Construction in the Fast Lane: Flush with Major Moves funding, INDOT streamlines its approach

March 31, 2008

Northern Indiana motorists and Democratic opponents of Gov. Mitch Daniels were screaming bloody murder.

Daniels in 2006 convinced the Legislature to lease the vital highway and plum of political patronage-the Indiana Toll Road-to an Australian-Spanish consortium for nearly $4 billion.

Some managers at the Indiana Department of Transportation also were screaming-with panic.

Despite winning the departmental lottery of all time-an annual budget for new roads would now quadruple from $213 million a year to $874 million by 2015-Daniels wanted 200 new road projects under his "Major Moves" program launched or completed within a decade. Another 200 big highway preservation projects also were included.

This was at a state agency accustomed to shelving some projects for years for lack of funding. The big platter of projects "was a hard realization as an agency," said Gary Mroczka, who at the time was a road designer.

Translation: His life and those of others at INDOT were fixing to become a living hell.

While the challenge is still daunting, INDOT has made major changes in the way it manages road projects that are expected to help the agency meet the aggressive timetable.

The changes are intended to maintain momentum, streamline communications, create more accountability and shorten the time frame of projects, observes James Wade, a veteran of the construction industry and chairman of Indianapolis-based R.W. Armstrong & Associates Inc., one of the city's largest engineering firms.

"They have to be able to make things happen so you don't get the bottlenecks," he said of INDOT.

Time will tell if the management changes will work. So far, at least, those changes appear to be paying off in projects such as the Hoosier Heartland Highway. Earlier this year, Daniels stunned Lafayette-area residents by saying the 33-mile, four-lane replacement for State Road 25 would start two years early-perhaps late this year-and should finish three years ahead of schedule, in 2013.

Hoosier Heartland could have taken almost a dozen years, but "we were challenged by the new administration to shorten that 50 percent," Mroczka said.

Project managers

The restructuring of INDOT began in 2006 with the creation of nearly 100 project manager positions. Each manager rides herd over a single, large project, which gives outside firms involved in the project a single point of contact with INDOT.

"It used to be you'd have to run through several different people. Now INDOT has empowered their project managers," said Scott Hornsby, a vice president at R.W. Armstrong.

Previously, there might not have been a single person within the agency following through or pushing others down the rank to meet time lines, said Mroczka, who oversees INDOT's project managers.

And that was if there were time lines; until INDOT hit the Major Moves jackpot, funding wasn't always ensured from year to year.

"There was a basketful of projects that may or may not have had funding," said INDOT spokesman Andy Dietrick. So, "the sense of urgency wasn't there" at times.

Now, said Armstrong's Hornsby, "I understand the governor will call those project managers directly" for progress reports and budget information.

A second major change at INDOT is to work on various project phases concurrently, instead of in a linear approach in which one division of the agency didn't start the next phase in earnest until the preceding one was finished, like an old-time assembly line.

Take the environmental impact study, for example, which can amount to onethird of a project schedule. Until a few years ago, surveyors and engineers generally didn't start plotting a route more specifically until the environmental study was completed. Now, the engineering side jumps in before the environmental study is complete, gleaning enough information about the preferred route in the study to begin working.

"We reduced [road projects] probably a year-plus doing that," Mroczka said.

Teaming strategy

A third major change was to contract with a primary consultant rather than numerous individual consulting firms. It is by no means revolutionary in the world of contracting by government agencies-used on projects such as the midfield terminal at Indianapolis International Airport. But it was a practice INDOT didn't use on such a widespread basis.

One place where INDOT is putting it into practice is the reconfiguring of U.S. 31 from Carmel to northern Indiana. R.W. Armstrong was hired as prime construction consultant and brought forth its own team of about 20 subcontractors on everything from design to buying right-of-way to community outreach.

Armstrong gives the state a single point of contact, as well.

"The [subcontractors] come to us and it's basically our challenge to figure out a way" to solve a problem, Wade said.

Melody Park, an Armstrong senior project engineer, said the arrangement improves accountability and project definition while speeding up the process from inception to final design.

Delays are costly, Wade said, hoping to cut two years time from the old way of doing things.

"You get two years of inflation," he said, "and that gets added to the price."

INDOT officials said they hadn't yet done an accounting to see how much money has been saved through the new approach to road-building management, but that savings likely will be appreciable.

One project locally that was accelerated by the new management paradigm at INDOT is the $13.6 million extension of the Ronald Reagan Parkway in Hendricks County and its new interchange at Interstate 74, near Brownsburg.

"That project was languishing," said Mroczka, noting that an environmental impact report had been sitting on a shelf for maybe 10 years until money became available through Major Moves.

But, in 18 months, INDOT was able to complete the design and acquire land-something that normally might have taken five years, Mroczka added.
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