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New Honda Plant Drives Need for Roads

Mon October 20, 2008 - Midwest Edition
Lori Lovely

When Indiana constructed a new Honda plant, Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) crews rushed to meet deadlines on nearby roadways for the plant, which began full operation in October. The completed roadways allowed its employees to get to work on time.

In 2006, Indiana won a five-way bidding war with Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Kentucky for a new Honda Motor assembly plant, the sixth factory in North America for the second-biggest Japanese automaker (behind Toyota). Honda began operations in the United States in 1959 with the establishment of American Honda Motor Co. Inc., its first overseas subsidiary. U.S. production operations began in 1979.

Honda has invested more than $8.5 billion in its North American operations with 13 major manufacturing plants, more than 33,000 employees and the annual purchase of more than $16 billion in parts and materials from North American suppliers. Nearly 8 out of 10 Honda and Acura cars and light trucks sold in America are produced in North America.

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels launched an aggressive campaign to attract the car builder to offset domestic auto company and parts supplier factory closures and provide new jobs. Daniels told the New York Times, “These are the jobs we seek for Hoosiers most avidly — high-paying jobs, stable jobs. These are the jobs that Hoosiers admire most.”

Honda is expected to hire 2,000 workers to build 200,000 fuel-efficient 4-cylinder vehicles every year.

Honda has invested $550 million to build the plant on a 1,700-acre tract in Decatur County in southeastern Indiana near Greensburg. The state is investing approximately $140 million: $40 million goes directly to Honda, which some sources consider a bargain considering that Alabama spent $158 million to entice Honda to build a factory and nearly twice that much to win over Mercedes-Benz.

The state will invest $45 million for roads and infrastructure to serve the plant and another $50 million-plus will go toward improvements in the area in anticipation of growth spurred by the plant.

Despite the numbers, Honda said its decision was based less on the dollar figures than on proximity to its engine plant, research and development center and its network of suppliers in Ohio.

Building Better Roads for New Car Builder

Part of the infrastructure improvement package developed in cooperation with local and state governments includes highway improvements in the area, site and infrastructure improvements and funds to train new Honda employees. Funding for new and improved roadways comes from Gov. Daniels’ Major Moves plan.

Billed as “transportation enhancements” that will “allow for further economic development and growth,” the project includes two contracts. Contract 1 was let in April 2007 and won by Valley Asphalt Corporation of Cincinnati, Ohio, for $25,887,825. It involves work on U.S. 421 and Old U.S. 421 (Old Michigan Road) and portions of the Overpass Road project between Old Michigan Road and CR 240 West. The overpass will feature concrete pavement and the new road will be asphalt.

Contract 2 was let in July 2007 and was won by Milestone Contractors LLP of Columbus, Ind., for $26,986,300. It involves work on the Interstate 74/U.S. 421 interchange.

U.S. 421 northbound from S.R. 3 was a two-lane road with one access to westbound I-74. The rest, explained Jason Bunselmeier, area construction manager for INDOT, was county road frontage that paralleled I-74. This project will follow SR 3 north to a new full interchange that replaces a single ramp, continuing north to the Honda plant. The two-lane road along the Honda plant will become a four-lane.

“It’s going from an 18-foot wide chip and seal to a four-lane asphalt surface with curb and gutter,” said Bunselmeier.

The county will maintain both sections.

In preparation for the contracts, early last year, crews relocated CR 300 to the north.

“Old 300 ran through the parcel of land,” Bunselmeier explained.

Additional right-of-way had to be obtained, as well, which added to the cost of the project, although the added expense was somewhat mitigated because Honda deeded 1,700 acres of land it purchased.

“We obtained quite a lot of new right-of-way — mostly north of 74.”

In Top Gear

Work is on schedule, Bunselmeier said.

“It’s an extremely fast job: $52 million of road work in 14 months — if we get done by the end of June.”

The project entailed reconstruction of U.S. 421 and old U.S. 421, reconstruction of the I-74 and U.S. 421 interchange, realignment of CR 300 North, reconstruction and extension of CR 250 West and construction of a new overpass. The contracts also include construction of four bridges: three bulb T structures and one slab top. Two interstate bridges were widened and overlaid with modified latex.

Contract 2 wrapped up in June and Contract 1 was completed in July. In early June, Bunselmeier listed the agenda for both contracts. On the first contract, slip-forming for the sidewalks has been completed. Curb and ramp patching were performed one week, followed by surface and striping work the next week.

On the second contract, he said all the concrete pavement was completed by the end of the first week of June.

To maintain the fast pace, crews sometimes worked six days a week.

“It depends on where we are and how we need to progress,” said Bunselmeier. He explained that several crews were at work during the project’s multiple phases, and sometimes overlapped.

“On the 421 job, we worked in different areas to get things ready so guys could pave all night. We worked some 24-hour shifts and long hours. Currently, we’re working 5 to 6 days a week.”

On the interchange job, he said dirt crews worked 12-hour days seven days a week for six weeks to move 4,000 cu. yd. (3,060 cu m) of common excavation.

Over the course of the project approximately 507,063 cu. yd. (387,680 cu m) of common excavation was moved. Other materials and their quantities included: borrow, 271,771 cu. yd. (207,780 cu m); subgrade treatment, 330,171 sq. yd. (276,070 sq m); chemical modification of soils (lime drying), 60,975 tons (55,315 t); compacted aggregate/No. 53 stone, 216,260 tons (196,190 t); PCCP (concrete pavement), 151,034 sq. yd. (126,280 sq m); reinforcing steel, 1,509,100 lbs. (684,516 kg); HMA, 101,312 tons (91,908 t); and MSE wall, 2,070 sq. ft. (1,730 sq m).

“We were lucky to have dry weather last year when we were doing dirt work. It let them remain on schedule. This year, we’ve had a wet spring.”

The weather may have been cooperative, but one thing that threatened the schedule was utility relocation and placement.

“There were two water companies involved,” Bunselmeier elaborates, “as well as multiple cable, phone and power companies.”

“It was tough with everyone trying to occupy the same spot, plus working around the Honda construction team,” Bunselmeier continued. “There was a tremendous amount of traffic.”

Although the Honda plant isn’t fully operational, prior to mass production, about 400 employees are conducting trial runs in preparation for start-up — in addition to Honda construction crews finishing work on the plant.

Not All Talk

Because of the large volume of traffic generated by multiple crews, INDOT set up weekly meetings that included all contractors, sub-contractors, utilities and Honda representatives. The all-day, every Tuesday meetings were such a success that the local utility companies have now established similar procedures on a monthly basis for all other area projects.

“It was a good idea; it worked well. It was tough to take a whole day out of our weekly schedule, but by bringing everyone together, we could share information and make decisions,” Bunselmeier said.

Good communication was particularly important because the head design firm, American Structure Point, is located in Indianapolis, 50 mi. from the work site. Bunselmeier said the Indianapolis supervisor comes “very seldom” because he has bigger problems elsewhere – meaning that things are running smoothly in Greensburg.

“It’s a partnership. Everyone comes together: INDOT, the designer, Honda … Everyone gives input.”

But the project that Bunselmeier calls unique because it’s not a design-build plan wasn’t a guaranteed success. As late as August 2006, he said INDOT didn’t know how many contracts or phases would be included. The biggest challenge was getting the design and construction people together to plan the project.

“We had to get all the documents, items and quantities together for the sections for letting.”

That isn’t easy, he said, when plans come together at such a late stage.

Good communication facilitated many aspects of the project from start to finish. Bunselmeier praised INDOT Seymour District Director of Public Information Marvin Jenkins for conveying information to the public and the media.

“Marvin and our project engineer worked well through press releases and the radio with corresponding where we were working and why.”

Jenkins credited tours and onsite meetings for getting politicians and the news media on board. In addition, the city of Greensburg assisted with notifying property and business owners about closures and all INDOT supervisors had mass email lists to notify about upcoming closures. Bunselmeier said they were pleasantly surprised by public reaction, which was due in large measure to the spread of information.

“A lot of people were impacted.”

Communication also impacted safety, with daily briefings in the form of “truck box speeches.” But Bunselmeier credited an official action for the good safety record of only three minor accidents.

“We had money for police patrols every day. That kept speeds at the reduced limit of 55 mph.”

He said that INDOT determined that with the rate of traffic and the length of the lane closures, 55 mph was better suited than the common 45 mph construction zone speed limit. Another alteration they made to standard procedures was to move the work zone speed limit closer to the work area.

“We brought the 70-to-55 mph zone closer to the work area so people wouldn’t ignore it,” Bunselmeier explained. “If you reduce speed too far away and people don’t see actual work, they ignore the speed limit reduction.”

The plan appears to have worked, with only three traffic incidents: one in which a car hit an orange barrel and two that involved contractor dump trucks.

“It’s very impressive,” Bunselmeier said.

INDOT tried to ensure that construction access didn’t impact traffic, which he credited for reducing the number of traffic incidents.

Hitting the Road

Reducing the interface between construction vehicles and traffic was important because, as Bunselmeier stated, the equipment on the job was “nothing special, but there was a lot of it.” He listed the typical scrapers, excavators and cranes, but said 10-15 crews working in small, compact areas at once was a challenge, especially because they kept the area open to traffic (one lane during the winter).

Traffic maintenance particularly concerned Honda, which, although present for regular construction meetings, had little input beyond delivery of materials such as stamping machines and paint rigs. As far as Honda was concerned, one of the critical components of the job was maintaining the overpass as a truck route to provide access to and from the interstate.

Due to public concern regarding the removal of the existing frontage road near the new interchange, it was reconnected to the overpass in the northeast quadrant. A connector road from Overpass Road to the existing frontage road just north of the proposed overpass bridge also was added to the scope of the work.

The contracts didn’t include any incentives to finish early, Bunselmeier said, because the deadlines were so tight. Instead, they included liquidated damages clauses – which he believes add more of a stimulus for the contractors in situations like this.

A few surprises and unplanned-for additions challenged those clauses. INDOT had to remove an old maintenance unit at the interchange because one new cloverleaf was designed to cover that area. The unit, sheltering snow plows and other equipment) was moved to a cul de sac near the plant.

Easily fixed, that didn’t create the panic another surprise nearly spawned.

“We showed up for work one day and saw a crew — working on a separate contract — digging a 30-foot hole on our site. It had something to do with environmental issues.”

Honda made a commitment to limit the environmental impact of the new Indiana plant, employing advanced methods of energy and emission reduction with the goal of becoming a “zero waste-to-landfill” factory. Every major Honda plant in North America (except a new transmission plant in Georgia) has met the ISO 14001 international environmental management standards.

A potential crisis averted, INDOT crews forged ahead with work on their compressed schedule. CEG

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