of Bridge Technology and a world-renowned expert on bridges. We discussed the information residing in the National Bridge Inventory on the bridge's condition as well some of the innovative procedures and processes we could recommend to effect a rapid reconstruction. We also discussed an approximate completion date of 60-90 days, which would be a push, but we both thought it was doable."

One of the other calls was from ODOT's Ridley asking for help in finding potential firms that ODOT could contact to begin demolition of the ruined structure as well as removal of the damaged sections. "I told him I had already discussed this with Jim Cooper who was actually in the process of doing that, using his many contacts in the bridge industry," says Kudzia. "I also discussed with him that we needed to consider all potential innovative techniques we might employ to effect a rapid reconstruction, such as A+B bidding, incentive/disincentive provisions, and greatly reduced bid response times."

As soon the word got out about the bridge collapse, ODOT Public Affairs began to receive a huge volume of calls. "ODOT Public Affairs worked quickly to communicate vital information from the very first," says Ridley. "Phone interviews were held with media from as far away as the Czech Republic and went out by text and e-mail as the information developed. Oklahoma Governor Keating made a quick visit to the site within hours of the incident. A 6-month estimate on reopening the bridge was one of the early predictions and was noted by the governor."

Kudzia takes up the tale again: "I placed a call to Bud [FHWA Executive Director Frederick G. "Bud" Wright] and briefed him on what had occurred up to then. I mentioned that the governor had advised the media that bridge repairs would take about 6 months but that I felt we could do it in much less time, using the techniques I discussed with Jim Cooper and Gary Ridley."

Needless to say, things at the disaster site were chaotic. "When our people first came on the scene," remembers Ridley, "the Department of Public Safety was the primary agency on the scene. The ODOT people worked to get the detours set, unscramble the stopped traffic, provide emergency access to the riverbank, and give any help they could. The bridge was immediately studied for possible further failure, any stabilization needed, and how best to go about demolition after the rescue/recovery phase was over. The enormity of human loss weighed heavily on everyone. It still does."

Tuesday, May 28, 2002

Kudzia remembers what happened in the next few days: "Having launched a number of initiatives to stabilize the situation, it was time for Gary Ridley and his ODOT staff and FHWA staff to meet and begin to consider options for repair and rebuilding the bridge. We discussed the techniques previously mentioned, and I stressed that this was an emergency situation and normal procedures in designing and replacing the spans would not be appropriate.

"We first agreed to expedite the design work by establishing a short list of consultant firms and quickly interviewing them to make a timely selection. We each assigned someone to begin this selection process; from FHWA, it was the division bridge engineer and from ODOT, members of the bridge and consultant management staffs."

The team immediately began its work. "In discussions with Gary," Kudzia continues, "I pushed for a calendar day contract with no exceptions for weather, delivery delays, or any similar contingencies. Gary and his team hit on the idea to go further and make it an hourly contract. Their thinking here was that if the contractor was ready to open the highway to traffic at any time on a given day, we could do so more easily with an hourly contract than with a daily one. The contract time was determined by Gary and his folks using a critical path methodology.

"Back in the division office, I alerted the staff to be prepared to process requests from the State for project/funding approvals quickly," continues Kudzia. While regular Federal-aid funds normally are used to implement planned program projects, under emergency situations they can be utilized effectively to get emergency work underway. "I knew that we would not be able to obtain emergency relief funds virtually overnight, so I advised Gary that the State could use regular Federal-aid funds to initiate projects immediately and then replace them with emergency relief funds when they became available."

This was a key move that helped jumpstart all necessary activities to restore the bridge.

"A direct result of our discussions with Gary Ridley and others at ODOT," says Kudzia, "and the availability of regular Federal-aid funds to begin required work aided in advancing the engineering contract in a compressed time of 16 days to complete the design, which was eventually accomplished in just 12 days. This rapid decisionmaking process continued, when the schedule for construction called for completion in a virtually record time. Part of this rapid decisionmaking was possible because I and my staff remained accessible to ODOT (day and night) to assist them in any way necessary, often suggesting ways to address specific situations that developed."

Saturday, June 1, 2002

The ODOT team quickly assembled a short list of available and qualified contractors who were invited to an on-site mandatory pre-bid conference to inform them firsthand of the work involved. At that time they also received plans that were 70 percent complete, the first time ODOT had arranged a pre-bid conference without a completed set of plans. The contractors were given 4 days to prepare their bids.

"We felt that it was necessary to markedly compress the usual bid response time of 21 days to 4 because of the urgency of the situation," says Kudzia.

Wednesday, June 12, 2002

At the conclusion of the 4-day period, the bids that were received were opened, verified, and the lowest bidder was selected. "The Oklahoma Transportation Commission convened in a special session on June 12 to review ODOT's recommendation for the contract award. The award was made later in the day," notes Kudzia. "The contractor, Gilbert Central Corporation, was directed to begin work by that evening."

Thus, after less time elapsed than it would normally take to simply put out a project for bid, wait the 21 days for bid proposals, select the winning bid and award the contract, the I-40 bridge project was designed, demolition and removal of the ruined structure was completed, and a contract for replacement was awarded. Total elapsed time from the day the disaster happened to the day work began on the new structure was 18 days.

"Our role diminished somewhat after the contract award," says Kudzia. "We had division personnel on-site for the first few days and made periodic visits to the site over the next several weeks. Our main role was our daily interactions with ODOT leadership, helping them make immediate and timely decisions regarding FHWA requirements, funding eligibility and so forth."

The rest is the story of an extremely motivated contractor striving to finish the project well ahead of the deadline, which the company did. For its efforts, the contractor earned $1.5 million in incentives for completing the project 10 days ahead of the contractual obligation. All in all, from the day of the collapse to the day the new bridge carried its first vehicular traffic, only 64 days elapsed.

Crane clearing debris from one of the barges   Workers preparing steel fro reconnection
A crane cleared debis from one of the barges on June 13.   Once reconstruction was underway, workers prepared steel for reconnection.
Beam being lowered onto one of the
A beam was lowered onto one of the spans on July 16.
Workers carrying steel for the deck   Aerial view of bridge under construction
Workers are shown carrying steel for the deck on span 2 of the bridge.   This aerial shot shows the worksite from the upriver side.
Pump truck being moved into place for the deck pour   Workers tying deck steel on span   Worker hand finishing deck
A pump truck was moved into place for the deck pour on July 24.   Workers tied deck steel on span 4.   By July 25, this worker was doing hand finishing on the deck for span 3.
Photo of traffic going over new bridge
Only 64 days after the collapse, the bridge was open by July 29 for vehicles crossing eastbound.

Ron Zeitz is a senior editorial consultant in FHWA's Public Affairs office in Washington, DC. His career spans more than 30 years in public relations, much of it in the private sector, working for such high-tech companies as Xerox, GTE, and ITT. Zeitz has made a specialty out of writing about technical subjects in layman's language. He is the former editor of The FHWA News. FHWA's publication for its employees and retirees. You can reach Zeitz at 202-366-1311 or ronald.zeitz@fhwa.dot.gov.

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