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Design Build Highway - September 2004

No Speed Bumps on Texas' First Design-Build Highway

Private-Public Partnership Paving Way for Fast Delivery

By Eileen Schwartz

While frustrated Austin motorists battle the growing traffic on Interstate 35, the future of transportation in Texas is quietly taking shape a few miles away on the northeast side of the Capital City. That's where multiple, multi-million dollar construction jobs are under way—most of them out of sight of the traveling public.

The massive Trans Texas Corridor, a long-range plan to improve infrastructure statewide that will ultimately incorporate a network of 4,000 mi. of roads, rail and utilities, is decades away from being visible. But the use of alternative funding and toll roads in key metropolitan and regional areas throughout the state—critical to success of the Trans Texas Corridor—is a reality.

The Central Texas Turnpike System is a multipurpose, mixed-delivery set of toll roads and interchanges that includes State Highway 45N, Loop I and the new State Highway 130. Managed by Lone Star Infrastructure, the SH 130 project is Texas' first and only design-build highway and the largest single highway project in the state's history. It is the first to be developed under a new TxDOT design-build contract known as a Comprehensive Development Agreement.


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With a contract of roughly $1.5 billion, the SH 130 element of the CTTS project is one of the top three active highway contracts in the country to include design, yet it is little more than a blip on the local radar screen.

"One unique thing about this project is that it is taking place on green field and not in urban areas," said Lone Star Infrastructure project director Doug Fuller.

Exhibiting foresight and creativity in the state's approach, project delivery on the CTTS includes traditional and design-build methods. After the CDA was authorized by the Texas Legislature in 2001, SH 130 ground broke in October 2003 on the 49 mi. four-lane divided concrete toll road that runs parallel to and east of IH-35, extending from north of Georgetown to U.S. 183 in southeast Travis County. Construction is divided into four segments, and progress is currently being made on the first two phases-about 18 miles of highway—in the Austin suburbs of Georgetown, Pfluggerville, Round Rock, Manor and Hutto.

SH 130 is on a five-year timetable, to be completed no later than December 2007. The project will include 30 million cu. yd. of dirt, 1.7 million tons of asphalt paving and 2.7 million tons of concrete. In addition, 119 bridges are slated, consisting of 350,000 sq. ft. of steel and 5 million sq. ft. of concrete. Roughly 25 percent of the bridges are currently under construction. Five planned interchanges eventually will expand to a six-lane facility with a median, anticipating multi-modal facilities such as light rail. In addition to the four main toll plazas, there will also be 29 exit/entrance ramp toll plazas. Tolls are expected to be approximately 12 cents per mile.

Lone Star Infrastructure, an organization created specifically for the project, is spearheaded by three main venture partners: Fluor Corp of Aliso Viejo, Calif., Balfour Beatty Construction of Atlanta, and T.J. Lambrecht, Euless. Also involved are more than 20 subcontractors and consultants covering every aspect of the project including design, right-of-way, environmental, utilities relocation and quality assurance. During the life of the project LSI will employ more than 1,100 workers including design engineers, environmental specialists, surveyors, construction crews and administrative support.

Fuller said that working with TxDOT has been "fantastic," and credits both partners for the project's progress. He added that LSI and TxDOT have found creative ways to bring issues to the table including formal partnering sessions with an independent facilitator.

"We're partnering at multiple levels with TxDOT," Fuller said. "We've had several formal partnering sessions with an independent facilitator where we brought everybody in and established goals and so forth. It's been extremely useful because it's a process that establishes a formal procedure up to the highest level of the organization.

"The other thing is that jointly we have a goal to hone the design-build process. We can give [TxDOT] the contractor's perspective on those issues. I think that's gone well. I think there's still work to be done, and I think they would agree. We will continue to hone that."

It is that kind of synergy that separates not only design-build as a concept from traditional bidding processes but also demonstrates the potential success of future private-public partnerships with TxDOT. LSI is working closely with TxDOT to ensure that work is moving forward at an impressively accelerated rate, one the state predicts will allow completion some 25 years ahead of a traditional bid process.

"The bottom line for the citizens of Texas is that it allows roads to be built faster and at less cost," said Justin Keener, public information officer for LSI.

The design-build nature of the project sets it apart from the traditional design-bid-build process in other ways. One aspect is that right-of-way acquisition and engineering are handled by LSI rather than the state. Another is that the independent quality control on both design and construction teams are part of the organization, providing oversight for the state while working closely with the rest of the partners.

"This is the first time it's been handled this way in the state," Fuller said. "We're working out the standard operating procedures of how a firm inspects the work to make sure it's in compliance with TxDOT standards and how a firm reports back to TxDOT."

One important decision LSI made at the outset while bidding on the project and a major factor in securing it was the selection of concrete rather than asphalt as the primary material. The principal factors in this decision revolved less around turnaround time and more around sustainability and lower maintenance costs. Some asphalt will be used on access and frontage roads where appropriate, but using concrete helped to lower cost estimates on the life of the project.

Perhaps the greatest benefit to both LSI and the state in terms of efficiency is that design and construction can occur at the same time, enabling all teams involved to respond to challenges that are part of the day-to-day procedure. In a traditional design-bid-build scenario, all design work must be completed before it can be bid, negating any opportunity to modify plans when confronted by obstacles or practical construction considerations.

"You have to design it before you can bid it before you can build it," Fuller said. "For us, that overlaps. I don't need to know what the pavement looks like. I'd rather be out there and do mass grading and put the drainage in. So while they're finishing—designing the pavement, the illumination, all that stuff—we can be out there moving dirt."

Fuller added that with traditional design-bid-build, it's the obligation of the designer to propose something that's open to competition. But on this type of procurement, contactors team up with the designers before submitting the bid, and part of the competition depends on how well the design can be optimized. "So the design becomes part of the competition." he said. "I've worked both ways, and I prefer this type because we can affect that design based upon how we want to construct the project."

The experience might even affect traditional projects in the future. "Designers understand better how we think about a project," Fuller added. "So they may have been designing something one way for a long time, but nobody ever asked, 'Why can't you do it this way?'

 

 

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