Image From ..cdmsmith.com
It's always easy to complain about major highway projects that take too long, cost too much and are never completed on time. After all, we know there are plenty to choose from. New York's FDR Drive (still under uninterrupted construction since the Nixon Administration) comes to mind.
But there are significant success stories too and often they don't get nearly the same amount of attention. Let's step back a few years to a project that was expedited in Knoxville, TN when the DOT completely closed 1 mile of I-40... because many state DOTs are now reviewing and asking about it today.
Tennessee was able to rebuild a section of the I-40 freeway and interchanges with an accelerated planning and construction approach. It was called 'SmartFix-40' and by closing down the interstate in Knoxville's downtown area, TDOT and its contractors were actually able to speed up the project. It set a new standard allowing projects to reach completion faster.
Here's the challenge TDOT was facing: I-40 carries about 105,000 vehicles daily to support heavy traffic demand through downtown Knoxville and the University of Tennessee. Because the road serves the central business district and several historic neighborhoods, final designs and timelines needed to incorporate community-sponsored solutions that were spot-on in addressing local needs.
TDOT's final design incorporated form-lined retaining walls, clear panel noise barriers; reconnected neighborhood streets, planned greenway linkages and stormwater quality imrovements.
Jeff Mize, the principal project manager from CDM Smith, a transportation and infrastructure consulting firm based in Cambridge, MA, said collaborating with local business and community residents in the early stages was extremely important. They took a phased construction approach that first improved the affected surrounding roadways and downtown linkages; following that it closed the 1-mile section of-I-40.
An extensive communication plan was essential to keep everyone informed both before and during construction. And that plan recognized the need for addressing locals and non-locals alike. "First, we provided folks in town with constant and timely information about how to get around during the closure. n addition to setting up a dedicated website, communications were enabled by PSAs from Dolly Parton and locals were also kept up to date for local sporting events at the University of Tennessee and Bristol Motor Speedway. TDOT even had a dedicated community officer who conducted public outreach going door-to-door. Non-local motorists were advised at rest stops, via road signs, GPS system updates and radio broadcasts.
When the planning was complete and with the public fully informed, TDOT was able to safely close the 1-mile section of I-40 which provided additional space and freedom to work around the clock without interruption.
Closing the interstate proved to be a great success resulting in a 14-month total closure, rather than several years of limited access through traditional construction. TDOT estimated that it saved from 2.5 to 3 years from the time that would have been required to implement the project under traditional methods.
It was a game changer from a process standpoint for TDOT, Jeff Mize told us last week. "It was one of the first projects where Tennessee DOT took a step back and really considered the total impact and user costs, not just construction costs. 'What's this project going to cost the total economy if construction dragged out for another couple of years?'
Mize says that approach is producing discussions with other DOTs and the Federal Highway Administration is paying attention too. In response to the 'SmartFix 40' project's success, FHA has moved to an 'Every Day Counts' protocol where they're now saying 'What can we do to get construction barrels on the road and off the road and impact users as little as possible?'...especially in these big urban areas where you're dealing with so many cars every day.