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Publication Number:      Date:  March/April 2002
Issue No: Vol. 65 No. 2
Date: March/April 2002


Arkansas Combines Best Practices for An Innovative Interstate Rehabilitation Program

by Dan Flowers and Sandra L. Otto

So, you think you might complete the rehabilitation of 380 miles (612 kilometers) or 60 percent of your state's interstate highways in five years? No way! You also think you can come up with some creative financing to do this. Probably not. On top of that, you think you can do this with the approval of the voters in your state. Really no way! And finally, you think you might receive honors for this innovative program — five awards in the first seven months of the program. Highly unlikely.

Actually, the big news is that the Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department (AHTD) is making this all happen through its Interstate Rehabilitation Program (IRP) and the accompanying "Pave The Way" information and safety campaign. The department has put together numerous best practices —in financing, project management, construction, and communications — that together create a compelling model for tackling a project of this scope.

What isn't news is aging interstate highways with surfaces in need of repair, bridges in need of improvement to withstand today's load requirements, and limited resources to begin those repairs. As many of our country's interstate highways get on in years, state departments of transportation are searching for answers to a host of interstate rehabilitation issues.

Because Arkansas was the first state to complete its original allotment of interstate highway miles, the Arkansas Highway Commission and AHTD faced the problem of needing to rehabilitate some of the oldest interstate highways in the United States. Designed to accommodate the country's revived commerce in the post-World War II era, Arkansas interstate construction began in the early 1950s and was completed in the mid-1970s. More than 30 years of wear and tear resulted in one of the roughest interstate systems in the country.

Arkansas' Creative Financing

Finding a solution to the funding problem presented the first and most challenging obstacle. The cost for the state's original 542-mile (872-kilometer) interstate system was $837 million, with much of the funding supplied by the federal government. The estimate for repairing about 60 percent of those miles in today's market was $950 million.

As in most states, Arkansas had used the "pay-as-you-go" method of regular road maintenance and rehabilitation, and the state repaired only what they could afford in each annual budget. But with a program of this size, this method just wasn't an option.

By conducting research into past and present methods, the department identified several previously successful concepts, developed a few new ones, and built an innovative program for Arkansas. Critical issues involved overcoming financial constraints, determining what rehabilitative methods would be used, addressing work schedules, and communicating with the public.

For the Arkansas program, the innovation is in the mix or combination of previously established processes and procedures. By combining these "best practices" into a single program, Arkansas' IRP has become a model program.

AHTD's problem-solving strategies for funding began with a review of preferred financial practices; however, the agency also developed a few new and innovative ones along the way. Officials soon realized that participation and cooperation from several groups, including federal and state governments as well as the public, were needed for a project of this magnitude.

The department recognized that this issue needed to go to a higher level and involve the governor, state legislature, and most likely the Arkansas voters. This was a monumental commitment of money as well as a major inconvenience issue, and AHTD believed the support of the public was a high priority.

In early 1998, the Arkansas Highway Commission began exploring the use of Grant Anticipation Revenue Vehicle (GARVEE) bonds for the rehabilitation project. These bonds may be retired with future anticipated federal funds in a "buy now, pay later" payment arrangement.

In that same year and at the request of the Arkansas Highway Commission, Gloria Jeff, the deputy administrator of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA); Jack Basso, the chief financial officer for the U.S. Department of Transportation;and David Seltzer, an FHWA innovative financing specialist, came to Arkansas to brief the commission on innovative financing opportunities. In early 1999, another FHWA innovative financing specialist, Max Inman, was invited to speak to the legislature on financing issues.

Photo of quarry used to gather stones for retaining wall

Arkansas' Interstate Rehabilitation Program was approved by the state's voters and will rehabilitate 60 percent of the state's interstate highways in five years. The peak year of work is 2002.

With the support of the governor, the 1999 legislature expressed a desire to provide funding for all roads — not just interstate highways. The legislature passed phased-in increases for a three-cents-per-gallon gas tax over three years and a diesel tax of four-cents-per-gallon over two years. Legislators also authorized the Highway Commission to sell GARVEE bonds subject to a vote by the public. Gov. Mike Huckabee campaigned for the program and made interstate rehabilitation a major part of his state infrastructure and roadway agenda.

Voters, no doubt tired of driving on interstate highways in poor condition, approved the bond program in June 1999. The approval ratio was an overwhelming 4-to-1.

Under the voter-approved Interstate Rehabilitation Program, the Arkansas Highway Commission was authorized to sell up to $575 million in GARVEE bonds to provide financing.

The commission issued the initial bonds through a competitive sale, in which the buyers (investment banks) bid by specifying the rate or yield that they would accept and the state may accept or reject the bid. Throughout the multiyear program, the commission will evaluate each successive sale independently to determine whether a competitive or negotiated sale is appropriate. In a negotiated sale, the state selects a buyer and works with the buyer to determine the market rate or yield.

A+B Bidding

Using a tried-and-true practice for bidding, AHTD decided to adopt the A+B bidding process for the rehabilitation program. A+B bidding is a cost-plus-time bidding procedure that selects the lowest bidder based on a contractor's bid for the cost of a specific project (A) and the time needed to complete the project or, as in this case of rehabilitation rather than construction, the contractor's estimate of the number of days during which lane closures will occur (B). To determine a total bid, AHTD assessed an additional "cost per day" for the inconvenience to motorists, multiplied this assessment by the number of days of lane closures, and added this amount to the contractor's bid.

A Great Combination of Well-Researched Rehabilitation Methods

With funding established and a strong bidding process in place, AHTD set out to meet the second challenge of finding the best ways to repair interstate highways that were constructed of reinforced, jointed concrete 9 to 10 inches- (23 to 25 centimeters-) thick. After years of patching and overlaying on portland cement concrete pavement (PCCP), the roadways continued to deteriorate because of the increase in traffic and heavy loads as well as an unstable base. AHTD had to find a better way.

Photo of rubblization process
AHTD officials and contractors chose rubblization as a rehabilitation method because it provides an excellent base for overlaying a hot-asphalt mix, and it is cost-effective.

Using information gathered by AHTD officials and FHWA and by drawing on past experiences and positive outcomes in a few recent projects, AHTD identified a solution for the rehabilitation project. They opted to use "rubblization" as one method of rehabilitation.

Rubblization is a construction technique in which deteriorating PCCP pavement is broken into 2- to 6-inch (5- to 15-centimeter) pieces to become a base for a hot-mix asphalt overlay. Besides its performance characteristics, this process was chosen for two other important reasons: it saves time and money.

By using rubblization, there is no need to haul unused material to another site or recycle the old concrete pavement. Also, the rubblization machine, a resonant-frequency pavement breaker, moves quickly at a production rate of approximately one lane-mile (1.6 lane-kilometers) per day. Fewer days, fewer contracted employees, and fewer pieces of equipment all add up to reduced costs.

Another reason for using rubblization is that the crushed PCCP base reduces the chance that cracks, joints, and other defects will reflect through the asphalt overlay and negatively affect performance.

"The rubblization process actually makes the base an interlocked matrix of pieces as you break the concrete," said Bob Walters, AHTD chief engineer. "It functions much like a jigsaw puzzle with broken pieces fitting together in a pattern." The six-step rehabilitation process includes setting up the work zone, installing underdrains, rubblizing, rolling the rubblized surface, paving or overlaying, and smoothing the surface. With each step, AHTD found that conducting research and reviewing improved practices pay off in the long run.

"Developing extensive quality-control methods in a new state-of-the-art, materials testing laboratory is also adding to the program's success," Walters said. "Throughout the project, persistent testing of the asphalt mix with a focus on minimizing rutting has ensured the highest quality product."

Setting Up Work Zones

Innovation played an important part in the Arkansas IRP work zones. Every work zone of the construction program used many of the same techniques to provide consistency for the traveling public.

One of the techniques is to have traffic merge to the left lane initially regardless of which side of the road is under construction. For lane closures, traffic is first diverted to the left and then gradually directed by strategically placed barrels and arrow signs to the appropriate lane. Repeating this pattern for motorists helps them quickly recognize what to do when approaching IRP projects throughout the state. "Merge Left" warning signs are located two miles (3.2 kilometers) before the actual work zone. "Merge Now" reminders are posted one mile (1.6 kilometers) out and again with enforceable "No Passing Zones" at 1500 feet (about 460 meters) before the lane closure.

Projects are worked either one lane at a time with traffic adjacent to the work or both lanes simultaneously on one side of the interstate while the other side carries traffic in both directions.

Other communication means being used to increase work-zone safety and reduce congestion include variable message signs, an extensive network of highway advisory radio stations, use of speed-detection trailers, visible presence of Arkansas Highway Police, and an intense public information and education campaign.

Lessons Learned

AHTD offers a laundry list of "what we learned." One item is the department's renewed emphasis on effective subsurface drainage.

AHTD engineers revised the department's underdrain materials and design, and they instituted video inspection to ensure a properly functioning system. This provides a dry base material to improve pavement performance. AHTD also specifies that contractors roll the rubblized surfaces with a 10-ton (9-metric ton) vibratory roller to consolidate the rubblized PCCP before paving.

In addition, they also learned that string-line usage was very important to ensure successful paving. A string line is also called a grade line, and it is an erected string or wire line used to establish a reference to control the paver's screed, which is the part of an asphalt paver that smoothes and compacts the asphalt mix. Setting string-line profiles based on the profile of the old PCCP will not provide the proper thickness or ride quality for the new surface. Therefore, the contractor must submit profile grades that meet the overlay thickness requirements and provide a smooth pavement surface profile. The designed thickness of the asphalt surface ranges from 11 to 12 inches (28 to 30 centimeters) and consists of 440 to 550 pounds (200 to 250 kilograms) per square yard (0.84 square meter) of base course, 330 pounds (150 kilograms) per square yard of binder course, and 440 pounds per square yard of surface course. The base mix is composed of 1.5-inch (almost 4-centimeter) top-size aggregate, a binder mix that has a 1-inch (2.5-centimeter) top size, and finally a surface mix with a 0.5-inch (1.27-centimeter) top size.

To ensure a smooth ride, AHTD contracts also offer smoothness incentives of up to 3 percent and disincentives of up to 4 percent of surface cost by measuring the accumulation of surface irregularities. Contractors measure ride quality on not only the finished surface, but on every lift of the asphalt overlay. By doing this, a problem area is identified early and can be dealt with right away. Contractors use lightweight profilers traveling at speeds of 15 miles per hour (25 kilometers per hour) to measure the ride quality of the asphalt overlay to meet specifications required by AHTD.

AHTD also seized the opportunity to incorporate procedures and new products that were not available when the original interstate highways were built. Rumble strips on the shoulders, reflective pavement striping that is designed to be highly visible under rainy conditions, and plowable pavement markers are also included in the IRP projects.

AHTD is also doing some full-depth reconstruction and replacement with concrete pavement. This technique is being applied both on high-volume, high-truck-traffic urban interstate highways where new lanes are being added and in areas with weak subgrade conditions.

Arkansas is on its way to much smoother motoring ahead.

"Pave the Way" logo used in informational campaign
The "Pave The Way" logo was the cornerstone and identity of the informational campaign.

Communicating to the Public

As Arkansas' Interstate Rehabilitation Program began, AHTD encountered its third obstacle — communicating with the people of Arkansas at a level of targeted communications never before undertaken by AHTD.

Voters approved the rehabilitation of 60 percent of the interstate highway surface in the state in a mere five years. Traditionally, the state has repaired about 12 to 15 miles (20 to 25 kilometers) of interstate each year, but this project multiplied that number eight times and required that approximately 125 miles (201 kilometers) be under construction each year to meet the compressed schedule of five years. Because construction takes more than one year, the projects overlap, and thus, it requires the reconstruction of about 125 miles per year to reconstruct the entire 380 miles in five years.

Maintaining public support as motorists experience an unprecedented number of work zones and keeping the public informed about the depth, time frame, repair methods, safety issues, and progress of this multiyear project would be extremely challenging. Turning again to a solid business practice model, AHTD began the search for a communications agency.

The Highway Commission wanted to hire a partner that would extend resources and provide valuable communications expertise. Bringing this partner to the table early on was a very good decision. Having a communications partner to help plan, guide, and assist in implementation of the huge public education and statewide media relations component of this campaign was a top priority.

Photo of pavement being smoothed
AHTD found that offering smoothness incentives as part of their contracts helped ensure the best ride quality.

Thoma Thoma Creative, a full-service marketing and communications firm in Little Rock, was hired in 2000 to develop a program that would communicate all the elements of the campaign with all identified audiences.

Thoma Thoma began the process by identifying the audience and evaluating their understanding of the overall project. A survey quickly discovered that the public had voted for a program that they understood was badly needed but knew little or nothing about. In other words, they had no idea of the level of construction activity that they would be facing over the next five years.

"We discovered that the audience was split into two groups: one traditional and the other what professional communicators refer to as a nontraditional audience — or inaccessible by traditional methods," said Martin Thoma, chief executive officer of Thoma Thoma. "The two audiences were the statewide Arkansans who could be reached in their homes before they traveled and an audience of out-of-state and trucking industry motorists who must be reached on the road. The challenge became how to reach an audience from everywhere who were already in their vehicles driving the interstate highways."

With the help of an advisory board of statewide municipal, hospitality, emergency management, and business leaders, AHTD staff and Thoma Thoma developed a multilevel campaign called "Pave The Way." The campaign has won national awards for its creative format for offering information and enhancing safety as well as for its innovative distribution methods.

Driving Your Message Home
by Martin E. Thoma

Imagine tearing up and rebuilding 60 percent of your state's interstate highways in a period of just five years. A recipe for gridlock, road rage, and public outcry? Perhaps, but with expert communications planning, you can mitigate much of the anger, dismay, and frustration of your traveling public.

Research shows that motorists have a fairly fatalistic attitude about traffic — they tend to "frown and bear it." Any information, however, helps reduce blood pressure — even if it doesn't give them an alternate route or other actionable information.

Here are several rules of thumb that were helpful in creating Arkansas' award-winning "Pave The Way" public information and safety awareness campaign.

Do Your Homework

Research is important in any communications undertaking. Know your audience and gain insights into how and what they think.

We conducted a survey of 400-plus motorists on Arkansas' interstate highways. This poll told us about their preferred methods

of receiving information and provided a benchmark against which to measure future progress. The study also revealed a breathtaking lack of awareness about the scope, duration, and location of this massive road rehabilitation. We knew we had our work cut out for us.

Be Proactive

Start out on the offensive and never let up. Push out information through every conceivable vehicle and for every possible circumstance.

News events were conducted for the program launch, multiple sign unveilings, and job completions. News releases were broadcast with holiday travel advisories, sports travel advisories, and progress updates.

If the media gets ahead of you and you start reacting, it will take a long time to turn the situation around. The best defense is a good offense. Keep the information flowing outward.

Arkansas "went public" in a news conference announcing the information program and with a massive regionwide mailing to officials, opinion leaders, law enforcement officers, and media. About six weeks later when the press started covering a particular work zone that was

beset by fatal crashes, AHTD public affairs officials had an extensive library of graphics, background information, and safety tips for the media to share with the public. Any potential backlash was preempted because it was clear that AHTD was doing everything possible to inform the public and to encourage safe driving through work zones on interstate highways.

Take Some Risks

Don't be afraid to use humor or a light touch. One can't be glib or flippant when talking about subjects such as preventing crashes and saving lives, but experience shows that a little humor goes a long way.

Billboards at the entry points to the state announce, "There's a Whole Lot of Paving Going On." A subhead informs, "8 work zones next 120 miles." On the radio, the spokes-characters, "Highway Guy" and "Anita Buckleup," have developed a real following. They're funny, but they have a serious message to convey. The contrast works.

Be Real

Don't pull punches. Never shrink from telling the public that it's going to get hairy out there. When you've got a peak of 300 miles (500 kilometers) of interstate highway rehabilitation under contract at one time (summer 2002), there's no use pretending that there won't be delays, problems, and inconvenience. So don't sugarcoat it.

Be Positive

There is a reason for all this construction. Arkansas' interstate highways have repeatedly been voted the worst in the country. In 1999, Gov. Mike Huckabee lobbied aggressively for this program, and the public voted overwhelmingly for it. The light at the end of the tunnel is an interstate highway system that will be second to none in the United States. We never miss an opportunity to remind our motorists of that.

Hit the Road

Traditional media planning fails miserably when confronted with a communication problem of this nature. There is not a target audience that can be defined by conventional demographics. They don't live anywhere in particular, they don't have a certain household income, they don't have a particular musical taste. They are simply those who drive or ride on the interstate highways now or will in the future.

So a blend of off-the-road and on-the-road communications was used to reach motorists both before they travel and after they set out.

Variable message signs, highway advisory radio, rest stop posters, brochures distributed in tourist information centers, and billboards in the highway right-of-way reach motorists that are underway. Media events and news releases, the World Wide Web, brochures, speeches, and advertisements help give motorists fair warning of what they may encounter.

The success of this program has been a result of the concerted use of both strategies.

Get Partners Involved

Nobody has all the answers, and no single department or group can do everything. We've actively sought out groups and individuals to partner with us in getting our message out.

One very effective tool has been an advisory board representing state law enforcement, public officials, media, travel and tourism, transportation, construction, and business. This group has not only been instrumental in shaping communication efforts, it has actively pitched in and told the story, inserting articles in newsletters, mailing brochures to their members or constituents, and sharing mailing lists.

We're currently developing an informational tool kit for use by trucking company safety departments, large-employer human resources personnel, and others with an interest in advocating safe travel on interstate highways.

Get Out Of The Box

Getting to people where they drive means thinking about nontraditional approaches. Consider placemats for truck stops and restaurants along the way. Or ads placed on gas pumps or pump handles. Create tie-ins to businesses on alternate routes. Ask your state tourism development office to develop tourist guides to places off the beaten path. Ask media, travel, and weather sites and other state departments to link to your Web site. Make "Road Gear" merchandise (t-shirts, baseball caps, travel mugs, etc.) with your logo and sell it or give it away. The possibilities are limited only by your own creativity.

Arkansas was the first state to complete its allotment of federal interstate highways; so, the interstate highways in Arkansas were the first to wear out all at once. If you're next, don't forget to build public support while you're building roads.

Martin E. Thoma is a principal with Thoma Thoma Creative, the marketing and communications firm behind AHTD's award-winning "Pave The Way" public information campaign. Thoma is a graduate of the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville with a degree in journalism and has owned Thoma Thoma Creative since 1991.

IRP advisory board members represent everyone from the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce to the Arkansas Trucking Association and the travel and tourism industry. And they not only provided input to the program and the communications campaign, but they also helped distribute the messages through their own publications and presentations.

Throughout the campaign, the message is laced with a strong emphasis on safety with materials addressing the subtheme of "Think Ahead." The message focuses on thinking:

Think Ahead logo
"Think Ahead" was developed as the safety emphasis of the campaign and asked motorists to avoid last-minute merges by thinking minutes ahead.

For the audience planning a trip or needing up-to-date information, a Web site, www.arkansasinterstates.com, was developed. Full of user-friendly information, the Web site offers everything from recent travel times between major cities to printable maps showing active construction zones and lane closures. It also includes downloadable information in the site's Resource Center with everything from printed materials, Web links, and prewritten newsletter articles to logos and graphics. The regularly updated Press Room also keeps the media engaged with easy-to-access updates and photographs.

Screenshot of AHTD's web site
AHTD's Web site, www.arkansasinterstates.com, is full of information for those motorists who want to check interstate highway construction and lane closures before leaving home or the office.

A monthly electronic newsletter is sent via fax or e-mail to subscribers who have requested progress updates. The advisory board, tourist information centers, and other statewide partners distribute prewritten articles, traditional brochures, posters, and other materials. Humorous radio spots were designed to catch and keep the interest of the audience.

Motorists behind the wheel are informed about real-time conditions through an innovative combination of variable and standard signs, highway advisory radio (HAR), commercial radio, and intelligent transportation systems (ITS). On several of the projects, real-time data come from sensor-based systems that identify traffic backups and current speed levels. A statewide network of 12-foot by 24-foot (3.65-meter by 7.3-meter) roadside signs announce "There's a Whole Lot of Paving Going On" and encourage motorists to tune their car radio to one of eight Pave The Way HAR stations that warn of construction projects ahead.

In heavily populated areas of the state, AHTD's roving Motorist Assistance Patrol functions as a frontline public relations staff by moving vehicles safely off the roadway to keep traffic moving. Helping stranded motorists call for help, arranging for a tow, replenishing fuel, changing tires, restarting vehicles, extinguishing fires, or rendering first aid are all a part of keeping interstate motorists on their way.

Results and Awards

Documenting results is also part of AHTD's list of best practices and a vital part of research. Thoma Thoma is following the media involvement closely and reports the following media coverage since the campaign was launched in April 2001:

AHTD believes that the national and regional awards that this program has received indicate that others also think the program is progressive, innovative, and results-oriented. The campaign or specific components have been recognized by the American Road Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA), the National Safety Council (NSC), and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO). AASHTO presented a national "Public Affairs Skills Award" to AHTD, and in December, the Pave The Way campaign was awarded the AASHTO "President's Award for Highway Safety" as an exemplary highway department communications effort with the potential for national as well as regional impact.

Based on the criteria for these awards, the campaign was judged to be outstanding in its originality and innovation, effectiveness, measurable performance goals, sound budget, targeting of appropriate audiences, level of promotional effort, value to the industry, and ability to be replicated.

The campaign has held its own in competition with others outside of the transportation industry. It won the "Bronze Quill Award of Excellence," presented by the International Association of Business Communicators for the best statewide public affairs campaign.

AHTD and FHWA officials, anxious to share what they have learned during the Interstate Rehabilitation Program, hosted the Arkansas Interstate Rubblization Showcase on June 5 and 6, 2001. Approximately 240 participants from 17 states attended the program that included presentations held at Arkansas Tech University and a demonstration of the rubblization process on an Interstate 40 project near Russellville, Ark.

Photo of section of Interstate 40 (a 4 lane highway)
Motorists are already enjoying an example of IRP's improved highway on a newly completed section of Interstate 40.

Dan Flowers is the director of the Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department. He is a licensed professional engineer. He began his career with AHTD in 1969 and became the director of highways and transportation in 1994. Flowers currently directs all planning and implementation of the state's Interstate Rehabilitation Program. He has a degree in civil engineering from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. Flowers is past president of the Southeastern Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials and of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials in 1998. He chaired the AASHTO Subcommittee on Design from 1993 to 1995 and the Standing Committee on Highways from 1995 to 1997. He also served as the 1997-1998 AASHTO vice president.

Sandra L. Otto is the division administrator (DA) of the Arkansas Division of the Federal Highway Administration. She is a licensed professional engineer and has been employed by FHWA since 1987. Since 1995, as assistant DA and as DA, she has been responsible for administering the federal-aid highway program in Arkansas. Otto has a bachelor's degree in civil engineering from Montana State University and a master's degree from The George Washington University in public administration with a specialty in environmental management and public policy. She is a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), and she chaired ASCE's Environmental Quality Standing Committee (Highway Division). In 2000, Otto was named Arkansas Federal Woman of the Year. Otto and the Arkansas FHWA team actively support the AHTD staff in planning and implementing the current Interstate Rehabilitation Program.

For more information about Arkansas' award-winning Interstate Rehabilitation Program and the accompanying Pave The Way information and safety campaign, visit www.arkansasinterstates.com or contact the AHTD Public Affairs Office via telephone at (501) 569-2227 or by e-mail at info@ahtd.state.ar.us.




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