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Publication Number:  FHWA-HRT-19-004    Date:  Summer 2019
Publication Number: FHWA-HRT-19-004
Issue No: Vol. 83 No. 2
Date: Summer 2019


Guest Editorial

The Power of Partnership

Headshot of Russell R. McMurry, Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Transportation. © GDOT.Two years ago, a fire under the Interstate 85 (I–85) viaduct in Atlanta, GA, caused part of the bridge to collapse, severing a freeway that carries 243,000 vehicles daily. Looking back at the aftermath, one common theme emerged that greatly contributed to the successful outcome of rebuilding 700 feet (213 meters) of the bridge in less than 7 weeks: partnership.

Without a doubt, the first essential partnership was from first responders. It is amazing that no one was injured even though the collapse happened during the evening rush hour. The immediate response required coordination between State and local police, fire and rescue teams, and the Georgia Department of Transportation's (GDOT's) Highway Emergency Response Operators (HEROs) to stop traffic and ultimately reroute expressway traffic to keep motorists out of harm's way.

GDOT immediately set up an emergency command center to triage the situation. Partnerships with the Federal Highway Administration, State police and emergency management, the Atlanta Police Department, traffic managers, and transit operators made this possible. The immediate planning focused not only on safety and traffic management, but also on demolition and rebuilding as quickly as possible.

Communications partnerships also played a key role in the success of the rebuild. GDOT's Strategic Communications Office worked collaboratively with members of the media as well as all involved agencies, transit providers, local governments, and the private sector to disseminate critical information, including transit and telework options. Strategic and coordinated messaging was a powerful tool for the team, and not one that GDOT took for granted.

The communications team used multiple social media platforms and provided daily updates to the public including informative video content. In addition, GDOT's Director of Construction, Marc Mastronardi, P.E., invited the media to the worksite twice each week for progress updates. For more information on the rebuild project, see Marc's article "Partnering in a Crisis" on page 12 in this issue of PUBLIC ROADS.

Communication and a strong partnership between GDOT and the contractor were critical from the very beginning. GDOT's bridge engineers worked around the clock and shared design details, calculations, and quantities with the contractor in real time, as plans developed. This enabled the contractor to order materials and schedule crews much faster than waiting until the redesign plans were complete.

GDOT also benefitted significantly from the strong support it received from the U.S. Department of Transportation and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao. This critical partnership started with a phone call from the Secretary to then Governor Nathan Deal to pledge the Department's and her full support. Having key team members from USDOT and FHWA on the ground in Atlanta the very next morning, and their continuing support throughout the project, exemplified the relationship between GDOT and its Federal partners.

Strong partnerships were critical to the success of rebuilding in just 43 days—more than 5 weeks ahead of the original projection. GDOT is leveraging this experience to focus on a culture of collaboration and innovation that enhances partnerships.

The moral of this story is that you shouldn't wait for an emergency to build a partnership; prepare by building partnerships today because you never know if you will need them tomorrow.

Signature of Russell R. McMurry, Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Transportation.
Russell R. McMurry, P.E.
Commissioner, Georgia Department of Transportation


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