Doing things the Rea Way

Partnering and a commitment to quality helps Rea Construction Co., West Columbia, S.C., join the asphalt pantheon of Sheldon G. Hayes award winners

Lee Geistlinger / December 28, 2000

This is the '90s, and ways of doing business have changed with the times,
even for those in the asphalt-paving industry. While most paving projects
are "kicked off" with the milling of existing pavement or surveying
for a new road, the I&shyp;26 and Piney Grove Road Project in South Carolina
began a little differently.

As the Palmetto State DOT's first partnered project, the paving operation
got "underway" with a two-day meeting in early 1994. The meeting
took place in a rented conference room with aid of a professional facilitator.
Rea Construction Co., the contractors for the job, sat down with all other
parties involved in the project to discuss just what was going to occur
over the next year. This intense meeting attempted to uncover any potential
problems that would prevent the project from finishing on time; it also
examined ways to bring the "team" together to best accomplish
the project at hand.

The final results of that meeting could not be fully appreciated until over
a year later, when the extensive project was finished on May 30, 1995-right
on schedule and to considerable praise. Approximately six months later,
the I&shyp;26 and Piney Grove Road Project was awarded the prestigious National
Asphalt Pavement Association (NAPA) Sheldon G. Hayes award for 1995. This
annual award for quality paving is the highest such honor for an asphlat-paving
contractor (see related story, May 1996).

In February 1996, Randy Snow, Rea's vice president, and several other members
of Rea's staff traveled to San Antonio for the formal presentation of the
award at NAPA's annual conference. In accepting the award, Snow noted that
he didn't "think it was an accident that this project was the state's
first partnering project and the first in South Carolina to win the Hayes
award." He said that partnering and teamwork between the contractor,
the South Carolina DOT (SCDOT) and others was instrumental in the success
of the project.

Other factors also contributed to the award-winning caliber of the project;
not the least of which was Rea's company-wide commitment to quality. "This
award, like any award," says Snow, "is a celebration of teamwork
and what teamwork can accomplish. No one person can take credit for the
success of [this project]. All of the hardworking men and women of Rea-and
the other partners-deserve the credit."

Snow says this project has given Rea a great deal of publicity-both Cedarapids
Inc. and Roadtec Inc. have featured the project in promotional materials-but
adds this does not tell the entire story. "While there are all these
articles quoting [Rea's area operations manager] Ben Bass Jr. and me, it
is all the other people who made it possible."

Partnering is a topic that has received a great deal of publicity in recent
years; the 1995 Hayes award confirms that partnering can-and does-work for
those in the road- and bridge-construction industry.

The I&shyp;26 and Piney Grove Road Project was first brought to Rea's ("Rea"
is pronounced "Ray") attention by a SCDOT bid list in December
1993. The extensive project called for the milling and resurfacing of 22
lane-miles of I-26, the widening and reconstruction of four interchange
ramps to Piney Grove Road, the widening and reconstruction of a mile of
Piney Grove Road, the relocation of four existing frontage roads and the
expansion of the Piney Grove Bridge over I&shyp;26 from two to five lanes.
With the exception of the overlays on I&shyp;26 and concrete on the bridge
deck, all paving was full-depth asphalt.

While an ambitious project in itself, there were two other factors that
made this job even more challenging: The project was to be the first formal
contractor&shyp;DOT partnered project in the state's history; it also was
the first project in the state that would be awarded under the A+B bid method
(a method that takes into account the cost of the project [A] plus the time
[B] projected to do the work).

"Both A+B bidding and partnering are processes to try to get quality
into bid work," says Snow. "I think it does bring quality to the
construction process-it benefits the public, as well. You get companies
that are willing to go out there and do the work within the time limits."

In putting out the job for bid, SCDOT established a project limit of 579
days. Rea's bid was for a 450-day project, which-given the SCDOT estimate
of $6,000 per day in business- and motorist-delay costs-represented a saving
of $774,000. Rea's bid was accepted Jan. 24, 1994.

At this point, the formal partnering process began.

"Basically, all the players-DOT, federal highway, Rea, all subcontractors,
the utilities involved, design people, quality-control people-sat down in
a rented conference room, away from all of our offices," recalls Snow.
"We spent two days there; we said, 'What is going to keep us from saying-450
days from now-that we didn't do a very good job.' Also, we talked about
what we all needed to do so that we could finish in the 450 days."

Snow says all the talk hinged on one voiced perception: That an adversarial
relationship would make the existing schedule unrealistic. Instead, the
project's players decided to pull together and truly work as a team to finish
the project in the projected time frame.

While this may sound like a logical conclusion, contractors and DOT officials
sometimes work in an adversarial manner. At the NAPA award ceremony, Snow
elaborated: "I was once told by a highway inspector that 'It's impossible
for a contractor to not be doing something wrong, and it's my job to find
out what you've been doing wrong.' " It was this negative attitude
the partnering process strove to eliminate.

While this two-day meeting provided the fulcrum upon which the rest of the
project balanced, it was not the end of the partnering process. Each Thursday
afternoon, for the duration of the 450-day project, all players involved
in the current operation phase met for an informal partnering meeting. The
partners would plan the following week's work and-as they did at the formal
meeting-discuss what potential problems might prevent that week's efforts
from being completed.

"The primary focus was on the time and the $6,000 a day penalty [if
the project ran late]," Snow says. "However, with partnering,
time is important, but so is job quality and safety, too." These meetings
helped drive home the need for a job done well and safely; at the same time,
they provided a forum to outline work so that this quality could be achieved
in an expeditious manner.

Actual work on the project began, as planned, on March 7, 1994. The first
phase of the operation was the relocation of four existing frontage roads
at the I&shyp;26 and Piney Grove Road interchange. The new roads used full-depth
asphalt segments: a 10-in.-deep base course, a 21¦4-in.-thick binder
course and 13¦4-in.-thick wearing course. Reclaimed asphalt pavement
(RAP) was used in both the base and binder courses; the base included 20%
RAP and the binder course 15% RAP. The wearing course was all virgin aggregate.

Following this portion of the job came the most time-consuming segment of
the project: The widening of one mile of Piney Grove Road from two to five
lanes, including the bridge that spanned I&shyp;26. During this phase of
the operation, the partnering process really paid off: The advance planning
regarding detours, utility-company requirements and delays on I-26 made
for a job that went as smoothly as could be expected given the extent of
the project.

As was the case with the frontage roads, the mile of Piney Grove Road was
reclaimed full-depth. The deck of the bridge-two lanes in each direction
plus a median lane-was paved with PCC.

Fast on the heels of this extensive operation was the widening and reconstruction
of the interchange ramps-again, full-depth-and installation of concrete
retaining walls.

Following the interchange ramp reconstruction, Rea's crews turned their
attention to I&shyp;26: Twenty-two lane miles of the road were scheduled
for HMA overlay. The road had originally been laid as a four-lane PCC highway.
This concrete was overlaid with 4 in. of asphalt in 1978, when the highway
was expanded to six lanes (the two new lanes were full-depth asphalt sections).

Rea's crews milled off 1 in. of this asphalt and resurfaced with a 1A surface
mix, as specified by the SCDOT. The mix was 15% binder stone and was placed
at an average rate of 175 lb/sq yd. The shoulders were then finished off
with rumble strips.

Again, the planning meetings were key to the success of this portion of
the project, as were the highly efficient, professional work crews. Thanks
to these vital ingredients, the surfacing of I&shyp;26 took just two weeks.
"People were amazed that we worked so fast," Snow says. "One
motorist told me he couldn't believe how much progress we had made between
the time he went to work in the morning and the time he drove home."

Rea's area operations manager, Ben Bass Jr., gives part of the credit for
the swift, quality job to the equipment used. Rea had recently done work
on the nearby I&shyp;20; Rea found the use of a Roadtec Shuttle Buggy had
numerous benefits. On the I&shyp;26/Piney Grove Road Project, crews employed
a paving train that included the Shuttle Buggy and a Cedarapids CR561 Grayhound
paver to achieve remarkable smoothness and density readings.

Rea received no density penalties and actually earned a 3% pay bonus for
density of the binder and surface courses on 47 of the 48 days they were
eligible; Mays Ride Meter readings were an average of 26.5 ipm, 13.5 points
below the 40.0 imp target for the project. While this is commendable in
itself, these results were achieved with the S1A mix, which is a very difficult
mix to place, and involved an intricate project that required over 103,000
tons of asphalt. The project finished right on schedule-to the day-on May
30, 1995.

While Rea's crews are known for their high quality and speed, other-less
heralded-factors influenced the rapid completion of the entire project.
One aspect was an innovative schedule that put crews to work primarily during
off-peak hours and weekends (there was no night work). This minimized delays
to motorists and, in turn, allowed workers to do their business with a minimum
of traffic delays. I-26 carries an average of 80,000 vehicles a day, so
planning around the bulk of this traffic was critical.

Rea also kept local residents and businesses up-to-date on the progress
of the project and what they could expect in coming weeks. The company's
public-relations efforts included direct-mail postcards informing locals
about the planned work and anticipated changes in traffic patterns.

Rea also published weekly schedules in newspapers that detailed lane closures,
detours and other information motorists would need to know.

As a result of this attention to detail, local residents and businesspeople
paid more attention to the project. Not only did this minimize the delays
for Rea's crews and motorists, but it fostered a sense of goodwill toward
the entire project.

"On a lot of jobs like this you have bad publicity, people complaining
about how they were inconvenienced," comments Snow. "But we were
getting praise, compliments on the quality of the project, comments that
there was not much of a hold up, that we communicated well with businesses-things
like that."

These compliments were not only from local residents and business owners:
Rea began to receive kudos from those who really knew paving. "The
DOT complimented us," Snow says, "and the FHWA said it was one
of the best projects in recent memory. After hearing all this, we decided
to submit the project for the Hayes award."

After looking at the particulars of the project and consulting with the
SCDOT, NAPA judged it as one of the three best entries and sent out a crew
to literally walk the project. In January, Rea's project was declared the
1995 winner of the Hayes award, a first for both the contractor and for
a South Carolina project.

The award also is a shot in the arm for the partnering process; as Snow
has noted, the quality built into the project was a direct outgrowth of
the partnering process.

"This really was a team effort, and that cannot be emphasized enough,"
Snow states. "The SCDOT was our partner and deserves a part of the
credit for the job, as do the others involved. If it were not for [this
project's] feeling of partnership and teamwork, I don't think we would have
achieved the job quality we did."

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