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Lessons Learned


Collaborative Leadership: Success Stories in Transportation Mega Projects
A "Lessons Learned" Approach to Collaborative Leadership in Mega Project Management

Successful Collaborative Leadership Example:
Big I (I-25 & I-40)


Big I, Albuquerque, New Mexico (FHWA, 2001)
Big I, Albuquerque, New Mexico (FHWA, 2001)

The Big I construction project was the largest transportation project constructed in New Mexico. It is located at the junction of two major interstate highways I-25 (Pan American Freeway) and I-40 (Coronado Interstate), which connected to the downtown area of Albuquerque. The intersection was ranked number 10 in congested interchanges in the nation based on a study conducted by American Highway Users Alliance (AHUA). (Rahn, 2001) The New Mexico State Highway and Transportation Department (NMSHTD) rebuilt the Big I interchange in Albuquerque to make it safer and more efficient.

Interstate Highways 25 and 40 intersect at the heart of Metro New Mexico. (MNMDA, 2002)
Interstate Highways 25 and 40
intersect at the heart of Metro
New Mexico. (MNMDA, 2002)

The original Big I was designed in 1966 for daily volumes of 40,000 vehicles. In 2002, it handled 400,000 vehicles per day, 10 times the original volume. It was the busiest interchange in New Mexico and was severely over capacity. An average of 1.7 crashes per day was estimated to cost about $12 million annually. (Bergeron, 2004)

The Big I contains a total of fifty-five bridges within the project of which eight precast concrete segmental bridges are curved "fly-over" ramp bridges. The eight precast segmental ramps consist of:

  • Ramp SE (15 spans, 767 meters in length)
  • Ramp NW (11 spans, 565 meters in length)
  • Ramp WS (6 spans, 288 meters in length)
  • Ramp SW (4 spans, 184 meters in length)
  • Ramp NE (4 spans, 199 meters in length)
  • Ramp ES (4 spans, 181 meters in length)
  • Ramp EN (4 spans, 198 meters in length)
  • Ramp WN (4 spans, 190 meters in length) (ASBI, 2002)

Approximately 320,000 square feet (7.4 acres) of bridge deck was required to complete the project (Camp, 2001). It added frontage roads parallel to the main lines and upgraded the four mainline legs for some distance each side of the interchange. These precast segmental bridges were the first of this type built in New Mexico. It involved more than 2 million cubic yards of dirt; 610,000 tons of hot-mix asphalt (HMA); and 165,000 cubic yards of concrete. (ASBI, 2002)


  • Avar Stone Company - Second Post-Tensioning materials
  • D'Ambra - Rebar Subcontractor
  • City of Albuquerque
  • The D.S. Brown Company - Bearings and Expansion Devices
  • Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) - Administrators
  • Finley McNary Engineers, Inc. - Construction Engineering and Inspection (now Parsons Bridge and Tunnel)
  • Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) - Traffic management system
  • New Mexico Department of Transportation (NMDOT) - Owner
  • New Mexico State Highway and Transportation Department (NMSHTD) - Engineers
  • Peter Kiewit Sons', Inc. - Subsidiary
  • Residents of Bernalillo County
  • Schwager Davis, Inc. - Post-Tensioning materials
  • Sika Corporation - Epoxy
  • Southern Forms, Inc. - Segment Casting Forms
  • Twin Mountain Construction - Contractor and Precaster
  • URS Corporation - Structures Design Manager: Alex Whitney
  • U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT)
  • Waycor - Concrete supplier


  • 700 construction workers with 2 million work hours without a lost-time accident. (Riek, 2002)
  • Two traffic lanes open from 5:30am to 9:00pm. (Illia, 2002)
  • The project required contractors to provide quality control and construction engineering inspection for the project.

SWOT Analysis

  • The design of the Big I was finished in 18 months and received data from multiple stakeholders. (ASBI, 2000)
  • The superstructure design was very uniform and the contractors worked on the project very quickly.
  • The construction of the 'Big I' established a national record for the most rapid completion of an urban freeway interchange in 22 months and 3 weeks and approximately 1 month ahead of schedule. (Illia, 2002)
  • Good working relationship between designer, owner and constructors allowed flexibility on suggestions/requests to be integrated into the project. They worked very closely together.
  • Quick response to most Big I accidents within five minutes or less by placing police and fire officials in construction zone.
  • Cost savings due to applying automated systems at Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) work zones so no agency staff personnel were required.
  • Resources are scarce in New Mexico and funding is not easy to gather.
  • Current highway has no interior shoulder available; it may increase traffic congestion if there is an accident.
  • There is no analysis completed to determine the effects of the project in the environment of Albuquerque, such as air and noise quality.
  • Sealer needs to be applied every 3 - 5 years on the concrete bridges to prevent cracks. (Zdravesky, 2002)
  • Improve the materials applied to the concrete bridge with proper design of concrete bridge structures.
  • Use asphalt rubber as a noise wall to reduce sound from 50% to 80%. (Zdravesky, 2002)
  • The construction violates U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards for ozone and carbon monoxide; Albuquerque would lose a substantial amount of federal funding.
  • In order to proceed with construction, traffic congestion increased 20% during peak hours.
  • Faced a $2,000-an hour penalty when traffic lanes delayed to open or kept for construction. (Illia, 2002)
  • Hundreds of cracks appear on the surface of concrete bridges; about 35% of thermal cracking on the new Big I occur when warm weather arrives. (Zdravesky, 2002)
  • Second coat of sealer, Mark-135, apply to 40% of the concrete bridges and cost three quarters of million dollars from New Mexico taxpayers. (Zdravesky, 2002)


  • Interstate Maintenance Discretionary program (IMD-025-4(078)) - $10 million.
  • New Mexico issued $1.2 billion in bonds with 4.6% interest rate and 4.5% of inflation rate. (Riek, 2002)


NMSHTD used different media channels to increase the project transparency and interests for Albuquerque residents, travelers, media outlets, and local businesses. According to NMSHTD, Big I construction information released through:

  • A daily map of Big I construction was published in the major Albuquerque newspapers. (Leyendecker, 2001)
  • Weekly updates and daily announcements on construction activities were posted by the Interstate Ernie Traffic Network.
  • A highway radio advisory and KRQE-TV show informed project features to I-25 and I-40 neighborhood. (Leyendecker, 2001)
  • A media response team was formed by project engineers and contractors to answer media questions in real time.
  • The Big I website was launched and supported subscriber's e-mail and pager updates.

By providing the construction services and news support, job opportunities and economic benefits were created to the city of New Mexico:

  • According to Department of Labor statistics, construction businesses added about 1,200 jobs in 2003. (Webb, 2004)
  • I-25 and I-40 are major routes for freight transport from Los Angeles through New Mexico into the mid-west, points east, and north-south, and serves the North American Free Trade Agreement trade commerce. Therefore, reducing the bottleneck of Big I will lower the cost of goods shipped over this route.
  • Albuquerque commuters and residents reap more than $10 billion in economic benefits from the improvement of Big I. It saves approximately $1,370 per year for travelers if they travel twice a day between the I-25 and I-40. (Rebuild California, 2002)
  • The economic benefits of improvements from 2000-2022:

Economic Benefits of "Big I" Improvements: 2000-2022 (Rebuild California, 2000)
Over the 2-year construction period and the 20-year life of the project, the improvements to the "Big I", already under way, will generate more than $10 billion in economic benefits.
symbols for time savings, gas savings, safety savings, and environmental savings Personal Time Savings $5.7 billion
Commercial Time Savings $2.4 billion
Fuel Savings $870 million
Safety Savings $460 million
Environmental Savings  
Greenhouse Gases $450 million
Air Pollution $220 million
Total Savings $10.1 billion

Key Reasons for Success

  • The rapid construction of the segmental concrete bridges and right techniques for the precast segmental concrete bridges.
  • The project implemented many design-build concepts. The project designer URS continued to remain on site as part of the team.
  • NMSHTD maintained a good traffic flow on both side of freeways.
  • FHWA committed an on-site bridge engineer to work with NMSHTD for the duration of the project to speed up any construction changes and work order adjustments.
  • The right materials were selected from each part of the project, which saved time and kept costs down for long service life in the public.
  • Better communication with incident management community by applying ITS.
  • All parties did a great job at partnering and have high levels of teamwork.
  • The Big I project successfully received public trust and support.


The Big I project started in June of 2000 and was completed in May of 2002. Thanks to successful collaboration, the construction bridges were constructed in record time, less than two years. The Big I project was awarded as a fast-track contract and the superstructure design was finished in 18 months and the entire construction was completed less than 2 years for $270 millions. The project enhanced the level of service and reduced the accident rate on the most heavily traveled interchange in the state. In addition, the NMDOT estimated that the new interchange would benefit the Albuquerque economy by approximately $1 billion over its first 10 years. The public benefited from reduced travel time, enhanced safety, and environmental improvements.

Federal Highway Administration | 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE | Washington, DC 20590 | 202-366-4000
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