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Fast-Track Design Key to $2.8B Katy Reconstruction

Tue February 06, 2007 - Midwest Edition
David Chartock

Fast track design and construction continues to reconstruct the Katy Freeway (IH-10) in Houston, according to David Milner, program manager for PB, the project’s General Engineering Consultant (GEC). The Houston District of the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) is the project’s owner in charge of providing an adequate transportation system to meet the future traffic demand.

TxDOT studied the options and offered a prioritized cost-effective set of solutions. Improvements to IH 10 (Katy Freeway) was part of the statewide mobility plan that employed a corridor-wide approach. TxDOT outsourced management of the project to a general engineering consultant (GEC) and engineering to 10 design teams.

PB, the district’s GEC, performed all aspects of project planning and reported to the Texas Transportation Commission, attorney general’s office, state and federal audit offices.

Planning for the $2.8 billion project began in 1995 and designed in 2000. Construction commenced in 2003 and was intended to reduce congestion, accidents, and flooding of main lanes and frontage roads.

The contractors, Balfour Beatty Construction, Inc. of Katy, Texas, and Williams Brothers Construction of Houston, continue to work 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week, with a labor force that exceeds 2,000 per day. The entire project is expected to be completed by December 2008.

The reconstruction will widen 23 mi. (37 km) of interstate highway and frontage roads from 250 to 410 ft. (76 to 125 m). Four general purpose lanes, two managed lanes, three frontage road lanes, shoulders and auxiliary lane upgrades in each direction will meet current interstate highway standards.

Reconstruction work included work done on two mi. (3.2 km) of I-610, along with two freeway interchanges, 27 grade-separated intersections and new toll lanes. More than $400 million in utility relocation was part of the project’s scope that entails design of corridor-wide components such as high-mast lighting, intelligent transportation systems, sound walls, landscaping and large sign support structures.

“All of the work must be performed in the midst of active traffic,” Milner noted. “A complex phasing scheme has been implemented to ensure this is accomplished with minimal disruption.”

Milner indicated that the fast-tracking design and construction topped the list of project challenges. “The solution to fast-tracking design was to manage the design in 10 sections and establish a milestone schedule,” he explained. “If milestone deadlines were jeopardized, PB assigned design managers to oversee the work of critical section designers and, if need be, worked overtime to assure deadlines would be met.”

Fast tracking the construction required the work to be scheduled where there was right-of-way available, Milner pointed out. “Weekly coordination meetings were held with representatives from the state attorney general’s office to accelerate priority acquisition of property and to execute multi-million dollar utility agreements,” he said. “All in an effort to get the contractor on site as soon as property was available.”

Fast-tracking efforts involved coordinating joint trench occupancy construction for multiple utilities. During the early design phase, PB prepared a feasibility study to develop a single tunnel for all utilities. Contract language was included to identify the controls placed on the contractors, who agreed to coordinate and allow room for utility companies to work in their respective work zones.

All the utility companies participated along with the contractors’ representatives in the weekly partnering meetings, according to Milner. “The two groups were brought into the ’team’ to develop solutions,” he explained. “Local utility companies were able to arrange for crews to be borrowed from other parts of the U.S. They came to Houston to facilitate utility relocation once rights-of-way were acquired. This work also was fast-tracked with crews working around the clock.”

TxDOT encouraged contractors to review plans at various stages of completion of the design, according to Milner. Changes were made to designs to address concerns of those contractors.

Another project challenge was traffic control and maintenance. “Over a third of the drawings developed by critical section designers were for traffic control,” Milner noted. “These elaborate plans were reviewed by all stakeholders during the design phase to gain a buy-in, allowing construction to proceed without delay. Accordingly, contract specifications were developed to define the constraints on the contractors’ time and when travel lanes could be closed.”

Contractors secured their own additional right of way to deal with limited space. As a result, special equipment was used that included low-head cranes. Those low-head cranes, supported by other special construction techniques, had been used to install drill shafts and partial concrete structural columns for the new connectors under or near the existing structures. Open portions of the new highway were converted to temporary storage of bridge beams.

Milner suggested a proactive public outreach program, which has been critical to the project. A Web site encouraged alternate travel routes and responses.

The use of incentives helped expedite the construction work. This forced contractors to remain focused on the project’s completion by 2008, according to Milner. Depending upon the particular contract and critical phase or step of construction, the early completion incentives ranged from $5,000 to $75,000 per day to capture a maximum incentive pool of $64,750,000. Liquidated damages were assessed at similar rates as incentives depending upon how critical the particular phase or step of construction was to the overall completion of the project.

To date, all interim milestones have been met and the maximum incentives have been paid.

By March 2007, a significant phase of construction will commence involving the reconstruction of the Beltway 8 Interchange and direct ramp connectors.

The work helped relieve traffic flow on the existing ramp connections between IH 10 and Beltway 8 (outer toll road loop around the city of Houston), which will be taken out of service and replaced with new ramps.

Major drainage and surface road improvements as well as reconstructing IH 10 main lanes past the Beltway interchange were completed in January, so the existing interchange ramps can be sequentially closed to traffic and demolished to make way for new structures.

The contractor, working with TxDOT, has developed a revised plan that involves taking three ramps out of service at a time, rather than the original plan of two at a time. This revised sequencing will save a total estimated eight months in construction. The completion of work at the Beltway 8 Interchange remains the controlling construction activity in order to meet the anticipated 2008 substantial completion of the program.

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