The T-REX project has been under construction since 2001, building light rail and reconstructing 19 miles of the I-25 and I-225 corridors between Broadway, Parker Road and Lincoln Avenue in Douglas County in metropolitan Denver. The design-build contractor, Southeast Corridor Constructors, and T-REX management have effectively orchestrated continuous daytime and nighttime multimodal construction while minimizing traffic disruptions through one of the most congested highway systems in the nation. Evidence of progress can be seen on both the highway improvements and the incorporation of the light-rail elements.
Construction work on T-REX is scheduled to be completed in September 2006, and the light-rail line should be open to public ridership in December 2006. The transportation expansion project is the result of a unique partnership between the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) and the Regional Transportation District (RTD). The two agencies have combined both highway and light-rail improvements in a single project—a partnership that is one of the first in the U.S.—and currently the largest multimodal project in the nation.
T-REX is a $1.67 billion project which includes improvements along 17 miles of interstate highway and the addition of 19 miles of new light-rail transit (LRT) spanning three counties and five municipalities in south metro Denver. Significant project elements include:
- Multimodal/design-build (highway and light rail);
- 17 miles of freeway reconstruction and widening;
- 19 miles of double-track light rail;
- 13 light-rail stations;
- Replacement and expansion of numerous bridges;
- Drainage and safety improvements;
- New light-rail maintenance facility; and
- Procurement of 34 light-rail vehicles.
The project’s transportation corridor within metropolitan Denver was the focus of numerous studies for over 20 years. Congestion conditions left the corridor with significant deficiencies in level of service and safety. These studies consistently recommended that improvements be made to the highway system and that public transit be provided. The primary purpose of T-REX is to improve travel time and enhance safety along these two transportation corridors, while causing the least disruption to neighboring residents, commuters and businesses.
Construction is approximately 83% complete to date, with design approximately 98% complete.
All projections indicate that T-REX will remain within budget by completion.
Before Southeast Corridor Constructors received notice to proceed with construction activities, T-REX management recognized a number of strategic challenges that would need to be addressed. Many of these issues stemmed from the unique joint-management and partnership between CDOT and RTD, and all the often-varying governmental requirements for highway and rail-transit construction. Some of the more significant challenges included:
- Keeping the public and stakeholders informed of progress;
- Early definition of the budgetary and schedule constraints with high stakeholder expectation that these constraints would be maintained;
- While highway and public transit both receive federal funding, highway construction falls under the purview of CDOT; light-rail transit does not. In metro Denver, light rail is the responsibility of the RTD;
- More than 60 new, expanded or repaired bridges and tunnels;
- The I-25/I-225 interchange, identified as the 14th most congested in the U.S., would have to be completely reconstructed;
- Incorporation of mass transit into a space already crowded with traditional auto and truck traffic;
- Need for continued movement of traffic during reconstruction and expansion efforts; and
- Drainage on the highway, a problem for decades, had to be fixed.
CDOT and RTD’s strategic focus would require sufficient mitigation of these challenges in order to provide a management approach and program delivery strategy that guaranteed success. Any additional challenges that arose during the project would need to be managed, as well, during program implementation. The identified strategic challenges defined a framework for identifying key strategic objectives the project would need to employ. In November 1999, top-level management from CDOT, RTD, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) brainstormed and formulated the key strategic objectives, which became the project goals.
T-REX’s project goals were established as follows:
- 1. Minimize inconvenience to the community, motorists and public;
- 2. Meet or beat the total program budget of $1.67 billion;
- 3. Provide for a quality project; and
- 4. Meet or beat the completion schedule of June 30, 2008 (fully operational).
Design-build was determined to be the most effective delivery strategy given the constraints of the project, and the T-REX team set to work preparing a contract document that described all the efforts necessary for the contractor to meet owner expectations in alignment with the defined project goals. Specific risk elements were identified and analysis was performed to determine who would best manage them. Key elements of the contract that assured the project goals would be adhered to included:
- “Best value” selection process, whereby the basis of selection was criteria in alignment with the project goals;
- Requirement of an extensive public information program to deliver timely information to the public and stakeholders about project progress;
- Required partnering as a key component of the contract, with reporting to the highest levels of CDOT, RTD and the design-build organization;
- Required the use of a systematic management approach in alignment with established international standards (ISO 9000); and
- Required co-location of the owner and the design-build teams to ensure close coordination of project activities.
T-REX management realized that owner staff would need to employ innovative strategies in their oversight approach to ensuring compliance on a megaproject such as this. Thus, T-REX provided a substantially altered approach to oversight, including:
- Development of a systematic internal management structure aligned with project goals;
- Provision of a qualified and knowledgeable professional staff to perform the team’s oversight and audit functions;
- Monitoring and auditing of the contractor’s product, processes, procedures and management systems for contract compliance and effectiveness;
- Performance of monitoring and auditing based upon risk; and
- Performance of owner verification testing on a percentage of contractor tests to confirm statistical comparison of obtained results.
Now I see
Over the course of the last four years, and given the opportunity to witness first hand all of the interactions, planning, manpower and dedication necessary to keep the project on target progressing within the established goals, many valuable lessons have been learned. Many of these lessons could benefit other contractors, agencies and industry companies and may be of use on other projects.
Develop project goals very early in the project development stage to assist in focusing resources toward a common understanding or aim for the project. Periodically review the project against the goals. Continue to clarify, communicate and encourage teams within the project to develop supporting goals in order to help clarify how they contribute to the success of the entire project.
Co-location of owner and contractor teams
An integrated team of CDOT, RTD and consultant firms, co-located with the design-builder, and a relatively flat organizational structure have enabled decisions to be made relatively quickly, effectively and with appropriate consideration for the environment. The co-located project organization has provided for maximum focus on the project goals, allowing the team to allocate appropriate resources while instilling responsibility and accountability for how those resources contribute to the project.
Executive-level support to partnering process
Establish a partnering framework, with top-level management support, as early as possible during the project to enhance cooperation with all stakeholders, facilitate mutually satisfactory agreements through joint problem solving and aid in dispute resolution. Utilize the partnering framework to ensure that issues are managed to closure at the appropriate level or escalated to facilitate speedy response.
Establish time during project development to research and determine high-risk elements of the project to minimize cost, schedule and scope creep. Project goals should provide some basis for risk determination. Provide adequate risk mitigation through appropriate allocation (to the owner, the contractor, other parties or shared). Utilize the industry review process as one means of evaluation of the appropriateness of your risk model.
Recognize audit oversight as a successful management tool to ensure compliance
As a tool for project oversight, implement an effective compliance audit program to monitor the project activities, verifying on a sampling basis the implementation of the governing contractual requirements. Ensure that the audit program is comprehensive, based on generally accepted auditing principles that cover the management systems (such as environment, quality, safety and public information), the design activities and the products of construction. Sample all contractual elements to assure contract compliance and deficiency identification.
Public information program
Develop an effective public information program that is aimed at building trust between all project stakeholders, particularly the owner, and the stakeholders they represent, as well as the design-builder, thus providing the public with a high level of knowledge about the project. Ensure that within each of the respective contractual responsibilities the design-builder’s and owner’s public information teams are seamless and that they cooperate together to provide optimum value to the public and external stakeholders.
The T-REX project has made substantial progress in both highway and light-rail construction over the past four years, and the remaining time until project completion in September 2006 will be filled with new challenges. Regardless of the challenges that may arise, the T-REX team is committed to meeting the project goals and working toward the successful completion of the project. More information is available at the T-REX website (www.trexproject.com).