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Caltrans' Savings Providing for Better Project Results

Tue August 22, 2023 - West Edition #18

As mandated by SB 1, the Road Repair and Accountability Act of 2017, Caltrans is required to achieve at least $100 million in efficiencies each year to invest back in the maintenance and rehabilitation of the state highway system. In fiscal year 2021-22, the department set record highs for the number of new efficiencies (14) and total number of efficiencies (38).

Those efficiencies added up to $124 million, or 24 percent more than is required by SB 1.'

Although every efficiency is achieved through teamwork — a collaboration of people with innovative ideas, expertise, persistence, support and funding, among other qualities and factors —sometimes there is good reason to shine the spotlight on an individual employee's contributions. Such is the case with Allen Cripe, lead heavy equipment body worker/painter in the Division of Equipment (DOE).

The DOE purchases, fabricates, maintains and repairs Caltrans' fleet equipment, which is composed of more than 12,000 pieces of equipment. The division employs about 730 workers, including more than 400 heavy equipment mechanics around the state who maintain and repair equipment, and a Headquarters staff that includes Cripe.

As part of the paint preparation process for vehicles, the DOE must prepare several items by sanding and grinding steel parts. The amount of time, effort and cost to produce finished quality parts for the production line represented a challenge that Cripe wanted to address. Each piece required mechanical grinding and sanding to remove mill scale and sharp edges before sending to the paint booth. Getting into the small corners to produce a smooth finish was difficult with a 6-in. orbital sander.

The potential for employee injury due to the constant vibration from the hand sanders over a prolonged window of time was a concern, as well as handling parts that were not smooth or finished in the interior areas. Mechanics on the assembly line were at increased risk of hands getting injured or cut.

About a decade ago, Cripe began to research options on his own after work hours. He researched vendors that manufacture equipment to improve the paint preparation process. He contacted steel shot manufacturers across the United States to get a competitive bid.

Eventually, Cripe came upon L.S. Industry in Wichita, Kansas, which manufactures custom pieces of equipment to produce finished "shot" (smooth/sanded) material parts. This vendor had a solid reputation and offered a warranty that would protect the DOE.

After Cripe creatively addressed a potentially costly side issue involving the machine's ventilation system, in 2015 he received his supervisors' approval to order the new equipment.

Cripe worked closely with the vendor determining the turn table size, drive motors' power and the interior liner of the blast cabinet. In 2016 he flew to Kansas to inspect and test the efficacy and efficiency of the equipment and approve the final process of the purchase. The equipment arrived in Sacramento that July.

"Slingshot Suzie," so named by Cripe because "shot" is the material that is used to spin around the interior creating smooth finishes, is housed in Headquarters' production yard. Suzie's life expectancy is 40 years, which is projected to save Caltrans $53,950 per year, or $2,158,000 through the year 2056. Having cost $271,195 seven years ago, Suzie by now has paid for "herself."

Another example of a big money-saver reflected in the 2021-22 Efficiencies Report is the Cone Penetration Test (CPT) technology that Caltrans used extensively on the Interstate 405 project in Orange County. The project has a budget that tops $2 billion. It is listed as the largest state roadway project currently under construction, rebuilding what many consider to be the country's busiest freeway.

CPT technology allowed Caltrans to define the project's geotechnical site characteristics. Thirty bridge structures are either being replaced or newly constructed along a 16-mile-long stretch of highway, and through the use of CPT no soil samples were needed to determine the geotechnical engineering properties of soils, delineating soil stratigraphy and characterizing subsurface conditions.

Caltrans credits CPT with shaving a bit more than $7 million from this mega road-rehabilitation project in District 12 (San Diego County).

"It is vital for our executive staff to continue to engage with and encourage everyone to contribute to the efficiencies effort," said SB 1 Program Manager Angel Pyle.

Some of the other noteworthy efficiencies that Caltrans chalked up in the 2021-22 fiscal year:

  • Most dollars saved — Division of Design;
  • Most efficiencies ideas submitted — Division of Procurement & Contracts;
  • Most approved efficiencies — Division of Environmental Analysis;
  • Most new efficiencies — Division of Engineering Services;
  • Most dollars saved through district submissions — North Region.

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