It’s #TimetoBuild Next-Gen Infrastructure - 3 Tips to Accelerate Delivery
It’s National Infrastructure Week, a good time to reflect on the critical role infrastructure plays in America’s economy and livelihood. Safe roads we drive to work, taps that provide fresh water we drink and electricity that powers our homes and businesses – infrastructure is critical to every facet of our daily lives.
Much of the Infrastructure Week conversation will focus on the need for infrastructure investment across all modes of transportation, water systems, buildings and power grid. Impacts of these investments will last far beyond just a week though, and at Jacobs, we’re eager to help implement the message behind the week’s theme – that the future won’t wait and it’s #TimetoBuild.
Whether partnering with a developer on a public-private partnership (P3) project, providing leadership for advertised design-build projects or through aggressive schedule delivery of traditional projects, our focus is on repairing and building high-priority projects in a fast, smart and safe way that unlocks maximum public benefits. Just look at the work we’ve done alongside the Virginia Department of Transportation to accelerate large and complex infrastructure initiatives by implementing innovative delivery techniques to expedite delivery.
Northern Virginia’s traffic challenge
When you think of transportation in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago – our country’s largest cities – traffic is likely one of the first images that come to mind. The Washington D.C. metropolitan region was no different. An Urban Mobility Report from Texas Transportation Institute even found that the area had the worst traffic congestion in the country, with yearly commutes twice the length of the national average.
To address growing concerns about congestion on the Capital Beltway infrastructure, which serves the state’s most populous region – about 2.8 million residents – the Commonwealth of Virginia knew they needed to upgrade their transportation system.
So, VDOT and other local transportation agencies identified five major infrastructure projects, collectively known as the Northern Virginia Megaprojects Program, to enhance capacity and better connect the region. In 2008, VDOT hired the program management team of CH2M (now Jacobs) and our Washington D.C.-area joint venture partner for this historic $5.6 billion multimodal effort connecting highway, rail, transit and ride-sharing transportation.
Procuring a fully integrated program management team as a general engineering consultant (GEC) allowed VDOT to engage our team to deliver all facets of project and program implementation, and to guide schedule, project and financial controls, as well as task delivery and completion. With such a high price point, several major projects and work by many different consultants, subconsultants and concessionaries, contractors and subcontractors to manage, we knew coming into the program that success wouldn’t come easily.
But with the right contracting method, innovative solutions and a team ready to tackle any challenge, we managed to carve out successes that now serve as a model both statewide and nationwide.
Overcoming bumps in the road
Like any major program, the Northern Virginia Megaprojects Program wasn’t perfect. In fact, when VDOT hired our GEC, the program had fallen a year behind schedule. However, within just months of receiving the notice-to-proceed, we rapidly mobilized, deployed and helped get the program back on track.
This quick, nimble approach came in handy once again when, at the time of project development, the bonding market put funding for one of the program’s major P3 projects in jeopardy. To keep the project moving, teams quickly implemented suggestions to redefine the project scope, without extensively impacting operations, which included coordinating with the Federal Highway Administration on design waivers and context-sensitive solutions. As a result, the redefined project reached financial close and could be constructed.
And, when the I-95 HOT Lanes project faced an access hurdle on a private toll facility, we worked with VDOT to develop and negotiate a new design solution to meet the toll facility needs. These lanes represented a new and innovative approach to travel demand management and introduced the concept of congestion pricing to Virginia. As such, travel demand modeling was more complicated than any previous regional projects, and required creative applications of several different traffic forecasting model programs in tandem to account for the toll-induced diversion of vehicle trips.
The identified solution not only achieved consensus, it also saved the project from facing 12 months in potential delays. Once we developed the new solution, we conducted an expedited traffic analysis process and secured approvals from the FHWA in one-third the typical time it takes to obtain necessary approvals and permits.
The 29-mile project, the first in the country to implement a High Occupancy Toll/High Occupancy Vehicle (HOT/HOV) system with multiple ingress and egress points, and the first to have multiple independent variable toll segments, opened in January 2015 ahead of schedule and on budget.
Paving the way for Virginia’s future
The Northern Virginia Megaprojects Program has fundamentally changed travel patterns in the region, reducing congestion for more than 80,000 daily vehicles on a network of free-flowing lanes stretching more than 40 miles.
One of the program’s other projects, the I-495 HOT Lanes, replaced more than $260 million worth of aging infrastructure, including 58 bridges and overpasses, while upgrading and adding 12 key interchanges and new access points.
Commuters enjoy an average 23-minute time savings during rush hour when using these lanes, equating to five million total hours saved since their opening – and with numbers like those, it’s no wonder that 8-out-of-10 drivers in the region believe the express lanes network benefits the area.
The Northern Virginia Megaprojects Program also supported local efforts such as new bike racks, school environmental programs, neighborhood enhancements, homeless shelter programs and park cleanups; and the I-495 HOT Lanes project sustained more than 16,000 jobs and generated nearly $3.5 billion economic impact statewide, according to state leaders.
Last fall, the express lanes network celebrated a billion-miles-traveled, and today the I-95 and I-495 HOT Lanes even serve as testing ground for self-driving and wireless connected cars.
Virginia continues to set precedent for other agencies on the benefits of prioritizing infrastructure development, and how to accomplish these improvements both quickly and cost effectively. Portions of tolling revenue from an additional approximately 64-mile stretch of HOT lanes – the Interstate 66 Inside the Beltway project – will help fund more transit projects to help move an additional 5,000 people through the corridor.
The I-66 Outside the Beltway P3 project recently earned recognition from IJGlobal as the 2017 North American Roads Deal of the Year. Expected to be completed at a $2.5 billion net savings, the I-66 Outside the Beltway P3 will modify nearly 23 miles of interstate to relieve congestion, improve safety and provide even more predictable travel times – at the best price for taxpaying families and businesses residing along the corridor.
Both the Inside the Beltway and Outside the Beltway projects are part of VDOT’s larger Transform 66 Program, which Jacobs supports in a new GEC contract alongside the same joint venture partner we worked with on the Megaprojects Program.
What others can learn for future infrastructure programs
U.S. population is expected to grow by an additional 100 million people and hit 441 million by 2050, according to the Pew Research Center. Population swells like this overburden public infrastructure, like transportation systems and data and electrical networks, and increase stress upon resources that communities depend on, such as water supply.
Additionally, the U.N. estimates that 82 percent of North Americans live in urban areas, and with Millennial professionals favoring cities and empty-nested Baby Boomers relocating back to metropolitan centers, constraints on resources and burdens on infrastructure will continue becoming more pronounced.
With the Internet of Things and Industry 4.0 digital revolution challenging planners, cities and their infrastructure owners to make systems smarter and more resilient, while also accounting for future urbanization, we are at a pivotal #TimetoBuild in the U.S.
So, what lessons can city leaders and owners take away from Virginia’s successes and implement as they look to plan, design and build the next generation of American infrastructure?
1. Implement innovative funding models to move priority projects forward and to attract private investment. The Megaprojects combined government, public and private funding at almost similar levels to bring priority projects to construction. The I-495 HOT Lanes financing included more than $350 million in private equity, the highest amount ever invested for a U.S. greenfield toll road; and it was the first highway project in the country to reach financial close using tax-exempt Public Activity Bonds.
2. Secure a contracting mechanism that provides flexibility for your program. Our GEC contract gave VDOT access to a team capable of solving any challenge – from obtaining right-of-way, meeting stormwater regulations and maintaining traffic, to providing a balanced multimodal approach and obtaining public outreach/stakeholder consensus – that helped guide the overall program, schedule and budget.
3. Embrace alternative delivery methods to get critical infrastructure built and serving communities quicker. We accelerated procurement of projects to coincide with permitting and other design and construction approvals, helping some of the projects to be completed ahead of schedule. We also implemented lean construction techniques for certain design and construction elements and pre-fab of key project components, such as sound walls to speed construction on the projects.
Jacobs’ design and construction experts are helping deliver more efficient, adaptable and sustainable infrastructure systems around the world, and we’re ready to help accelerate future infrastructure programs from concept to completion. It’s #TimetoBuild. Connect with us at www.jacobs.com/infrastructure-month.
With close to three decades of industry experience, Kevin Slack currently serves as Global Director of Transportation at Jacobs, responsible for growing the business to a No. 1 position with a global service portfolio that spans the entire transportation asset life cycle, from initial client advisory to planning, environmental permitting, design, engineering, construction management, program management and operations and maintenance. Formerly, he served as Vice President and Global Client Strategy & Sales Director of CH2M’s (now Jacobs) State & Local Governments client sector. He also provided strategy direction as Global Market Director for the company’s No. 3 Engineering News-Record ranked, Transportation practice.