Damaged roads and devastated homes. Chemical plant explosions in Crosby, Texas. The shutdown of the Colonial Pipeline, which supplies much of the East Coast with fuel.
The shockwaves from extreme weather events like Hurricane Harvey can last for years. Getting damaged infrastructure back online is key to public safety, as well as the nation’s economy, over the long term. Accelerated construction techniques can help cut red tape as Houston and other Texas communities rebuild.
“Practices like design-build contracting, where designers and contractors work closely together to facilitate plan reviews and make design changes in a timely fashion, can really help,” explains Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI) Senior Research Engineer David Newcomb, head of the Institute’s Materials and Pavements Division. “Accelerated construction principles can be especially useful when applied to critical structures such as roads and bridges with high traffic volumes.”
As waters recede and roads become passable in southeast Texas, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) will begin the reconstruction process as it prioritizes repairs of roadways, bridges, airports, pipelines and port facilities. Another example of how accelerated construction can expedite the process: reusing materials already in place so builders save time in excavation and hauling while stabilizing those materials to form a good foundation for the structure being rebuilt.
Though it’s a long road ahead to rebuild the communities devastated by Hurricane Harvey, Newcomb says he’s confident in TxDOT and Texans to get the job done. “Once the reconstruction is complete, the restoration of the roads to pre-hurricane quality can be completed and the economy can recover,” he says.
TTI, TxDOT Team Up on Accelerated Construction Workshops
Implementing accelerated construction principles has been ongoing for a while in Texas. This year, TTI has teamed up with TxDOT to deliver workshops to the department’s districts across the state on the use of accelerated construction practices.
Even under the best of circumstances, planning, financing, scoping, designing, bidding/letting and construction of a highway project typically requires 8 to 15 years. Reducing this time can result in significant cost savings for the responsible agency, road users and business owners, as well as decrease costs associated with construction delays.
In 2015, Texas’ state demographer estimated the population of the Lone Star State could double by 2050. TxDOT is preparing to deal with this population expansion by providing $70 billion in highway expenditures over the course of 10 years.
“With this volume of work ahead of us, TxDOT and industry should work together to deliver transportation improvements quicker and more cost-effectively to minimize delay costs, economic losses and safety risks,” says TxDOT Director of District Operations Randy Hopmann. “The Accelerated Construction Program provides a framework to accomplish these objectives and engage stakeholders in the process.”
Key steps in the rapid construction process include the following:
- incorporating accelerated construction into the planning phase,
- isolating the construction work from the traffic to provide unimpeded access and maintain a steady flow of construction work,
- maximizing existing pavement material and equipment usage and
- developing innovative approaches to facilitating traffic movement.
The TTI-TxDOT team conducted accelerated construction workshops in three regions of Texas this summer, with attendance in the hundreds at each workshop. As part of the project, the team developed technical briefs and implementation reports to capture best practices and share lessons learned for the future. Four additional workshops will be conducted.
“Accelerated construction will become a more popular way of doing business, since the approach demonstrates the economic and/or safety justification for minimizing the length of time work zones are present on Texas highway projects,” explains TTI Executive Associate Director Jon Epps, an instructor for the workshops and the technical lead who produced the briefs. “The thoughtful implementation of that strategy will result in safer work zones and a better value for the citizens of Texas.”