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Finished Calif. Freeway Nets Large Bonus

Tue June 26, 2007 - Midwest Edition
Frank Hartzell

During his career, C.C. Meyers and his construction company have been called bold, innovative, even brash or “cowboy.”

Now millions of Californians are happy to tip a cowboy hat to C.C. Meyers.

Company fans range from California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to the 280,000 commuters in the Bay Area who use the “MacArthur Maze” freeway interchange every day and are now thrilled the company completed repairs way ahead of schedule.

The MacArthur Maze or often just “The Maze” refers to the intertwined freeways Interstate 80, Interstate 580, Interstate 880, Interstate 980, and California state Route 24 at the eastern end of the Bay Bridge.

The $5-million bonus the company got was just icing on the cake of a job well-done and traffic getting back to its normal headache status.

The company bid the job at what could have been a huge loss. They were counting on beating the 50-day estimate Caltrans provided and collecting a big bonus. If C.C. Meyers had done it in 25 days, the firm would have collected a record $5 million. True to his image and bold prophesies for TV cameras, Meyers defied skeptics and finished the project in just 16 days.

Things looked much more bleak on April 29 when a gasoline tanker truck overturned and exploded into flames on the freeway that connects westbound I-80 to southbound I-880. Although the driver was able to escape, the fireball generated such intense heat that it caused the steel frame supporting I-580 directly above to bend and collapse, leaving a terrifying gap where the elevated freeway had been. It also scarred and damaged I-880.

The two freeway connectors were quickly barricaded and detours set up. Everybody, from commuters to experts interviewed on television, speculated this would take months to rebuild.

The morning of April 20, Caltrans engineers scrambled to the still-hot freeway ruins, dug old Maze plans out of a basement in Sacramento and used television news footage to help see exactly what the job ahead would be.

The Monday after the I-580 connector collapsed, demolition crews cleared what was left after the fire. On the fourth day after the collapse there was the stunning good news from the state that the I-880 concrete and structure had survived the fire in good shape. The freeway connector could be supported with temporary braces while workers heat-treated twisted steel girders underneath. Contractor ACC West completed the emergency work in just one week, and I-880 was reopened to traffic.

Millions of dollars were being lost in the Bay Area economy by unprecedented delays from the loss of a key connector between north and south. So Caltrans skipped advertising for bidding and came up with a list of potential contractors it knew could do the work.

The emergency-repair contract was designed to encourage speedy work by offering a $200,000 daily bonus — with a maximum of $5 million — for completing work early, while assessing a $200,000 daily penalty for missing the deadline.

Caltrans estimated the job to cost $5.2 million. On May 7, officials opened seven sealed bids.

California Engineering Contractors bid $1.1 million, which surprised onlookers, according to published reports. Even more surprising was the winning bid by C.C. Myers Inc. at $867,075.

Myers himself promised live on Bay Area TV News to complete the job in 25 days — half of Caltrans’ estimate, and just in time to collect the full $5 million bonus. As it turned out, even he underestimated his own ability.

In Lathrop, Calif., concrete fabrication firm ConFab started building the most important component — a big, rectangular concrete block. That block, filled with steel reinforcement bars and cables, is what’s known to road builders as a bent cap —a 243,750-lb. (110,560 kg) beam that sits atop two columns and supports the frame of the elevated roadway, according to published reports.

One of the keys to Meyers’ success was coordinating the equipment needed for the subcontractors work to fall into place.

“Having the right equipment was critical to the entire operation from the first moment that Cleveland Wrecking came on to stabilize the site and make it safe to assess the damage, right to the manlifts needed to build the falsework and take it down, as well as the cranes needed to lift the girders and set the bent cap,” said Linda Clifford, CFO of C.C. Meyers.

While the bent cap was being built, steel from Pennsylvania and Texas was brought on rush orders to Stinger Welding, a steel fabrication firm in Arizona. Published reports indicated that Carl Douglas, president of Stinger, found in Pennsylvania the nation’s only supply of the 2-in. (5 cm) steel plate needed to make the bottom flange of the steel girders. Additionally, Douglas found the .5-in. (1.2 cm) and 1-in. (2.5 cm) steel needed for the rest of the girders in Texas. The Texas steel was transported on trucks with two drivers in each rig so they could make the trips with fewer stops.

Caltrans sent inspectors and engineers — all authorized to make on-the-spot decisions — to answer questions and ensure the quality of the fabrication in Arizona. Caltrans and Stinger agreed to use a more expensive, but faster, style of producing steel girders with the required strength.

The first two girders were completed on May 14 — just four days after Stinger started working and seven days into C.C. Myers’ contract — and were on the way to the Bay Area that day.

They were roughed up and then painted gray by ABC Painting at the old Mare Island Naval Shipyard in Vallejo.

The bent cap arrived early, and C.C. Myers became the target of the gaze of a large gathered crowd of towering TV cameras, reporters and some members of the public.

Two 300-ton (272 t) cranes did a double-pick of the bent cap from opposite sides of the freeway below and worked night and day to lift four big girders.

Two more girders arrived each subsequent night, and they were put in place without difficulty.

As soon as each pair was secured, workers started installing the wooden forms and steel-reinforcement bar for the concrete roadway. On a typical job, by contrast, the contractor would wait until the girders were all installed before preparing for the concrete pour.

There were many examples on the job of time-cutting measures, but Caltrans and the contractor maintain no quality corners were cut.

Instead of requiring the contactor to wait for detailed construction drawings to be approved, the state allowed the contractor to go ahead and approve the plans in the field. In addition to taking core samples of the columns and roadways that survived the inferno and testing them days after the collapse, Caltrans engineers took samples of the concrete from each pour of the deck and walls. Those samples were subjected to crush tests at the department’s Sacramento laboratory to determine their strength, sources reported.

C.C. Meyers earned its reputation for speedy work by rebuilding the Santa Monica Freeway in 66 days after the 1994 Northridge earthquake.

Equipment functioned flawlessly during the MacArthur job, C.C. Meyers Inc. reported. That was due in large part to the time the firm devotes to maintenance.

“We have a great process for maintaining our equipment, and we rent from the best companies, like Hertz Rental Equipment and others,” Clifford said.

“We also had a mechanic on-site full-time and backup resources on standby,” said Gary Janco, C.C. Meyers vice president and manager of the equipment division.

He listed the most important equipment to this job: “Light plants, a Bidwell, boom trucks for barrier rail, scaffolding for safe access.”

Contrary to many news accounts, C.C. Meyers Inc. did not work nonstop during those historic 16 days.

“We probably never had more than 25 to 40 workers of our own on the job. Subcontractors had workers on the job, and suppliers had workers in their facilities [like Stinger Steel and ConFab], up to probably 100 plus who worked on the job materials and products. We didn’t work 24/7 every day … only during special operations such as setting the bent cap and then the girders and then pouring the deck,” Clifford said.

The quick fix brought not just a smiling celebrity governor to a special reopening party, it has prompted a debate in the state legislature.

With two Bay Area bridge projects billions beyond budget and years behind, the legislature wants to consider ways of using bonuses more often in the future. Caltrans commonly uses bonuses and penalties in all contracts.

The job is estimated to have cost the firm $2.6 million.

So what will C.C. Meyers do with all that money? Caltrans and company officials remind jealous third parties that the job was bid way under cost and that nobody will be pocketing five large or even $2.4 million.

But the company doesn’t deny this will be great for its reputation and future contracts.

“Part of the bonus will be used to cover costs,” said Clifford. “Part of the bonus will be shared with subcontractors and suppliers, part of the bonus will go to the employees, and part of the bonus will be used to cover overhead and administration. Whatever’s left will go into profit for the company and to buy new equipment.” CEG

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