Friday, May 22, 2009

New Bridges Are Popping Up All Over

Since early spring, new bridges have been popping up all over Missouri as work has gotten underway on MoDOT's Safe & Sound bridge improvement program. As the Memorial Day weekend arrives, 23 new bridges have been completed and 26 more are under construction.

This bevy of activity is part of MoDOT's plan to improve or replace 802 of the state's worst bridges by Oct. 31, 2014. It started last fall when the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission directed MoDOT to launch the Safe & Sound program in two phases. The first was to take 248 bridges that could be rehabilitated and begin rolling them out for bids in innovative packages that grouped bridges by size, type or location. The second phase was to begin a design-build procurement to identify a team that could completely replace 554 bridges.

The bridge projects that have been completed so far are all part of that first phase, and they have been done 30 percent below budget.

In the coming months, though, even more bridge construction work is going to start as a result of actions taken yesterday by the Commission. They awarded a design-build contract to KTU Constructors to replace 554 bridges at a cost of $487 million. That price includes design, construction, project management and public outreach activities. It also protects MoDOT against inflation.

To pay for the program, MoDOT will sell bonds and repay them over 24 years within its budgeted amount of annual payments in the neighborhood of $50 million. KTU's price represents a savings in excess of $500 million over the life of the project compared to the prices that were quoted to MoDOT last fall when the department was seeking to launch this program with the contracting team providing private financing and 25-year maintenance.

KTU Constructors is a group of contractors and engineering firms. Kiewit Western Company of Omaha, Neb. is the lead and is joined by Traylor Bros., Inc., of Evansville, Ind., United Contractors, Inc., of Great Falls, S.C., HNTB Corporation of Kansas City, and The LPA Group of Columbia, S.C.

They have commited to completing their work by the end of 2013 -- a full 10 months earlier that required by MoDOT, and to average no more than 45 days closure for each bridge site. That is building at light speed! The normal MoDOT bridge project takes about 90 days.

In the coming weeks, KTU and MoDOT will finalize the design-build contract. KTU has indicated that it will open regional offices around the state to coordinate the complicated logistics associated with the project, and will be seeking Missouri subcontractors and materials suppliers to support their effort.

Besides replacing many of Missouri's worst bridges, Safe & Sound will put people to work. Using the same formula as used by the U.S. government for American Recovery and Reinvestment Act projects, Safe & Sound will support more than 5,300 jobs either directly or indirectly.

To speed construction and to control costs, most of these bridges will be closed for construction. To help motorists, MoDOT has launched an interactive map on its Web site that uses a series of color-coded icons to identify each bridge. Clicking on an icon allows the user to view detour and construction information. At least one of these bridges is located in every one of Missouri's 114 counties.

KTU officials yesterday indicated that once they are up and running, they will be delivering a completed bridge about every two days! That's amazing. They suggested that members of MoDOT's Safe & Sound team may want to purchase new running shoes because they'll be sprinting to keep up with them.

Since MoDOT director Pete Rahn first announced this program in 2006, other states have been watching with interest because a project like this has never been tackled before. Now it's become a reality. Don't be surprised if this type of system-wide bridge improvement project isn't copied by others, because every state struggles with how to manage its inventory of deteriorating bridges.