I t's usually not difficult to tell when repairs are under way at one of New York state's more than 17,000 bridges. If the street signs or workers donning bright orange vests flagging drivers toward alternate routes don't give it away, motorist delays and frustration usually drive the point home. But the state is attempting to ease the pain in certain heavily trafficked areas under a program launched last year that aims to put road and bridge repair work on the fast track, curbing driver inconvenience in the process.

Under Gov. Andrew Cuomo's NY Works initiative, the state's accelerated bridge construction (ABC) program is moving forward. The main goals are to reduce the backlog of what the agency calls "deficient" roads and bridges, many of which are at or nearing the end of their life cycles, and create thousands of jobs. It includes bridge deck and structural replacement or rehabilitation of 121 bridges as well as preservation and treatment of more than 2,000 miles of roadway. Through the state's Drivers First initiative launched last year, the program also demands that contractors keep interference with traffic flow to a minimum and imposes heavy fines for violations.

"Our goal was to get these projects out the door quickly, not only with accelerated design, but also using accelerated methods of construction," says Phil Eng, NYSDOT executive deputy commissioner and chief engineer. "In less than six months, we were able to scope these bridges, design them and get them out to contractors very quickly."

A major part of the program's "acceleration" comes from NY Works, which established a $1.2-billion infrastructure bank that fuels the ABC program. The funding, which is on top of the agency's $1.6-billion annual capital construction budget, makes way for bridge fixes to begin in 2012, 2013 or 2014 that were originally scheduled for 2014, 2015 and 2016, says Joan McDonald, NYSDOT commissioner.

Of the total bank, $212 million will be used for deck and structural replacement or rehabilitation on the bridges; $250 million will go toward low-cost pavement preservation and pavement treatments; and $687 million will be for transportation projects of statewide or regional significance "that had been delayed due to resource constraints," DOT says.

McDonald says the program was also given a boost by the state's passage in late 2011 of the design-build law, which allows DOT and several other agencies to include this type of procurement among their options and to use "best value" in the selection process.

The new law "was a huge, huge victory for the department and the industry," McDonald says. Until the law, which sunsets in three years, DOT had used the low-bid method of procurement.

Of the 121 bridges, the agency plans to use design-build for 32; design-bid-build for 80; and a combination of design-build, design-bid-build and design-bid-build with best value for the remainder, says Timothy Conway, special assistant to the commissioner and head of the agency's design-build bridge program.

Six of the bridges in the program are called "signature," meaning they will cost more and take longer than the others to repair because of their complexity. They include the $145.8-million rehabilitation now under way of the six-lane Patroon Island Bridge that carries 80,000 vehicles a day on Interstate 90 over the Hudson River between Albany and Rennselaer counties.

It also includes the $550-million replacement of the Kosciuszko Bridge between Brooklyn and Queens, the largest project under the program. Proposals for the first phase of this two-phase project are due Dec. 4, Conway says. Letting for the second phase is planned for late 2017.

The design-build Patroon Island project, which began last June and is set for completion in 2016, includes six ramp bridges comprising the I-90 interchange with I-787. The project involves replacing the truss bridge's decks and bearings, repairing steel and painting all the bridges as well as replacing or repairing substructures of the interchange. The concrete deck panels of Patroon and the six bridges will be replaced with lightweight, precast deck panels to speed construction. Fort Miller Group, Schuylerville, N.Y., is supplying the 1,069 precast panels used on the project.

The job also includes strengthening the steel truss and substructures, says Donal Curley, project manager at Halmar International, Clarkstown, N.Y., which formed a joint venture general contracting team for the job with A. Servidone-B. Anthony Construction Corp., Castleton, N.Y.

DOT scrutinized the GC's bid packages on several fronts including cost and the GC's ability to perform the work quickly with the least impact to the traveling public, says Conway, who also heads the program's signature projects. "This was a best-value procurement, not a low bid, so the contractors had to show us how much [traffic] disturbance would occur during construction," he says. To that end, the JV is performing most of the work during nights and weekends with limited lane and ramp closures, Conway says.

For example, when work begins next year on Patroon's deck and the six interchange bridges, most of it will occur at night with traffic crossed over from one side of the bridge to the other, Curley says. Two lanes of Patroon will be maintained in one direction and one lane in the opposite direction throughout construction. Most of the substructure work will be done underneath the bridge with minimal lane closures on I-90. Lanes will be shifted, but not closed, as needed on I-787 to accommodate work on its ramps.

"We are trying to work in multiple locations sometimes to reduce the overall impact and duration of the project," he adds.