The Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) hosted a delegation of 18 transportation officials from 10 Eurasian countries June 21 and 22 for a tour of the SmartFIX40 project and other TDOT facilities.
Delegates from Russia, Tajikistan, Armenia, Kyrgyz Republic, Moldova, Georgia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan were participants in the Special American Business Internship Training Program (SABIT), which is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Commerce. This program provided these high-level managers and executives with an understanding of U.S. road construction methodologies and management practices and enabled them to return home with the skills and knowledge necessary to implement change.
The discussion at the job site covered a broad range of topics, said TDOT spokesman Travis Brickey.
The foreign visitors quizzed officials from contractor Ray Bell Construction Co. about engineering and construction methods. They watched as crews poured 6,500 cu. yds. (4,970 cu m) of concrete for a bridge deck.
Brickey said the SABIT participants were amazed at the scope of the workforce at this job site. One asked how many subcontractors were working with Ray Bell. When the answer came back, Brickey said they thought they meant 70 people — not 70 different companies.
Among the lighter-hearted moments of the trip came when one participant asked about the contractor’s profit margin on the job.
“Everybody was laughing, but the question was never answered,” Brickey said.
The SmartFIX40 project was chosen as a training site because of its unique traits. The tour/training will highlight the use of many modern design, engineering, construction and management techniques including:
• the accelerated construction schedule
• complete closure of roadways to allow around-the-clock work
• the use of latest technology, materials and equipment
• the implementation of innovative design philosophies
• the focus placed on public information and involvement
• the availability of project information through resources such as the community center, hotline and Web site
• the high level of coordination among TDOT, local officials, businesses and residents on a consistent basis
“It is clear that very serious efforts have been made on the part of TDOT and the contractors,” said Aleksey Markov, department head of road construction for the Russian Ministry of Construction and SABIT participant. “This is a very complex project and we are extremely impressed by the coordination of work, speed and uniqueness of the project. We could tell that both TDOT and the contractors are working very hard to build a high quality project in a small amount of time.”
SmartFIX40 is TDOT’s single most expensive construction project in its 90-year history. Broken into two separate construction contracts, SmartFIX40 has a price tag of approximately $190 million. SmartFIX is an accelerated construction process used by the department to speed up construction. It involves closing the primary roadway to allow around-the-clock work that is uninterrupted by traffic in order to dramatically reduce the time it takes to complete the project, thereby reducing the long-term inconvenience to drivers. Using the SmartFIX concept is expected to save more than two years of construction time.
The SABIT delegation also visited the Cumberland Gap Tunnel, a project that was completed in the 1990s.
In addition to seeing construction equipment in action, the group also got to see how it’s made. They spent time at the Astec and Roadtec manufacturing plants in Chattanooga, Tenn., taking tours and discussing asphalt mixing and recycling.
Spokeswoman Stephanie Rider said many in the group were interested in American techniques to achieve proper density and smoothness.
But it wasn’t all business for the Eurasian delegation.
They attended a Chattanooga Lookouts game — a Cincinnati Reds minor league team — where they got to witness a home run. They also sampled beer at a local brewery and feasted on MoonPies, which are made in Chattanooga.