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The Future Is Now

Mon May 05, 2008 - Southeast Edition
Jeff Brooks

FDOT’s Design/Build/Finance Contract at the $430.5 Million iROX Project Is the First of Many to Come

Ask any contractor who has worked on a major road construction project and they can probably tell you horror stories about irate drivers who hurl insults — or worse — at work crews.

That’s not the case on the long-awaited, much debated Interstate 75 Road Expansion (iROX) project in southwest Florida.

“The first couple of days we had crews out there working, people were actually driving by honking favorably to the guys out there getting the project started,” said David Parks, iROX project public information officer. “They were very appreciative of getting the project under way.”

That’s not surprising considering the 30-mi. (48 km) stretch of I-75 from Golden Gate Parkway in Collier County to Colonial Boulevard (State Road 884) in Lee County is one of the most heavily traveled and congested roads in Florida, with about 100,000 motorists daily.

The iROX project includes resurfacing the existing four lanes of I-75 and adding one new 12-ft. (3.6 m) travel lane northbound and southbound with 10-ft. (3 m) shoulders. The $430.5 million project is being built by ACCI/API, a joint venture between Anderson Columbia Company Inc. (ACCI), one of the largest highway construction firms in the Southeast, and Ajax Paving Industries (API). HDR Engineering is designing the project. Metric Engineering is providing construction engineering and inspection services for the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT).

FDOT received bids for the project in February 2007 and awarded the contract to ACCI/API the following month.

Happy drivers aren’t the only unusual aspect of iROX. At the October groundbreaking ceremony, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist said iROX, the most expensive single road project in state history, would serve as a model for future state and national projects.

“It’s a great new model for Florida and for America,” Crist said. “I’m very excited about this. The idea is to shorten the process and get things started more quickly. That’s our job in government. In the Declaration of Independence, it says everyone has the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Stuck in traffic on I-75 is not a happy time.”

iROX is using a design/build/finance contract, which allows contractors to borrow money to complete the project and include the cost of financing in their bids. Transportation officials say the innovative approach will cut about five years from the project’s expected completion date, which is scheduled for December 2010. The method allows the state to pay contractors over five years, though the project should be complete in three.

There’s also an incentive in the contract for contractors to complete the job ahead of schedule. It calls for a bonus of $100,000 each day up to $15 million.

“I am absolutely excited about it because of the cost savings,” U.S. Rep. Connie Mack IV said after the ceremony. “You can do it quicker and you can do it better this way. I think people in different parts of the country are going to look at this project and say, this is the way you do road projects.”

Funding for iROX comes from five sources:

• State and federal dollars in FDOT’s five-year work program

• $106 million in growth management funds from the 2005 legislation

• $4 million from the Transportation Regional Incentive Program

• $81 million secured by Mack and U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart

• $16 million from Collier County

“Usually a project of this size has a five to eight year window for completion,” Parks said. “We’re looking at just a little more than three years to complete the project. As the design team designs the project and the guys are out there building it, they can work things out as they go as opposed to having long delays with a more traditional project.

“We expect this will be the future of how projects are built.”

Felipe Jaramillo, project control manager of Ajax Paving, also sees iROX as a precedent-setting project.

“This is our first team project,” Jaramillo said. “The job was so big not one of us could tackle it by ourselves. Is this a trend? That’s what the industry says. Jobs are going to be bigger and companies are going to need a joint venture to get the project done. It saves time and money. It’s the way of the future.”

Currently, iROX just passed the six-month mark and is ahead of schedule, said Parks.

“So far things are going well,” Parks said. “Work is going on throughout the 30-mile corridor and, at one section, the new inside lane and inside shoulder are paved and we’ve actually started resodding the center median in that area.”

Parks said there are between 300 and 400 workers on site, working almost around the clock, though most of the major work is done at night to minimize traffic concerns. They are keeping two lanes of traffic during the day with no detours. There have been some ramp closures while the repaving work was being completed.

Jaramillo said there have been “no surprises” at this point.

“It’s just a simple widening job.” Jaramillo said. “We’re all waiting for something bad to happen, but nothing so far and hopefully it won’t.”

While a job this size offers many challenges, Jaramillo said the biggest is coordinating all the players, including about 50 subcontractors working the project. Some of the bigger names include LaMar, which is doing the earthwork; Leware, which is doing the bridge work; and Guyman-Cubana, which is handling the drainage work.

Tampa Bay-based Turtle Southeast Inc. is the subcontractor handling the milling work. According to Turtle President Dave Ando, the $1.7 million milling contract is the largest the company has ever received.

“We’ve been on that project since October and I’d say we’re 70 percent through,” Ando said. “We’ve got about the whole mainline done at least through four of the sections.”

Ando said Turtle has been using the Pave Smart System on iROX, which has helped save time and money.

“Basically, the concept behind it is the existing roadway is profiled with custom equipment and they take the data on the existing roadway and measure it in three spots on a lane,” Ando said. “That data is then manipulated with the end product in mind as far as the finished grade. It can be inputted into a unit that attaches to the milling machine and it establishes the grades that will be cut.”

Ando said for a project this size, Pave Smart can come in handy because if “you’re doing any kind of shoulder work you’ll need to establish a grade on the roadway first. We were able to take care of the shoulder by having the grade automatically dialed in. They are also able to balance the milling to meet the standards they need for slope and minimum depths.”

Ando said the labor costs are still the same for the milling but as far as profiling the road it’s cost prohibitive to survey it. Ando is using standard milling machines — Roadtec RX700 and RX60C with a 12-ft. (3.6 m) cutter head. Turtle owns all its equipment

“At one time we had five machines working in different areas,” said Ando, adding he’s running two to five three-person crews with one person overseeing the work.

As might be expected, almost every type of equipment can be found along the 30-mi. route.

“It’s the whole gamut,” Jaramillo said. “American cranes, milling machines, pavers, trucks, boring machines for the storm water pipes, Cat excavators — it’s all out here.”

Parks said one piece of equipment they’re using that is relatively new is the Gomaco trimmer to set the preparation of the roadway surface. The trimmer can mill to within 1/8 of an inch for each layer of soil as they prep it.

It’s not just equipment being used in large numbers. According to Parks, they will use 2 million cu. yd. (1.5 million cu m) of fill dirt, coming mostly from the 23 retention ponds being built, 8,000 cu. yd. (6,100 cu m) of structural concrete, 400,000 tons (363,000 t) of asphalt pavement, 1 million tons (907,000 t) of lime rock and 1.75 million sq. yd. (1.46 million sq m) of sod.

Like any project, safety tops the challenge list and Ando said this job is one of the best when it comes to protecting workers and the public.

“There’s very stringent safety, more stringent than any job I’ve seen because all of it is nighttime work and the amount of traffic on that roadway is enormous,” Ando said. “There’s a lot of attention to safety, getting trucks in and out of the closures.”

Because of the project’s scope, Ando said coordinating the work has been the biggest challenge.

“It’s the scheduling of the work because of the scope of it,” Ando said. “Also because they’ve compacted the work they’re really pushed to organize things. They publish all plans electronically and you can download scheduled plans. Communication is the key. It’s one of the best projects we’ve worked on as far as safety and coordination. That all goes to the effort of everybody working together.”

At this point, Turtle’s portion of iROX is ahead of schedule and that’s good news for Ando who wants to get as much done as possible before Florida’s rainy season begins.

“No surprises, nothing too far out of the ordinary,” Ando said. “I think just the scope of the project is what makes it unusual. I just hope it rains on the weekend or I lose work.”

When complete, iROX will offer immediate relief to motorists, but project officials also are anticipating future growth. Ando said much of the pond and drainage work being done now is in preparation for future expansion plans.

“The main thing is traffic flow,” Ando said. “They are widening all the bridges for an additional lane to accommodate future growth. It’s a lot easier and cheaper to do. All the base materials will already be in there.”

Parks said iRox is introducing a new element to I-75.

“One new thing that will happen for the first time on I-75 will be emergency stopping sites [ESS] — aka accident investigation sites,” Parks said. “There will be a strip of asphalt along the exits so folks can move their cars out of the flow of traffic if there’s an accident or they break down.”

Located at exit ramps and marked with signs, these areas are set aside for motorists with partially disabled vehicles, law enforcement, fire-rescue and other public service vehicles. People involved in accidents have a place to exchange information, and law enforcement officers can complete accident report forms, away from moving traffic.

As the project moves into phase two, which includes building the new inside lanes and 24 new bridges at 12 different locations, Jaramillo said the plan is just to “get it done.”

“It’s been a long time coming and people down here are excited about the job,” Jaramillo said. “They can’t wait until it’s done.”

Cape Coral resident Eileen Crowley said she travels extensively on I-75 for work. She is a sales manager for Marriott, which is housing some of the builders working on the project.

“This should be exciting for everybody,” Crowley said. “Personally, it’s definitely something that’s needed because I travel between all three of our hotels along I-75. Professionally, I’d say it’s also terrific for all the guests who come to this area.” CEG

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