Expedite Urban Highway Construction

The state should expedite urban highway construction to reduce congestion, improve safety and lower users costs.

As national highway program activity shifts from the construction of new highways to the rehabilitation of older ones, many state highway departments including the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) are finding that considerable resources are needed to lessen the negative effects resulting from construction within urban areas. These adverse effects inclu de traffic congestion, loss of productivity, inhibited access to property, hazardous and costly construction operations and difficult personnel and inspection management conditions for TxDOT.

An innovative strategy that has evolved in response to these urban reconstruction problems is expediting. This broad strategy is a plan for accelerated pavement construction and reconstruction; its specific practices, aimed at reducing project duration or severity, are termed mitigation measures. TxDOT is using s ome expediting techniques in a few projects. An example is the joint TxDOT and Harris County Metropolitan Transit Authority improvement project on U.S. 59 (Southwest Freeway) in Harris County. Through the use of contractor bonus incentives, this project an ticipates a shorter completion time to minimize congestion and user operating costs. It will open freeway segments sooner, allowing user benefits to begin earlier. Because expediting pavement reconstruction has profound implications for reducing user and b usiness costs, action is needed to ensure that such innovative construction practices receive high priority in TxDOT. A strong statewide policy in this area would ensure that the growing problem of urban highway construction does not cause excessively high social costs to the public or permanent economic damage to Texas businesses.

Evaluating the precise economics of a construction project entails an analysis of all the potential alternatives that are capable of providing the minimum required performance. All other things being equal, the alternative that is the least expensive over time should be selected. The present method for assessing cost effectiveness in pavement design is incomplete, principally because there are additional costs like user costs that merit consideration in the anal ysis. A new approach to evaluating pavement rehabilitation projects is needed that includes both user costs and the economic losses sustained by businesses abutting such construction.

Consumers Interest
The interests of highway users are primarily thought of as economic, since a consequence of construction operations is a temporary increase in the time and cost of travel. Travel costs typically are associated with time, vehicle operations and safety. Time costs, as perce ived by the user, are defined as the additional travel time or delay that is incurred from traffic congestion resulting from construction activities. Vehicle operational costs are the increased cost of navigating a vehicle through a construction zone. Such costs result from additional engine idling time and stop-and-go driving conditions. Finally, safety costs take into account the economic loss associated with any increase in the number and/or severity of vehicle-related accidents resulting from constructi on operations.

Owners Interest
TxDOT has the responsibility of ensuring that the demands of the consumers are fulfilled and that resources are expended effectively. The economic interest hinges on the potential cost of mitigation that is, the allocation of resources for temporary services as an alternative to investments in permanent, long life-cycle facilities. If the owner does not provide mitigation measures, the consumer may be penalized economically. This economic loss, in effect, amounts to a temporary tax on consumers in terms of user delays and the loss of income for abutting businesses.

TxDOT can maintain better relations with the public by realizing the value of the public s support and by creating a responsive public relations campaign that safeguards the public s trust. An active public relations program is in itself a mitigation measure, since the program may increase consumer tolerance of adverse effects.

The principal differences between the public and the private sectors in managing construction contracts involve the selection of contractors, the employment of personnel, the use of production incentive measures, negotiating contract changes, public accoun tability and an ability to respond to a rapidly changing economic environment. Thes e differences are recognized by law and can be abridged by the state during times of national or even limited emergency. It is not considered good public policy to undertake emergency measures in routine projects, since such actions may be considered a was te of resources. Consequently, TxDOT is to a degree administratively constrained in its ability to manage mitigation measures.

Examples of these administrative limitations include the difficulty in attracting, training and retaining qualified technicians to manage around-the-clock, seven-day-a-week operations by a contractor and the authority to negotiate the selection of contractors on the basis of price and performance. Currently, TxDOT finds construction selection limited to primarily price on the basis of state procurement law and administrative procedures. TxDOT is currently considering adopting rules that screen contractors before bidding based on past p erformance on highway jobs. These various administrative constraints have to be understood, considered and compensated for when planning and adopting mitigation measures.

Implementing Expediting Techniques
Mitigation methods can revolutionize the way in which highway pavement construction is conducted by minimizing the negative impacts associated with the construction operation. Yet the process of selecting the proper expediting methods in highway pavement c onstruction is complex. All activities pertaining to the project, from the project s conception to its completion, should be considered when implementing expediting procedures.

Expediting through Preliminary Planning and Design
The construction site, traffic type and behavior, socioeconomics and other issues must be considered in the planning and the designing of the project. While this evaluation may represent a costly process, its cost effectiveness may be justifiable in the lo ng term. Cooperation with other agencies and groups at the local level, like the Metropolitan Planning Organizations, is essential when collecting planning and design data. Using innovative techniques and strategies that expedite construction, engineers can identify the best alternatives available for the project. The selection process for the following items must be comprehensive, unbiased and impartial: bidding of the pro ject, acquisition of right-of-way, relocation of utilities, design and implementation. Good traffic handling plans, conducted early in the project, expedite pavement construction and show appreciable results in minimizing the adverse effects of constructio n. Methods for expediting pavement construction through design include reducing the number of layers in the pavement structure and using fast-setting, full-depth materials.

In the planning stage, decisions on incentive/disincentive contracting should be made. Highway construction projects located within sensitive environments and urban areas are candidates for the use of incentive bonuses and/or disincentive cash penalties to encourage early completion. An incentive is usually considered a cash bonus for c ompleting a specified task before a specified time or within a specified time period. A disincentive involves liquidated damages for failure to reach a specified milepost within a specified time. While these contract stipulations may be allowable within Tx DOT contracting procedures, they are infrequently used. There is some concern that TxDOT will be paying extra for a product and time schedule that should be available under normal conditions. 1 However, TxDOT will need to reevaluate product specifications and time schedules to reflect costs of user delay in urban congestion areas.

Expediting through Construction
Expediting through construction includes fast-tracking in construction materials, equipment and techniques. Some examples of methods used during fast-tracking are in-place recycling of existing pavement materials, the use of special equipment (like slip- form concrete pavers) and the use of insulated curing blanket method for curing concrete. These fast-tracking techniques allowing critical constru ction sequencing speed the construction operation, reduce material curing time and, therefore, minimize the time required for completion. 2

Expediting through Construction Materials
High-early-strength materials, new exotic materials and modified materials can play key roles in expediting highway pavement construction. Some of these materials include vacuum-treated portland cement concrete, roller-compacted concrete and fast-setting patching materials, such as cement-gypsum, magnesium phosphate cement, me thylmethacrylate polymer and latex-modified cement. However these materials can be costly and are not allowed in the normal procurement procedure. Their use may be cost effective in heavy traffic areas where delays can result in high costs to consumers an d adjacent properties. The cost effectiveness of their use may also be justifiable in areas where a lengthy construction period may endanger lives.

Many fast-track materials like fly ash, stabilizers, jet cement and fast-track portland cement concrete hav e been tested in different parts of the country. Between 1987 and 1988, 15 fast-track projects were conducted in three states; 12 were built successfully in Iowa, two in Michigan and one in Illinois. 3 Several other fast-track projects were tested between 1989 and 1990 in Iowa, Virginia, Pennsylvania and in other states.

In 1986, the first fast-track pavement construction was conducted in Buena Vista County, Iowa. With the construction involving seven miles of U.S. 71, this fast-track portland cement concre te pavement allowed traffic on the facility 24 hours after construction. 4 Although the fast-track operation increased the cost of the project by $1 per square yard, the increase was offset by the reduction in costs for detours, re-routing and liabilities. Iowa s project demonstrated that fast-track concrete can reopen a highway in a very short time, usually less than 12 hours after the completion of construction. 5 In all cases the fast-track method of construction was successful in reducing construction time.

Expediting Using Construction Equipment
Using the proper equipment in pavement construction can substantially increase productivity and, hence, reduce construction time. In particular, advanced and automated construction equipment can be instrumental in speeding construction operations. Applicat ions of the equipment were conducted in many states. For example, automatic dowel bar inserters were used in north central Pennsylvania, diamond wire saws have been used for cutting reinforced concrete in recycl ing operations in several states; slip-form pavers have been used in Utah; and pavement pulverizers have been used at Atlanta International Airport. 6, 7

Expediting through Construction Techniques
Expediting highway pavement construction may include the use of prefabricated elements, vacuum-treatment of portland cement concrete, in-place recycling of pavement materials, roller-compacted concrete and exotic materials as polymer and fly ash. Vacuum tr eatment of portland cement was used in the Netherlands to produce a concrete with a low water/cement ratio. 8 The purpose of the vacuum is to remove excess water needed to facilitate the transport and placement of the material. This process helps the concrete more rapidly achieve the strength required to support traffic.

Expediting through Traffic Management
Selecting the best traffic control strategies for any highway project requires consideration of many factors. Among these factors are traffic conditions, traffic characteristics, type of project, project durat ion, the area containing the construction site, safety issues, economics, environmental concerns and many other issues related to traffic and construction operations. User delay, safety issues, public relations policies, updated public notifications on con struction matters all of these important considerations must be examined when deciding which traffic-control strategy to select.

Expediting through Contracting Procedures
Innovative contracting procedures that minimize impacts on road users in urban areas may include lane rental fees. As a disincentive provision in the contract, a daily rental fee would be charged if a contractor overruns the stated calendar construction days in the bid. Additionally, if at the time of completion the contractor has not ap plied all the lane closures initially indicated in the contract, a bonus equal to the rental fee could be paid. TxDOT uses this contracting procedure experimentally. The statewide low bidding procurement procedure inhibits the use of such contracting proc edures.

A. The Legislature should change state law to specifically allow Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) to adjust contracting practices to include incentive and disincentive measures to expedite highway construction, reconstruction and maintenance in u rban areas.

The limitations of TxDOT s contracting procedures and construction monitoring procedures hinder construction in urban areas. Highway construction, reconstruction and maintenance projects located within urban areas a re candidates for the use of incentive bonuses and/or disincentive cash penalties to encourage early completion. An incentive is usually considered a cash bonus for completing a specified task before a specified time. Other incentives may be less explici t, such as permitting the contractor to work on Sundays or holidays, if such are usually prohibited, to encourage early completion. TxDOT should develop more flexible employment and employee compensation practices to make available staff resources to manag e expedited projects. Statutory changes are needed to accomplish this flexibility within TxDOT.

B. The Legislature should direct TxDOT to expedite those urban projects where higher initial construction costs will provide intermediate and long-term savings and reduce consumer user delay costs. TxDOT should submit a progress report to the Legislature b y November 1, 1994.

Although expediting may cost more initially, an expediting program will minimize user delay costs like travel time and fuel costs and costs to abutting businesses. In addition, such a program will allow TxDOT to focus more on customer service. By paying attention to user costs and economic consequences for businesses generated by construction activities, TxDOT will better be ab le to prioritize and evaluate projects and their construction techniques to better serve all Texans.

Contractors will be asked to bid on construction plans that incorporate these expediting techniques. These requirements may require contractors to more ti ghtly schedule their construction work, resulting in some incremental costs. However, the competitive bidding process should minimize any additional expediting costs.

There is one problem in managing disincentives and incentives that may be peculiar to public agencies namely, the availability of personnel and other resources to administer a contract where the contractor is going all out, around-the-clock, in order to seek incentive pay.

Fiscal Impact
There would be cost savings directly to the taxpayer s and business owners in the vicinity of highway projects using expedited construction procedures. For those areas having traffic volumes above 100,000 vehicles per day, as much as three to six months could be cut from the total construction time. This tra nslates into approximately a 20 to 30 percent time savings. Cost savings per vehicle need to be addressed on a project-by-project basis. 9

Because construction contracts will be of shorter duration, there would be a reduction in administrative costs. This savings can be realized, however, since higher initial construction costs may be required the overall spending would remain the same.

1 Interview with Ed Shaddock, Legal Division, Texas Department of Transportation, Austin, Texas, December 11, 1992.
2 The time required to harden road materials before usage.
3 Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Road Transport Research, Traffic Management and Safety at Highway Work Zones (Paris, France, 1989).
4 Ibid.
5 Ibid.
6 A. Butler, Expediting Urban Highway Construction: A Literature Review, (Center for Transportation Research, The University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas, 1991).
7 Ibid.
8 Ibid.
9 W.F. McFarland and J. L. Buffington, Texas Highway Economic Evaluation Model: A Critical Review of Assumptions and Unit Cost and Recommended Updating Procedures, Report 225-8 (Texas Transportation Institute, Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas, 1979).