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Federal Highway Administration > Publications > Public Roads > Vol. 74 · No. 5 > Prizing Excellence

March/April 2011
Vol. 74 · No. 5

Publication Number: FHWA-HRT-11-003

Prizing Excellence

by Brooke Struve and Tim Breen

In FHWA’s latest highway design competition, 10 projects embody the innovative spirit of the U.S. transportation community.

The Minneapolis, MN, community helped select the aesthetic features for the new I–35W Bridge, one of many practices lauded by judges in FHWA’s Excellence in Highway Design Biennial Awards competition. As seen in this night shot, lighting accentuates the curves of the 70-foot (21.3-meter)-tall piers.
The Minneapolis, MN, community helped select the aesthetic features for the new I–35W Bridge, one of many practices lauded by judges in FHWA’s Excellence in Highway Design Biennial Awards competition. As seen in this night shot, lighting accentuates the curves of the 70-foot (21.3-meter)-tall piers.

From streets that are the arteries of a community to bridges built overnight, the U.S. transportation industry designs and constructs cutting-edge projects that are sensitive to their communities and the environment. To recognize the efforts of State departments of transportation (DOTs) to address problems such as highway safety, congestion, funding scarcity, and environmental impacts, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) presents its Excellence in Highway Design Biennial Awards every 2 years.

The awards date to 1967, when Secretary of Transportation Alan Boyd, inspired by Lady Bird Johnson’s crusade to beautify the Nation’s highways, announced a competition called The Highway and Its Environment. The Excellence in Highway Design Biennial Awards succeeded that original competition in 1984. To date, FHWA has highlighted hundreds of projects involving highways, bridges, bicyclist and pedestrian paths, and roadside facilities that reflect the best of the highway community’s innovation and creativity.

FHWA announced the 2010 awards for excellence and honorable mention in 10 broad categories at the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials’ annual meeting in Biloxi, MS, held October 28–November 1. A panel of 11 judges -- 9 from private engineering firms and 2 from State DOTs -- selected the winners. The 10 excellence award winners follow by category.

Urban Highways: Freeways and Expressways

In Milwaukee, WI, the Marquette Interchange reconstruction was a major undertaking, involving 12 miles (19.3 kilometers) of urban freeways (I–43, I–94, and I–794), 50 ramps, and more than 180 structures. Despite the project’s size, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) completed the reconstruction on time and under budget, and developed state-of-the-art processes along the way.

Before groundbreaking, the interchange was carrying more than twice its designed traffic volume. Then and now, the interchange carries more than 300,000 vehicles through downtown Milwaukee every day -- nearly half of Wisconsin’s commercial and tourist traffic. The site had long been one of the State’s most hazardous freeway sections, averaging more than three crashes per day. Reconstruction was vital but daunting, made more so by the need to keep vehicles moving during the work.

WisDOT developed a 4-year, $810 million reconstruction plan that accounted for various challenges. For instance, the interchange geometry was complex due to ramps required to access downtown destinations and utilities scattered throughout the interchange. A tight urban footprint resulted in stacked roadways, braided ramps, and depressed sections.

Planners gave the new interchange a 75-year design life, and the project team placed a premium on value engineering. Designing around the utilities rather than moving them saved $100 million. Disposing of more than 100,000 cubic yards (76,455 cubic meters) of contaminated soil on an adjacent brownfield redevelopment saved more than $5 million. The designers improved safety by moving all exit and entrance ramps to the right side of the freeway, increasing weaving distances and clear zones and improving access to local streets, all while staying within the existing project footprint.

WisDOT also made a commitment to political leaders, businesses, and motorists to keep downtown Milwaukee open for business. The agency staged work around the existing interchange to maintain two traffic lanes in each cardinal direction throughout construction. The complex staging plan enabled construction to continue even during the harsh Wisconsin winters.

The agency likewise took innovative approaches to maintaining traffic flow. For instance, the construction team built an asphalt roadway 2 years in advance of the ramp it would connect to and buried it in the dirt. Workers dug the roadway up in the middle of 1 night, connected it to a newly built ramp, and let traffic flow the next day. In addition, the design team formulated a lane rental program, which charged the contractor a fee for closing off and using lanes based on the estimated cost of delay or inconvenience to road users. Lane rental programs have become Wisconsin’s standard for freeway construction projects, encouraging contractors to minimize road user impacts during construction.

Reconstruction of Milwaukee’s massive Marquette Interchange, shown here from above, has transformed the flow of traffic in southeastern Wisconsin, increasing safety and mobility for thousands of travelers every day.
Reconstruction of Milwaukee’s massive Marquette Interchange, shown here from above, has transformed the flow of traffic in southeastern Wisconsin, increasing safety and mobility for thousands of travelers every day.

A sweeping public involvement program helped keep motorists informed and traffic moving safely. A key component was ongoing communication between the project office and community, including notices of alternate routes and ramp closings and openings. The project’s Web site featured a patented routing tool to help motorists navigate work zones and plan their commutes. Testament to the excellent traffic management plan, the average crash rate for the interchange dropped 20 percent during reconstruction.

“This is a safer design, a better looking design, and it incorporates historic and artistic components,” said Governor Jim Doyle at the project’s opening in August 2008. “This is really the best transportation project we’ve ever done -- not only the biggest but the best in the State of Wisconsin.”

Indeed, WisDOT delivered a state-of-the-art facility that is now considered one of Milwaukee’s most iconic structures. The price tag came to $795 million, $15 million under budget. And the project was finished 3 months ahead of the 48-month schedule.

Urban Highways: Surface Streets

In the 1960s, the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) converted a 1.5-mile (2.4-kilometer) section of Route 376/Raymond Avenue into a concrete, four-lane arterial. Serving Poughkeepsie’s downtown Arlington District, which includes residences, businesses, and Vassar College, the roadway had eight signalized intersections and intermittent parking lanes (not continuous through the corridor) and sidewalks.

In time, high traffic volume began to take a toll on the concrete pavement of Raymond Avenue. The surface lost much of its friction, making it more slippery and conducive to crashes. Other safety problems included a lack of turning lanes at the intersections, combined with significant turning volumes, which caused drivers to weave through traffic to avoid turning vehicles and increased the likelihood of crashes. The corridor also posed dangers to pedestrians. The sidewalks were not continuous, and crosswalks were located only at the signalized intersections, which were far apart. Many pedestrians crossed four lanes of traffic outside the protected crosswalks.

The addition of roundabouts such as the one seen in the background, reduction from four lanes to two, and addition of parking lanes and a median have calmed traffic on Route 376/Raymond Avenue through the commercial district of Poughkeepsie, NY.
The addition of roundabouts such as the one seen in the background, reduction from four lanes to two, and addition of parking lanes and a median have calmed traffic on Route 376/Raymond Avenue through the commercial district of Poughkeepsie, NY.

NYSDOT’s goals for the reconstruction were to improve Arlington by providing a traditional “Main Street” with vehicle, bicycle, and pedestrian features, all operating together safely. The project would reduce vehicle travel delays and improve pedestrian access from Vassar and nearby homes to the downtown business district. NYSDOT would employ context sensitive design and involve all stakeholders to ensure the project was in harmony with the community and its scenic, aesthetic, and historic resources.

 The agency’s first order of business was to replace three signalized intersections with roundabouts, which generally are safer than conventional intersections. The roundabouts increased traffic movement through the corridor with fewer interruptions, but still at safe speeds. Because they handle traffic more efficiently, roundabouts reduce energy consumption and improve air quality. The placement of the roundabouts also increased the overall width of the sidewalks, enabling local businesses to provide more gathering spaces and outdoor dining.

In addition, NYSDOT put Raymond Avenue on a “road diet,” reducing the travel lanes from four to two. The previous design encouraged vehicle speeds that neared 50 miles per hour, mi/h (80.5 kilometers per hour, km/h). Students and faculty at Vassar and an elementary school found the area difficult and dangerous to navigate, and business owners wanted to attract more foot traffic.

The thinner road helped reduce vehicle speeds and increase pedestrian safety. NYSDOT dedicated the old, outer lanes to parking to handle business traffic. Cobblestone imprint strips better delineate the parking lanes adjacent to the roadway and encourage vehicles to park closer to the curb, which creates more space for bicycles to share the street. The diet also had the effect of bringing back Raymond Avenue’s original historical context.

NYSDOT installed raised medians to delineate traffic lanes and for pedestrian refuge in crossing zones. Some medians contain traversable curbing for emergency vehicles to access. The agency planted other medians with trees to enhance the visual appeal along the corridor and reduce the urban heat island effect.

A traffic operations study, performed after construction of two of three roundabouts, found the improvements are working. For instance, average vehicle speeds decreased by 9 mi/h (14.5 km/h) in each direction, approach delay at the roundabout intersections decreased by 56 percent, and total number of crashes decreased by 51 percent. However, backups at the remaining signalized intersection that was later replaced by the third roundabout, caused travel time through the corridor to increase by 7 percent during peak traffic.“NYSDOT could have just resurfaced the road but instead chose to create a community for living,” says Daniel Baah, PE, a principal project manager at CH2M HILL and one of the awards judges.

Rural Highways: Freeways

In Inyo County, CA, the Blackrock Four-Lane Project on U.S. 395 converted 14.3 miles (23 kilometers) of two-lane highway into four-lane expressway with a 100-foot (30.5-meter) median. “The project is extraordinary because of the remarkable collaborative effort of all the participants required to plan, fund, design, and construct a successful highway project in a rural area with important scenic values,” says contest judge Leo Scott, PE, vice president of Gray-Bowen and Company, Inc.

The four-lane divided expressway will reduce or eliminate head-on collisions, the most common type of fatal crash on rural highways, thereby improving safety. The two lanes in each direction allow faster moving traffic to pass slow-moving trucks and recreational vehicles (RVs) safely, reducing seasonal congestion caused by travel to Mammoth Lakes, Yosemite National Park, and Lake Tahoe. Also, rerouting traffic for maintenance or incident management is possible without temporary closures.

During construction, the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) used innovative engineering techniques that helped make the project a showcase. For example, the agency created a digital terrain model (DTM) of the new roadbed, which crews used along with a global positioning system and automated machine guidance software to direct the construction machinery with improved precision, speed, and accuracy. The technology also reduced the number of personnel needed, increased productivity, and saved up to 40 percent in fuel.

In an effort to preserve the local environment, Caltrans gathered the seeds of native shrubs and grasses during clearing and applied them to disturbed areas. The revegetation created a sustainable roadside landscape that will require no irrigation and will blend in naturally with the rest of the landscape.

Rather than grade the entire median, Caltrans preserved scenic sections to maintain the area’s visual character. Natural lava rocks provide physical separation of travel directions and minimize associated headlight glare to oncoming traffic.

Because the project was on an officially designated State scenic highway, Caltrans paid special attention to reducing visual impacts during construction, such as by storing material and plant equipment at a single location. Having materials nearby also reduced hauling needs and the production of greenhouse gas emissions.

Rural Highways: Highways

On the northern shore of Lake Superior, Minnesota State Trunk Highway 1 (TH 1) snakes through Superior National Forest, among abundant wildlife, lakes, rivers, and wetlands.

“Travelers think of TH 1 as an emotional experience known not only for its scenic and natural character and North Woods intimacy, but also for its many hairpin curves,” says Mike Robinson, district engineer for northeastern Minnesota with the Minnesota Department of Transportation (Mn/DOT).

Indeed, TH 1 -- which is a commercial lifeline to remote communities and cultural resources -- had 46 speed advisory signs to warn drivers of sharp curves and sags. Poor drainage often caused water to run across the highway. While overall corridor crash rates were average, a 15-mile (24.1-kilometer) stretch was more dangerous.

In 2001, Mn/DOT, the USDA Forest Service, and Lake County began collaboration on a redesign of the 15-mile length of highway. For the first time, the Forest Service used its Forest Highways Program funds for State highway reconstruction in Minnesota.

From the start, the core of the project was to improve the substandard geometry and road structure with a frost-free roadbed for 10-ton (9.1-metric-ton) commercial traffic; improve the pavement, riding surface, hydraulic structures, and drainage; replace bridges over two rivers; and provide passing opportunities. A public involvement plan by an interdisciplinary, multiagency project team and a local public advisory committee forged a compromise. Although some interests wanted a straighter, flatter, faster arterial -- with speeds up to 70 mi/h (112.7 km/h) -- and others wanted almost no change and a speed limit of 30 mi/h (48.3 km/h), they settled on a two-lane route with a design speed of 40 mi/h (64.4 km/h).

Before the redesign made Inyo County’s U.S. 395 into two travel lanes in each direction, motorists often found themselves stuck behind slower vehicles, like the RV shown here on the new pavement, 66.2 percent of the time.
Before the redesign made Inyo County’s U.S. 395 into two travel lanes in each direction, motorists often found themselves stuck behind slower vehicles 66.2 percent of the time. The two lanes going in the opposite direction are visible in the background.

“The circumstances surrounding the design and reconstruction of this segment of Highway 1 made it seem the most impossible situation we had encountered,” says Mike Tardy, Mn/DOT’s assistant district engineer. “I don’t know if I can convey how perfectly the project development played out and how perfect the design parameters wound up fitting the situations.”

The 40-mi/h design enabled the roadway to follow the historically significant alignment while straightening curves only where necessary. That kept forest clearing and environmental impacts to a minimum. The State Historic Preservation Office was able to make a finding of no adverse impact to properties eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.

Also in keeping with the context and design speed, the roadway was to have 10-ton capacity, 12-foot (3.7-meter)-wide lanes, 5-foot (1.5-meter) paved shoulders (with an extra foot of reinforced gravel shoulder), and a minimum 10-foot (3-meter) clear vehicle recovery area. Additional project features included steeper fill and cut slopes to minimize forest and wetland impacts, restricted rock blasting to avoid wildlife denning and nesting seasons, wildlife undercrossings, offset blasting of outcrops for a more natural appearance of rock faces, and native plant restoration.

The first phase involved replacement of the Stony River Bridge, where the ruins of an early 1900s sluiceway remained. The design team crafted a bridge that spanned the river without disturbing the sluiceway, fit the terrain better, included wildlife underpasses on both sides of the river, and was higher and wider to better accommodate boaters and anglers. Postreconstruction data show a 71 percent reduction in average annual crashes.

Seen from above, the reconstructed TH 1 alignment lies lightly on the land as it winds around lakes and hills in Superior National Forest.
Seen from above, the reconstructed TH 1 alignment lies lightly on the land as it winds around lakes and hills in Superior National Forest.

The reconstructed TH 1 alignment is sensitive to the needs of wildlife, such as this moose on the edge of the road.
The project is sensitive to the needs of wildlife, such as this moose on the edge of the road.

“Road design has to be about more than numbers in a design manual geared toward giving you a good product in typical circumstances, because there will be circumstances where those numbers will do you a disservice -- and TH 1 is one of those cases,” says Robinson. “TH 1 is now becoming the road it naturally wants to be.”

Structures Costing $10 Million or More

On August 1, 2007, the collapse of the I–35W Bridge in Minneapolis, MN, was front-page news. But not only did Mn/DOT and its partners complete the replacement in remarkable time, they incorporated state-of-the-art features and used cutting-edge construction techniques in the process.

In addition to a timetable of only 11 months from start to completion, the project had to address many challenges. These included removal, investigative, and cleanup operations associated with the collapsed bridge; contamination from past industrial uses, including a Superfund site; roadway approaches that did not meet current capacity and geometric design standards; and stakeholders with divergent views on bridge design. The project also had to accommodate historic properties, lock and dam operations, public parks, protected roads, railroad tracks, and utilities under the bridge.

The new structure features twin concrete spans, each 1,223 feet (372.8 meters) long with a 504-foot (153.6-meter)-long precast segmental main span over the Mississippi River. The bridge employs high-strength, high-performance concrete with an estimated 100-year lifespan.

Mn/DOT placed most of the concrete during the winter, requiring special mix designs to maintain proper temperatures. Crews added heated water and aggregate to the mix to maintain temperature during delivery, and heated sheds around the casting beds kept a constant temperature in the casting yard.

Mn/DOT used a new type of cement to build two 30-foot (9.1-meter)-tall curved gateway structures at each end of the bridge, marking the river crossing. The cement cleans the air and itself by photocatalytic reaction with the atmosphere. Also, low-energy, low-maintenance light-emitting diode (LED) lights were used on the deck’s 10-lane highway. This was the first use of LEDs on a major interstate thoroughfare in the United States.

Mn/DOT used “smart bridge” systems that monitored the temperature of the concrete during curing to ensure high quality. Over the bridge’s service life, information collected from the 323 installed sensors will help enhance bridge inspections, maintain efficient and safe traffic flow, and provide infrastructure security. The sensors measure the bridge’s response to loads in real time to alert officials if a problem could occur. Information gathered from the sensors will provide valuable feedback for future bridges.

Looking forward, Mn/DOT designed the I–35W bridge to be adaptable throughout its lifespan. The bridge has space for light rail, bus, or high-occupancy vehicle lanes, and is designed to carry a pedestrian bridge slung below it.

Mn/DOT and its partners worked to keep the community informed about progress, employing a Web site and webcam to share news. Every Saturday morning, project representatives led tours adjacent to the construction site. The tours became highly popular, with thousands attending over the course of the project.

The new I−35W bridge opened to traffic on September 18, 2008 -- 3 months early and little more than a year after the collapse.

The 504-foot (153.6-meter) main span of the new I–35W bridge, shown here during construction, crosses the Mississippi River as a modern interpretation of historic arch bridges along the river.
The 504-foot (153.6-meter) main span of the new I–35W bridge, shown here during construction, crosses the Mississippi River as a modern interpretation of historic arch bridges along the river.

Structures Costing Less Than $10 Million

In Utah, contractors replaced four bridges in 37 hours, a feat that actually had them doing more work than originally planned so they could protect motorists and save taxpayers’ money.

The project was part of the Utah Department of Transportation’s (UDOT) ambitious plan to replace 12 bridges in 2 months near Salt Lake City, including four bridge decks at the I–80/Mountain Dell and I–80/Lambs Canyon interchanges. UDOT advertised the work as a design-build project and specified maintenance of traffic to keep three lanes of I–80 open to traffic in each direction, except for a 16-hour closure during nonpeak times for each bridge deck.

The contractors proposed replacing the superstructure for all four bridges using self-propelled modular transporters (SPMTs). “Originally it was just going to be a deck replacement,” says Mark Parry, UDOT’s project manager. “As we looked at different possibilities, the contractors found it was cheaper to replace the entire structure.” Thus, the project also replaced the bridge girders, which will greatly improve the life expectancy of the structures and save taxpayers an estimated $1.3 million.

Through negotiations, UDOT agreed to allow one 24-hour, weekend closure for each direction of I–80, reducing the original 64 hours of closure to just 48 hours. Ultimately, the contractors replaced the bridges in a record 37 hours over two weekends, beating the allowed closure time by 11 hours. They replaced the eastbound bridges in 16 hours.

Building bridges offsite and using SPMTs to move them into place is an accelerated bridge construction technology. Other UDOT projects using SPMTs have built bridges on temporary abutments positioned at the eventual lifting points. The SPMTs then lift the bridge at pick points located away from the bearings. But that puts the deck and parapets into tension and can cause cracking throughout the elements during the move.

The I–80 project took that innovation to the next level. Temporary abutments supported the preconstructed bridges at the pick points. With the temporary abutments, the superstructure could accommodate the loading until the time when the bridge was placed in service with highway loads. Thus, the lifting and moving put no additional stress on the bridge decks, which became precompressed elements by being placed into final position under compression with the parapets.

This method required significantly more planning and engineering, but it reduced the time needed for one set of SPMTs to move multiple bridges and limited the moving distance to the final locations. The innovative design is expected to increase the life of the bridge deck and parapets.

The project set other precedents as well. For the first time in Utah, the contractor chose to use SPMTs to remove or replace a bridge. (In all previous projects, UDOT had mandated use of SPMTs.) The project also entailed the State’s first total closure of a major interstate trucking route for replacement of a bridge superstructure and was the first time that approaches were replaced along with the bridges. (Previously, approaches were replaced later during separate closures.)

For the bridge replacement project near Salt Lake City, crews used SPMTs to move the existing bridges out of the way and put the new bridges in place.
For the bridge replacement project near Salt Lake City, crews used SPMTs to move the existing bridges out of the way and put the new bridges in place.

Work zone safety and the desire to minimize traffic delays were driving factors behind using the SPMTs. The technique reduces the amount of time workers are exposed to moving traffic. No lost-time construction incidents occurred during the I–80 bridge replacements. The project also improved motorist safety by eliminating movement through and below work zones.

The project maintained traffic on I–80, a critical national east-west route, at all times, with only two brief detours, which had little impact on local businesses. UDOT estimates the speed of the project saved 190,000 hours of delays and $2.5 million in related costs.

Intermodal Transportation Facilities

More and more transportation stakeholders are embracing complete streets, the principle that roadways should accommodate all travelers, bicyclists and pedestrians included. That principle became the guiding tenet in Susanville, CA, 10 years ago, when the Lassen County Transportation Commission first partnered with Caltrans to add a bike lane to State Route 36. The Town Hill project had to overcome financial hurdles, but the agencies completed it in October 2009 -- and validated an innovative contracting vehicle in the process.

“The partnership between Caltrans and the local agency is a testament to success through use of innovative ideas and solutions, and is proof that this project was much more than just a bike lane,” says Dan Dennis, president of Dennis Corporation, who was a contest judge.

When implementing the bike lane, the agencies created a wide shoulder that can accommodate snow storage, disabled vehicle parking, and rockfall catchment. They also moved a pulloff where drivers can place chains on their tires out of downtown to ease traffic congestion, moved an intersection to a safer location, and added a left-turn lane.

The most noticeable improvement was a large rock earthwork cut. Previously, a portion of S.R. 36 was intimidating to travel, as it appeared boulders might come crashing down at any time. As part of the Town Hill project, crews cut back the slope and stabilized it. The contractor used an innovative technique to recycle the rock, crushing it for use on other projects rather than trucking the boulders offsite for disposal.

A bicyclist cruises down State Route 36 near Susanville, CA. Additive bidding enabled Caltrans to improve the route beyond just adding the bike lane.
A bicyclist cruises down State Route 36 near Susanville, CA. Additive bidding enabled Caltrans to improve the route beyond just adding the bike lane.

The Town Hill project used an innovative bidding program that had been implemented on only four other Caltrans projects. “Additive bidding” allows contractors to submit alternative bids for additional improvements. This provision in turn enables Caltrans to include the improvements if they fit within a project’s budget. The approach was successful, and Caltrans was able to include a pavement overlay of the highway as an additive bid item.

“The overlay was sorely needed, but because of budgetary restrictions, it never would have been included without this bidding program,” says John Bulinski, Caltrans District 2 director. Because of the success of this project and others, Caltrans is preparing a pilot program to allow additive bidding on future projects.

Traveler Services

The Bass Mountain Wireless Hub serves I–5 as it enters the Cascade Mountains near Redding, CA. The project consists of communications infrastructure that enables drivers to access accurate, timely information on highway conditions. For motorists, it can mean the difference between spending the night in a warm motel room or on the snowy roadside.

The interstate is a key north-south transportation corridor that links the entire west coast. Closures of the route over the Cascades are common in winter. The impact on travel and freight movement has ripple effects throughout the corridor.

Completed in May 2009, the Bass Mountain Wireless Hub is a mountaintop facility with modern wireless technology, the critical communication path connecting roadside field elements (such as cameras, weather stations, message signs, highway advisory radios) to the Caltrans District 2 Traffic Management Center (TMC). The TMC uses data from a variety of sources, including images from closed-circuit television cameras and meteorological and pavement condition information from Road Weather Information System stations, to formulate timely messages for motorists.

The wireless hub performs better and more reliably than traditional digital telephone lines, dramatically improving image and data collection along I–5 and leading to better traffic management based on more accurate information, especially during winter operations. The project also saved Caltrans money, as the wireless connections to the roadside equipment and TMC do not incur monthly service costs.

Further, the project improved coordination and accuracy of information transfer between field maintenance personnel and the TMC, which communicates messages through highway advisory radio and changeable message signs. In addition, the roadside images and data are available to the public on the Web for trip planning. This has developed into an essential public service as measured by Web site activity, with more than 7 million hits during one recent winter month for the seven northeastern California counties of District 2.

The associated wireless system uses license-free microwave equipment. Caltrans designed and built point-to-point interconnections from the mountaintop back to the TMC in Redding, from the site to another mountain site 13 miles (20.9 kilometers) north, and to several roadside TMS elements along I–5. The agency designed the transmission system for high reliability, and already it has exceeded expectations, as evidenced by the data collected.

Caltrans had to be innovative as well in transporting a prefabricated radio vault on an access trail to the mountaintop. The agency worked with a vault manufacturer to “panelize” an existing design, then developed a complete transportation and installation sequence to verify that the precast panels could be moved up the trail. Crews used a specially designed steerable trailer, pulled by a bulldozer, to transport the panels in 15,000-pound (6,804-kilogram) loads up steep slopes and switchbacks. On the mountaintop, a tracked excavator lifted the panels into place, and a crew then assembled them as a normal precast structure.

A crew assembles the vault that now safeguards the Bass Mountain Wireless Hub near Redding, CA.
A crew assembles the vault that now safeguards the Bass Mountain Wireless Hub near Redding, CA.

At the mountaintop, the project minimized tree removal by careful siting and selection of the microwave paths. The facility’s exterior finish is earth tone to blend with the natural environment, and it is nestled in the existing trees and unnoticeable from I–5 or the surrounding area.

The building has an expected lifespan of 50 years and the wireless communications equipment 20 years. The procedures and designs developed for the project are applicable to any rural area in California or areas with similar topography.

Project Management

The James A. Farley Memorial Bridge opened to traffic in 1922 as a steel-deck, arch-truss bridge with five spans totaling 360 feet (109.7 meters) long. The bridge carries Route 9W, a commuter and trade route in Stony Point, NY, over a creek. In 1970, NYSDOT rehabilitated the bridge, but by 2005 it had deteriorated again and was carrying triple the traffic.

The agency had to complete design of a 400-foot (121.9-meter)-long, three-span bridge on high piers over Cedar Pond Brook’s 100-foot (30.5-meter) gorge in 2.5 months. The tight timeframe was to design the bridge as quickly as possible, get the project out to bid, and maximize the construction season, thereby allowing the bridge to be built and concrete deck to be poured before the cold weather set in. (The normal design period would have been 6 months.) To ensure success, NYSDOT had to determine the highest schedule risks and develop a plan to eliminate those issues, which included design, acquisition of right-of-way (ROW) and steel for the bridge superstructure, utility relocation, and preparation of detour routes.

Ultimately, the agency found the solutions in a series of innovative contracts: an accelerated contract to construct the bridge with full closure and detour, a contract when ROW would be available for demolishing buildings and completing highway work, an advance steel contract, and a traditional bridge replacement contract.

By reassigning personnel, NYSDOT began the design work in September 2008 and completed the plans, specifications, and estimate phase by that December. NYSDOT’s real estate team cleared the necessary ROW within 3.5 months from when maps were prepared. Refocused personnel resources, as well as preliminary legal and property valuation work initiated in anticipation of a later bridge replacement schedule, enabled the team to clear the ROW within the compressed time schedule.

Due to the long lead time for making structural steel and bearings, the standard approach of having the general contractor acquire the steel was not possible. Instead, NYSDOT used separate contracts: an advance steel contract and the traditional bridge replacement contract. But first the department obtained FHWA’s approval to use Federal funds for this innovative separate purchase of steel.

Utility relocation presented another issue. Relocation normally occurs in the early stages of a project to enable the contractor to prepare the site, but this procedure would not work for the Farley Bridge. The detour route had to be available at the start of the contract, but utility poles blocked the proposed detour and needed to be moved first. NYSDOT tapped its own regional maintenance forces to prepare the site and worked with the utility company to move the poles in time.

Workers prepare the piers that will support the new triple-span Farley Bridge in Stony Point, NY.
Workers prepare the piers that will support the new triple-span Farley Bridge in Stony Point, NY.

The detour routes needed to be ready for traffic within 2 weeks of the contract award date. Again, the tight timetable did not allow the normal process of having the general contractor prepare the detours. Instead, NYSDOT used other ongoing contracts and its own resources to prepare the routes. For instance, its Standby Emergency Highway Work Order Contract enabled the addition of shoulders, guide railing, and pavement, as well as fabrication and installation of all detour signs; its Traffic Signal Job Order Contract enabled installation of a permanent traffic signal at an intersection; and its Traffic Signal Unit installed a temporary traffic signal at another intersection.

Because NYSDOT needed to ensure sufficient motivation for the contractor to meet the tight construction schedule, the agency opted for an incentive-disincentive clause. The contractor had 229 calendar days from award to opening of the bridge to two lanes of traffic. The contract included an incentive of $30,000 for each day, up to a maximum of 30 days, that the bridge was open before the deadline. The contractor organized its construction operations to achieve the maximum incentive of $900,000 for early completion.

On October 26, 2009, the grandnephews of James A. Farley, along with a longtime Stony Point resident who witnessed the dedication of the original bridge, drove a vintage fire truck over the new James A. Farley Memorial Bridge to inaugurate it.

Program and Project Development

Agencies across the country strive to deliver transportation projects on time and on budget. State legislatures and the public expect transportation facilities to be delivered at projected costs and in the timeframes promised.

In recent years, Mn/DOT came to recognize that more accurate cost estimates could help build and maintain public trust. To address this issue, the agency created the Cost Estimation Process Improvement and Organizational Integration Project. By October 2008, the project had resulted in a process to create better estimates during all phases of project development up to contract letting, and for better cost management based on the National Cooperative Highway Research Program’s Guidance for Cost Estimation and Management for Highway Projects During Planning, Programming, and Preconstruction (NCHRP 574 Report).

The agency’s new cost estimation and management vision is a department-wide priority for estimating, managing, and controlling costs. The program includes policies and procedures supported by a technical reference manual and training for employees. The department now is beginning to require total project cost estimates (TPCEs) to include costs related to engineering, ROW, construction (typically the contractor bid for construction), and related items (utilities, municipal agreements, environmental mitigation items, and hazardous materials).

Five sets of guidelines support the new paradigm. Under the Project Cost Estimation Policy, estimates are to be in the form of TPCEs and will require management approval at certain gates during the project development process. Under the Uncertainty, Risk, and Contingency Policy, TPCEs will identify risks for the unknown elements and apply contingency strategies. Throughout the development process, as more is known about the project and risk is retired, the contingency steps also will be modified.

Under the Cost Estimate Communications Policy, all projects will complete a one-page project summary sheet that includes TPCE and schedule, project risks, and contact information. Mn/DOT anticipates using the sheets to manage cost expectations with the State Legislature, key stakeholders, and the public.

Under the Project Cost Management Policy, each project will have a scoping document, approved by management, with a TPCE before entering the State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP). The TPCE at the end of scoping will be called the baseline cost estimate. The agency will manage costs against the baseline, and use of contingency strategies requires approval by the program manager.

Under the Program Management Policy, Mn/DOT will manage projects to their approved scopes. If a cost estimate differs from the baseline, the agency’s Transportation Program Investment Committee will have to approve it.

In addition to the cost-estimating improvements, Mn/DOT revised its project scoping process to be more consistent and focused. Scoping now emphasizes finding opportunities for context sensitive solutions, mitigating impacts on businesses, and establishing earlier collaboration with internal and external stakeholders.

The outcome of the scoping process is a report describing the project and comprehensively documenting decisions on which elements will be included. To demonstrate accountability, the district engineer or a designee must sign the completed scoping report.

In 2008 the State Legislature provided a 10-year, $2.5 billion bonding program primarily to upgrade Minnesota’s bridges. To ensure delivery on time and on budget, Mn/DOT is applying the new cost estimation/management vision to the bridge program and to all projects in the 2010–2013 STIP. To date, all the bridge projects and 94 percent of the STIP projects have approved scoping reports, TPCEs, and project summary sheets.

Mn/DOT is using its new cost–estimating approach to better organize and speed delivery of its bridge projects, including current reconstruction of the Hastings Bridge, which is slated to open to traffic in May 2013 with the longest freestanding main arch in North America.
Mn/DOT is using its new cost–estimating approach to better organize and speed delivery of its bridge projects, including current reconstruction of the Hastings Bridge, which is slated to open to traffic in May 2013 with the longest freestanding main arch in North America.

“This entire effort is really about changing a culture within Mn/DOT to be more responsive to stakeholder needs,” says Michael Barnes, the agency’s division director of engineering services. “There is work that will continue into the future, but Mn/DOT has started a journey that will lead to greater project success and improved public trust and confidence.”

Continuing the Legacy

FHWA will present the next Excellence in Highway Design Biennial Awards in 2012. The competition will again be open to U.S. highway projects that were completed since the previous award cycle. Project owners will be able to submit nominations online, and a panel of judges selected from across the transportation community will evaluate the entries. FHWA will provide details as they become available at www.fhwa.dot.gov/eihd/index.cfm.

Honorable Mentions

Although the following nine projects did not win Excellence in Highway Design awards, they each displayed such innovation, effectiveness, value, or other merit that they earned honorable mentions.

Urban Highways: Freeways and Expressways. The Missouri Department of Transportation constructed the first diverging diamond interchange in the United States (see “The Double Crossover Diamond” in the November/December 2010 issue of Public Roads). The innovative geometry alleviates congestion on the busy Kansas Expressway, took less time and money to build than a conventional design, and is expected to reduce crashes.

Urban Highways: Surface Streets. NYSDOT built the Slingerlands Bypass Extension on State Route 85 in Bethlehem to address mobility and congestion, while also supporting development. The 1.5-mile (2.4-kilometer) extension of the four-lane divided highway creates a gateway to the community and connects residential, business, and recreational areas with a pedestrian network.

Rural Highways: Freeways. California’s Sherwin Summit Rehabilitation Project on U.S. 395 in Inyo County rehabilitated pavement, widened shoulders and medians, improved culverts and drainage, modified chain-up areas, and relocated utilities, all without disturbing the renowned rock outcrops of the volcanic tablelands.

Rural Highways: Highways. FHWA’s Central Federal Lands Highway Division, the U.S. Army, and the Hawaii Department of Transportation combined efforts to build the Saddle Road project on State Route 200. The road crosses the Big Island of Hawaii and links Hilo with the residential and resort areas of the Kona and Kohala Coast. The project removes conflicts between military training and the traveling public.

Structures Costing $10 Million or More. In the Gay Street Bridge project on State Route 113 in Phoenixville, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation replaced the 12-span concrete arch bridge with a 973-foot (297-meter) steel structure. The replacement provides greater load capacity and maintains safe pedestrian, vehicle, and emergency traffic to downtown. The new bridge maintains the site’s role as a prominent fixture of the Phoenixville Historic District.

Structures Costing Less Than $10 Million. NYSDOT rehabilitated an architecturally and historically significant bridge over Crum Elbow Creek on State Route 9 in Hyde Park. The Vanderbilt family built the original bridge in 1898, and it is an excellent example of turn-of-the-century stone masonry construction of an arch bridge.

Traveler Services. Mn/DOT rehabilitated the Split Rock Lighthouse Overlook in Beaver Bay Township, MN. The project restored the historic wayside along Minnesota State Trunk Highway 61, Lake Superior’s North Shore Scenic Drive All-American Road.

Project Management. Unprecedented rainfall caused Wisconsin’s Lake Delton to spill over a low-lying section of the shore and State Trunk Highway A, interrupting service on this critical transportation and utility corridor. The project team redefined “fast-track services” -- preparing design and contract documents in 3 months instead of the typical 24 and completing construction support within 11 months of the lake draining -- and adopted innovative and cost-effective engineering solutions to meet the constantly changing hydrologic, geologic, regulatory, legal, and funding requirements.

Program and Project Development. The San Diego Association of Governments’ (SANDAG) TransNet program, which uses a half-cent-per-dollar sales tax to fund transportation improvements, seeks to expand mobility around San Diego and involves three interstates, two State routes, and light rail. TransNet’s sheer magnitude obviated the conventional management approach, and a SANDAG assessment concluded that a single corridor manager would enable the program to achieve its goals.


Brooke Struve is a program manager for the Office of Program Administration in FHWA’s Office of Infrastructure. She promotes best practices in the design discipline across the agency and provides technical support for interstate access, geometric design, and accessible design for disabled pedestrians. She earned a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Brigham Young University.

Tim Breen is a contributing editor for Public Roads.

For more information, visit www.fhwa.dot.gov/eihd/index.cfm or contact Brooke Struve at 202–366–1317 or brooke.struve@dot.gov.

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