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|Federal Highway Administration > Publications > Public Roads > Vol. 68 · No. 6 > Best of the Best|
Publication Number: FHWA-HRT-05-005
Best of the Best
by B. F. Templeton
These transportation teams won NPHQ awards for innovations, practices, and teamwork that are making a difference in highway quality.
Transportation teams in eight States recently earned recognition for innovations that range from increasing the safety of applying hot-mix to restoring habitat for a rare, protected mouse. The States won the 2004 "Making a Difference" awards sponsored by the National Partnership for Highway Quality (NPHQ), a collaboration of Federal and State highway officials and highway industry leaders. The NPHQ awards honor innovations, practices, and teamwork that raise the bar for roadway performance, safety, and environmental stewardship.
"The awards recognize innovators who take calculated and beneficial risks, people who make 'partnering' more than a word," says Ted Aadland, past cochair of NPHQ. "These are teams of professionals who jump outside the box of traditional practice to deliver ever higher levels of customer satisfaction. From design to delivery, the winners raised the bar in pivotal quality practices that make a difference to the driving public."
NPHQ encourages States and their contracting partners to adopt the principles of quality management to deliver the best possible products and services to roadway customers. The innovations promote roads that are completed quicker, ride better, last longer, reduce congestion, and improve safety.
"Quality projects fuel improved outcomes and streamlined construction timetables for departments of transportation [DOTs] and higher profitability for contractors, all the while maximizing the taxpayer's return on investment," says Aadland.
Texas Takes One Gold and Two Silvers
Highway teams from Texas won three awards, including a gold award in the category of "Breaking the Mold." The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), sparked by the ingenuity of TxDOT Amarillo District employee Robert Hollingsworth, developed and built innovations that increase the safety of applying hot-mix to the roadway and conserve time and labor. The innovations saved the district's Panhandle Maintenance Section almost $700,000 in fiscal year 2003.
The team's innovative modifications to a motor grader's laydown blade and skid box allow a one-pass laydown of hot-mix asphalt to a desired width and depth, after which the asphalt is immediately ready for compaction. Nine meters (10 yards) can be dropped and spread in 2 minutes. One person can lay down the hot-mix, spread it, smooth it, and level it, all in one pass.
With only one commercial hot-mix laydown machine in 17 counties, the Amarillo District found that weeks could pass before the machine could be scheduled in any one area. In addition, maintenance employees had to use old-fashioned patching techniques that could result in wasted mix and required workers to ride on skid boxes behind moving trucks.
The new hydraulic-operated skid box and blade are hooked on the front of the motor grader. The tractor cab gives full visibility to the operation, allowing one operator to control the process, and there is virtually no backing up. Workers no longer have to ride on moving skid boxes. The cost of assembling the modification: only $4,800.
A second Texas win was the silver award for partnering. The I–10 Katy Freeway Leadership Team united to launch the largest reconstruction project in TxDOT's history. On March 14, 2003, culminating 15 years of planning and meetings with businesses, community members, and elected officials, TxDOT signed an agreement with the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the Harris County Toll Road Authority to allow the operation of toll lanes on the new freeway.
The estimated $1.4 billion cost for building the Katy Freeway, which runs from the central business district of Houston, would have taken a huge bite out of all available State resources. Alternative strategies might have prolonged the reconstruction work schedule. The toll proposal allows the project to be built sooner and cheaper while releasing funds for use elsewhere in Texas. The result: a construction schedule reduced from 10 years to 6 on the busiest stretch of highway in Texas, fewer burdens for the driving public, and a landmark approach to financing and operations.
The third 2004 NPHQ honor for the Lone Star State was the silver award in the category "State Quality Initiative" for the Learning, Information, Networking, and Collaboration (LINC) program. LINC's purpose is to mentor small businesses with training and information that can increase their chances of doing business with TxDOT. The program is run by the TxDOT Construction Division Business Opportunities Program in partnership with district employees and contractors.
Because of unfamiliarity with the procedures and regulations associated with the procurement process, some small businesses traditionally have been unable to compete in the State's multibillion dollar construction bid process. The LINC program conducts training sessions across the State and initially focused on construction and maintenance contracts. It grew quickly, soon offering sessions for vendor contracting for goods and services, information technology, and professional services.
Participating small businesses have transitioned from sideline observers to active players in the State's transportation industry, accumulating more than $37 million in contracts in 3 years. In the big picture, LINC enhances the competitive environment, the quality of services, and the participation of traditionally underutilized businesses.
Maryland Collects Two Golds and a Silver
Maryland also garnered three NPHQ awards, starting with gold in the category of "Risk Taking" for the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Project. The project team rebid the contract for building the new bridge to improve competition, stay within budget, and keep the overall project on track. Administrator Neil J. Pedersen of the Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) says, "Many talented people from the public and private industry worked together to keep the bridge contracts timely and on budget. The teamwork paid off, moving bridge construction and the overall project forward to improve safety and eliminate one of the Nation's worst traffic bottlenecks."
The challenge was that SHA received only one bid for what was the largest construction project in the State's history, the completion of the new Wilson Bridge superstructure—twin six-lane drawbridges carrying I–95 over the Potomac River between Maryland and Virginia. Far beyond the project budget, the bid was 75-percent higher than the original estimate of $487 million.
Through an inventive process, SHA reengineered the superstructure contract into three segments, modifying the design and making the contract specifications more contractor friendly. The outcome was that 16 bids were submitted for three repackaged contracts, and the combined three bids are valued at $491 million, just slightly higher than the original estimate. The project is in its fifth year of construction; the first (southern) new bridge is scheduled to open in mid-2006, and the second (northern) new bridge in mid-2008.
"Our engineering and leadership team had to deal with a complex situation, one that we had never faced before, and come up with the means of dealing with issues that went far beyond our normal comfort level as engineers and managers," says Pedersen. "The success we and our partners achieved in taking the risks we did are often behind the scenes and invisible to the public. Government getting it right is rarely newsworthy, so we are very pleased that the effort is recognized nationally by NPHQ."
A second Maryland team earned gold in the category of "Partnering." SHA; Facchina Construction Company, Inc.; 16 subcontractors; 14 utility companies; 5 developers; 4 consultant firms; the Montgomery County Department of Public Works and Transportation; and other stakeholders joined forces to shave 9 months off a 3-year construction project. The $25 million contract included constructing a new interchange along I–270, a major commuter route that carries more than 200,000 vehicles daily in the District of Columbia area, and reconfiguring an existing I–270 interchange with MD 187.
How did the team offer customers a more efficient interchange system 9 months earlier than expected? Among other factors, the partners explored every opportunity to speed up the construction schedule. The result was three construction contractors' Value Engineering Change Proposals with a combined shared savings of nearly $1 million.
The team identified potential delays and handled technical issues early on. The State's area manager and the contractor's project manager resolved all issues at the project level and did not seek mediation from upper management or attorneys, or submit formal claims for additional payment for work beyond the project scope. The partners tracked and resolved 400 technical issues on a timely basis. All the while, they provided the community and customers with continuous updates on traffic and construction progress.
A third Maryland team won a silver by breaking the mold for creative efforts to protect the Potomac River fish population while completing deep water pile driving for the new Woodrow Wilson Bridge's foundations. The SHA team applied an emerging technology, a contained air bubble curtain system (ABCS), to protect the fish. The ABCS, a technique borrowed from the underwater blasting industry, creates a curtain of air bubbles that absorbs, reflects, and refracts harmful pressure waves emitted by the hammer striking the pile, reducing high-energy pile driving to minimal levels and eliminating the potential for fish mortality. This solution protected the environment and allowed the fish population to proliferate. It also let the contract for the bridge foundations proceed on schedule, avoiding costly delays. Use of the air bubble curtain on the project's foundations work was one of the first successful deployments of this technology and has been endorsed by environmental regulatory agencies.
Team members included SHA; the Tidewater, Kiewit, and Clark construction companies and Potomac Crossing Consultants; the general engineering consultant team of Parsons Brinckerhoff; URS Corporation; and Rummel, Klepper & Kahl, LLP.
Colorado Earns a Gold and a Bronze
Two Colorado highway teams earned 2004 NPHQ awards, a gold by taking intelligent risks to restore the habitat of a rare, protected mouse, and a bronze by breaking the mold to build an entire bridge over a single weekend.
The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) had discovered a rare, protected small mammal, the Preble's meadow jumping mouse, living within right-of-way property along East Plum Creek in the town of Castle Rock in Douglas County, CO. The creek flows close to I–25 and under the highway in the middle of town. The channel was severely downcut, and groundwater levels had sunk below the rooting zone of shrub stands that are a crucial component of the mouse habitat.
As CDOT looked ahead toward future I–25 construction projects, it searched for a way to avoid potentially costly purchases of offsite conservation land and project-by-project environmental consultations. The agency partnered with FHWA, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and Colorado Division of Wildlife on a novel concept. CDOT would restore the disturbed areas of the mouse habitat on CDOT property with a series of dams that would trap sediment, fill up the downcut stream channel, raise the water table, and replenish streamside vegetation. The plan also involved the creation of a conservation bank that would enable CDOT to earn mitigation credits to offset impacts from future highway projects. Together, the initiatives would solve the problem of finding mitigation habitat, reduce future environmental consultation efforts, save money on land costs in a fast-growing county, and allow flexibility in project scheduling.
By spring 2003, the partners had designed and constructed the dams and signed Colorado's first conservation bank agreement. What of the endangered Preble's meadow jumping mouse? Monitoring data shows increased distribution in the bank area.
The bronze "Breaking the Mold" award went to a team that demolished a bridge and constructed its replacement in one weekend. CDOT Region 1, Wilson & Company, and Lawrence Construction partnered to build a new Mitchell Gulch Bridge on SH 86 near Denver and do it in 48 hours. After intense planning and coordination, work began at 7 p.m. on Friday, August 23, 2002. By Sunday at 5 p.m., the new bridge was open to traffic.
The project could have taken 2 or 3 months, but the contractors realized an opportunity to apply innovative design and construction methods to lessen inconvenience to the driving public. They used precast materials to fabricate 90 percent of the 12-meter (40-foot)-long bridge. Steel piles to support it were readied ahead of time. The plan was to close the highway and reroute traffic on a short detour, dismantle the old structure and lower precast sections into place. Then the crew would use 366 linear meters (1,200 linear feet) of welding to tie the bridge together, follow up with earthwork, and compact and fill the approaches—all the while rehabilitating the stream below. The paving machinery stood by to surface the bridge.
The meticulous orchestration worked. Moving the project on a fast track minimized detours, conserved labor and management time, freed crews to tackle other projects, and sped the project's completion. "Possibly the most important measure of quality for the Mitchell Gulch Bridge project was that it was never noticed by most of its customers," says NPHQ's Aadland.
Virginia Takes Home Gold for Quality
The Quality Assurance (QA) team of the Northern Virginia District of the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) won a gold award in the category of a "State Quality Initiative." The QA team, the first of its kind in VDOT districts, combines outreach, training, mentoring, and auditing to improve the quality of highway construction. The team scores the quality of construction projects on a scale of 1 to 100, using checklists derived from the VDOT road and bridge specifications. In the 2002–2003 time period, the Northern Virginia District score rose from 87.1 percent to 92.1 percent, exceeding the VDOT average. Elements of the QA program are now being implemented statewide.
The QA team consists of seasoned construction professionals who support inspection field staff with onsite training and mentoring, which is especially meaningful given the loss of a pool of VDOT senior inspectors from attrition. The team provides institutional knowledge and experience to junior inspectors; shares technical information with project staff, consultants, and contractors; selects ongoing construction projects for review; and captures best practices, lessons learned, and quality tips in newsletters and on the district Web site.
"The VDOT team's knowledge sharing, emphasis on accountability, and measurable scores of quality evaluations are hallmarks of quality management," says Aadland. "All are driven by a sharp focus on the customer."
Connecticut Wins a Bronze for Taking Risks
The highway team that reconnected the downtown area of New Haven, CT, with its harbor for the first time since the mid-1800s won the NPHQ bronze for risk taking. The project, which carries Church Street South over the New Haven Rail Yard, finished 5 months ahead of schedule and $0.5 million under budget despite daunting challenges.
One hurdle was to complete construction of the 389-meter (1,274-foot)-long, eight-span bridge over the electrified main line tracks with minimal disruption to railroad commuter services and rail yard operations. The team devised a construction sequence in which the 98-meter (320-foot)-long steel truss span was preassembled offline and placed into its final position over the tracks during a single 3-hour weekend lift, using one of the biggest cranes in the world.
The "Big Pick" required a crane capacity of 1,406 metric tons (1,550 tons) at the pick radius of 57 meters (186 feet). As more than 500 spectators looked on during the early morning hours on May 4, 2003, a single high-capacity crane lifted and "walked" the 950 metric tons (1,048 tons) of truss and rigging about 30.5 meters (100 feet) while turning and placing it into final position over the tracks.
Participants in the project included the Connecticut Department of Transportation (ConnDOT); FHWA; Parsons Brinckerhoff Quade & Douglas; O & G Industries, Inc.; the city of New Haven; Gannett Fleming; and Metro-North Railroad.
"This operation was a testament to intelligent, calculated risk taking by a team determined to get the job done while maintaining safe and timely transportation for customers," says Aadland.
Georgia Brings Home a Bronze for Partnering
Highway partners in Georgia earned a bronze partnering award for undertaking a study of a traditional cultural property, New Echota, the first and last capital of the Cherokee Nation. The Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) and FHWA set the study in motion as part of their commitment to environmental stewardship in cultural heritage preservation. This approach to transportation decisionmaking will aid in long-term planning for highway projects near the historic site.
Team members included Tribal Historic Preservation officers from all three federally recognized Cherokee tribes, tribal members, State park officials, New South Associates, FHWA, and GDOT. "The study reflects the partners' collective concern that transportation projects should involve all stakeholders from the earliest stages," says Aadland, "fit into the physical and human environments, and preserve aesthetic, historic, and community values."
The property was the site of the signing of the treaty that resulted in the forced removal of the Cherokee from the Southeast and the start of the Trail of Tears. New Echota is now designated as a Cherokee Traditional Cultural Property on the National Register of Historic Places.
Kansas Captures a Bronze for Partnering
A Kansas highway project team is resolving a complex mix of safety, traffic, and flooding problems that have dogged the city of Marysville, KS, for 50 years. The team is relocating the double mainline Union Pacific Railroad tracks from downtown Marysville, while increasing protection from recurring flooding of the Big Blue River. NPHQ's bronze award for partnering went to the Kansas partnership for a design that improved safety along the U.S. 36 and U.S. 77 highway corridors, moved rail traffic to the west side of town onto a flat floodplain, expanded train capacity, and maintained the economic viability of the city. Begun in 2003, the work is expected to be completed in 2005.
For more than 50 years, the project had been under review and the subject of multiple studies. Al Cathcart, coordinating engineer for the Kansas Department of Transportation's (KDOT) Bureau of Design, says, "If this were an easy project, it would have been done years ago. It was not your typical highway improvement. It brought together multiple partners with multiple interests to design multiple pieces of one massive project."
The team included KDOT, Union Pacific Railroad, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the city of Marysville, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, 30 separate utilities owned by 10 different private and Government organizations, multiple Government agencies, and several consulting firms headed by Kirkham Michael Consulting Engineers.
The city will no longer be divided by the tracks, and emergency vehicles will no longer be hampered by train traffic. A new levee along the river protects the relocated tracks and removes the floodplain designation from the western section of Marysville. Railroad operations also will improve along this important coal route. Funding for the $51 million project emerged from an arrangement in which the railroad contributed $16 million, with the remainder of the contributions coming from KDOT and Marysville.
North Carolina Also Takes A Bronze for Partnering
North Carolina's Environmentally Sensitive Design Team won an NPHQ bronze award for partnering to develop a Best Management Practices Manual for constructing and maintaining the North Carolina Department of Transportation's (NCDOT) roadway systems while minimizing adverse impacts on wetlands, streams, and land.
The manual is one of the first of its kind to emerge from such a high degree of cooperation between resource organizations and State agencies. NCDOT, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission combined forces to produce the manual.
Development of the publication was driven by a quest to decrease project delivery time while maintaining stewardship of North Carolina's aquatic systems, which affect fishing, tourism, recreation, drinking water supplies, and the State's overall quality of life. The manual offers guidance for construction and maintenance crews while providing flexibility in the choice of methods most appropriate for individual situations. The manual has been distributed to State and Federal agencies, engineering firms, and contractors.
The American Society for Quality notes that the essence of quality is
"The quality of America's roads is a defining quality of American life," says Aadland. "Americans don't want to suffer for their mobility. Quality helps us rethink what we know to deliver a roadway system that fully supports a Nation on the move."
B.F. "Bob" Templeton, P.E., is the executive director of NPHQ (formerly known as the National Quality Initiative). Templeton served for 36 years with TxDOT. He has a B.S. in civil engineering from the University of Texas/Austin.
For more information, see www.nphq .org, or contact Monica Worth at
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