Breaking the mold

April 16, 2003

From coast to coast, highway agencies are taking new steps to reinvent the way they design and build roads. Ten organizations were recognized recently for their innovations and for "Making a Difference" by the National Partnership for Highway Quality (NPHQ). Awards were presented in the categories of Risk Taking, Breaking the Mold, Partnering and State Quality Initiatives.

From coast to coast, highway agencies are taking new steps to reinvent the way they design and build roads. Ten organizations were recognized recently for their innovations and for "Making a Difference" by the National Partnership for Highway Quality (NPHQ). Awards were presented in the categories of Risk Taking, Breaking the Mold, Partnering and State Quality Initiatives.

The award for Risk Taking is presented to groups that take an unconventional approach to successfully complete projects. This year the gold award went to the team that rehabilitated a segment of I-64 near Louisville, Ky., using accelerated construction techniques. The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet and its contractors shut down the 3.5-mile section of the interstate entirely, rather than close a few lanes to make the improvements incrementally as is the norm. This created a safer environment for workers and allowed them to complete the work seven weeks ahead of schedule.

The silver award was presented to the Texas Department of Transportation and its Queen Isabella Causeway reconstruction team, which rebuilt a collapsed bridge near Brownsville a month sooner than anticipated through the use of incentives and disincentives and a very aggressive schedule.

In the Breaking the Mold category, the Utah Department of Transportation's  I-15 team received the gold award for its use of the design-build technique in the reconstruction of Salt Lake City's main north-south highway corridor. Performance-based specifications also were used and a large number of partnerships were established to keep the project on course and on schedule. Utah saved $32 million and completed the project two years ahead of original estimates--in time for the Winter Olympics in February 2002.

The silver award was given to the Maryland State Highway Administration and its Neighborhood Conservation Program, whose "When Main Street is a State Highway" planning and design approach helped to preserve the individual character of small communities.

The seven-hour demolition and reconstruction of a dual-span section of I-40/75 in Knoxville won Tennessee's Forest Heights bridge team top honors in the Partnering category. The project avoided six weeks of temporary lane closures, rolling road blocks and short closures of all traffic lanes. Accomplishing the work in the seven-hour overnight period required a massive coordination of contractors, the trucking industry, law enforcement, firefighters and the media.

Maryland, meanwhile, won the silver award for its Maryland Quality Initiative Partnering Subcommittee, which brings a greater degree of quality to the state's highways through communication and cooperation among stakeholders. And the Partnering bronze went to the Oregon DOT for its redesign of the congested interchange at I-5 and Oregon 217.

Oregon also captured the coveted gold award for State Quality Initiatives for its constructibility review team. The team has implemented a collaborative process for bringing contractor input into the project design stage.

The state's approach to constructing the flyover and pedestrian structures on its I-5/Highway 217 project--in which facilitators worked with stakeholders to eliminate risks, prevent millions of dollars in added costs from accruing and avoid years of construction delays--was particularly noted by NPHQ.

The silver award went to the Utah Pavement Council, an assembly of federal, state and local industry heads formed to assess pavement issues and make recommendations that will improve road quality while lowering costs.

NPHQ was founded in 1992 and known until 2000 as the National Quality Initiative. The consortium comprises members from the American Association of State Highway & Transportation Officials, FHWA and 10 industry associations. To be considered for an award, states must nominate their projects in one of the four categories.

The nominations are reviewed by NPHQ's awards subcommittee, which makes award recommendations to NPHQ's Steering Committee.

For more information on NPHQ or its "Making a Difference" awards, contact Bob Templeton at NPHQ, 512/301-9899; e-mail: [email protected]; Internet address: www.nphq.org.

About The Author: Sorenson is a senior highway engineer in FHWA's Office of Asset Management. He can be reached at 202/366-1333, fax 202/366-9981, e-mail: [email protected].