ROC 52 Highway Project Ready to Roll

Wed January 18, 2006 - Midwest Edition
Dick Rohland

Motorists driving on Highway 52 through Rochester, MN, found instant relief from highway construction and congested traffic after crews poured the final yards of concrete on a mammoth road reconstruction project. Rochester is home to more than 92,000 people and the internationally known Mayo Clinic.

Dubbed ROC 52, the road work literally rocked while work crews blazed through reconstructing 11 mi. (18 km) of Hwy. 52 from 85th St. NW, 5 mi. (8 km) north of downtown Rochester to Hwy 63, 6 mi. (9.5 km) south of town in approximately three years. Road workers completed most of the road work in September.

To celebrate, the state held a ribbon-cutting party in early October to celebrate with the public a project that, according to media reports, turned out to be “the most technically proficient construction activity this community has ever seen.”

Keeping in mind the current Average Daily Traffic count of 54,000 and the projected 2025 year ADT of 114,000, the project had a mix of goals including replacing worn pavement, improving the carrying capacity on this stretch of the highway, reducing an accident rate that was 36 percent higher than the state average and providing a safer, more connected frontage road system.

The project, which translates to 90 lane mi. (150 km) over 11 mi. (18 km) called for widening this stretch of highway from four lanes to six.

Along the way, work crews reconstructed four interchanges and added a fifth on this road segment. They built or reconstructed frontage roads over most of the project zone, hoisted steel and concrete for two new overpasses and 24 bridges and raised sound-blocking walls totaling 230,000 sq. ft. (21,400 sq m).

Construction began in the spring of 2003 with the reconstruction of frontage roads, raising temporary bridges and temporarily widening the road in preparation for mainline construction in 2004 and 2005. Construction crews kept two lanes of traffic moving during daylight hours throughout the project’s duration.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) contracted with Zumbro River Constructors out of Rochester, MN, in the fall of 2002. Coming in with a $232 million bid, it was $7 million less than the state estimate and $30 million less than the nearest bidder.

State and federal funds paid for most of the project costs with the city of Rochester and Olmstead County kicking in the remainder of the funds for portions of the frontage road construction and aesthetic improvements.

Key sub-contractors included Ames Construction of Burnsville, MN, and Edward Kraemer & Sons from Plain, WI. Ames completed the road work while Kraemer erected all of the bridges along the project. Fluor Corporation of Aliso Viejo, CA, stepped in to help manage the project.

URS Corporation, headquartered in San Francisco, CA, with a Minneapolis, MN, office, designed the road during the construction. URS offers planning, design, program and construction management services in a broad range of construction activities.

In total, more than 55 companies and contractors teamed together to bring the project from the drawing board to a completely new road to ease traffic congestion and improve safety through the heart of Rochester.

It took a small army of workers and equipment to complete the project in record time. Approximately 300 workers from ZRC alone and hundreds of pieces of heavy equipment including cranes, backhoes, graders, dozers and trucks representing most of the major manufacturing lines made it happen.

Quantities included 300,000 cu. yds. (229,400 cu m) of concrete poured, 340,000 cu. yds. (260,000 cu. m) of removals, (enough to fill a 212 ft. (65 m) deep football field size hole), more than 1 million cu. yds. (724,500 cu m) of sand hauled and 3 million cu. yds. (2.3 million cu m) of earthwork.

Cranes hoisted into place 413 pre-cast concrete beams on 21 bridges totaling nearly 40,000 ft. (12,000 m) in length if placed end to end. Eighty percent of the aggregate base for the mainline road, 3 mi. (5 km) of sidewalk and curb was made from recycled materials.

State officials credit the finicky Minnesota climate, careful planning and coordination and relying on a first time process called ’design build, best value’ to complete the work in record time and whittle an 11 year construction schedule down to three years.

“We were comfortable with the schedule to complete the project and we always felt that we could complete it on schedule,” said Herb Morgan of Fluor and project manager for ROC 52. “It’s been a very good experience and demonstrated what design-build was intended to do; deliver a project quickly and on time.

“Certain factors had to come in line. The good weather early on in the project helped us a lot. The dry falls and mild winters allowed us to continue work on the structures.”

Final construction costs, which include more than $1.5 million awarded through project incentives, are expected to be around $239 million or just 3 percent higher than the bid estimate.

According to Terry Ward, MnDOT ROC 52 project manager, under the ’design build, best value process’ the project is undergoing design while construction work is in progress.

“For ROC 52, 30 percent of the design was already completed by the time the prime contractor came on board,” Ward explained. From that point on, while the contractor begins working on the first 30 percent of the project, “a private contractor bids the job, completes the design and builds it.”

An earlier analysis looked at economic impacts of the project to the traveling public and retail sales along the highway corridor and determined a five-year construction schedule would be the least harmful.

With 25 percent of the technical score rating for bids applied to accelerating the five year schedule, ZRC won the bid, Ward said, when the contractor set an Aug. 31, 2006 finish date, or three and-a-half years of scheduled construction. Along with the accelerated schedule, MnDOT included in the contract cash incentives to complete the job before that date.

“We, (MnDOT) had a $50,000 per day incentive for completing the job early; capped at 30 days which translates to $1.5 million and ZRC will receive the total incentive amount,” Ward said.

Even though Minnesota’s weather cooperated quite well for the construction crews over the three year construction schedule, Ward unabashedly credits the contractor for much of the success in completing the project ahead of schedule in record time.

“We had a design builder (ZRC) that came to town ready to do business. They brought a lot of manpower, a lot of equipment and a lot of horse power to get the job done,” Ward exclaimed. “We basically completed the whole job in three years, or three construction seasons, well ahead of the five year requirement, well ahead of ZRC’s three and a half years that they bid and we think that is a tremendous success story.”

It was not a smooth road, though, to success. Yet the design build team was able to flatten the rough spots and maintain forward progress without losing time by placing much of the responsibility of making field decisions on the delegated project managers of the job, Ward said.

“The design builder put a project manager on the job that had delegated authority for all decisions and they expected MnDOT to do the same,” Ward explained.

As project manager for MnDOT, that responsibility fell on Ward.

“As the MnDOT project manager, I was expected to come to the table and help resolve all project related issues without going out to a committee or some other group of folks. That tremendously accelerated the ability to make decisions on the job. When issues came up, the project team would solve them,” Ward explained.

Some of the challenges of this job, Ward noted, were maintaining two lanes of traffic each direction during construction, acquiring nearly 300 parcels of right-of-way while the project continued to progress, challenging site conditions and discovering underground utilities not located prior to the start of construction.

“We re-staged or re-phased a number of areas of the project to work around the numerous right-of-way constraints,” that popped up over the project, Ward noted.

An intense public relations strategy aimed at the traveling public, nearby homes and businesses also kept the community well informed and helped maintain peace in the community, Ward said.

Public relations relied on frequent media updates, the project Web site and hotline combined with tailored presentations to various community groups to saturate the community with construction updates, road closures and detour information.

“We have had what I believe is overwhelming public support. From my perspective, the PR has become integrated into the contractor’s business on our job,” Ward explained. “They brought it down to the field level. It’s really been a tremendous success story.”

“It takes a PR manager on the design builder side that understands local politics; it takes a PR manager on the design builder team that understands how MnDOT operates,” Ward added.

ZRC collected $100,000 as an incentive for the outstanding communications, which officials believe was well worth the cost for the public support for the project. And that became readily apparent to Ward at the ribbon-cutting party.

“We had 12 people plus the governor speak at our ribbon cutting. A lot of folks wanted to speak, which to me is a major statement on the success of the public relations,” Ward remarked.

Much of the heavy equipment is gone now in Rochester along with the hundreds of construction workers that came along with it. With smooth traffic flowing now on Hwy 52 through Rochester, the only remaining work is sidewalk construction, wall painting and turf placement, which should be completed by the spring. CEG

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