Less than a year to design and construct 7,000 feet of runway? Until the runway asphalt at the John Murtha Johnstown-Cambria County Airport (Pa.) was upgraded to concrete, the U.S. Army Reserve’s large C-17 cargo planes would not be able to land. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers planned on completing the reconstruction project over two seasons. But the Corps’ design-build team of Hi-Way Paving Inc. and PBS&J asked itself: “Is it possible to do the work differently to expedite the schedule—shortcutting the process without compromising quality?” The answer was: “Absolutely!” The team told the Corps, “We’ll do it in a single construction season.” And it did, even when a delay in the project start reduced the design and construction season to four months.
Without the right delivery method, escalating this project would have been impossible. The Corps chose design-build instead of the more traditional design-bid-build approach. This eliminated a lengthy bidding process and also created an open dialogue among all stakeholders from the project’s inception. By having the designer and builder interact from the beginning, the team was able to develop the most cost-effective design, eliminate the risk of change orders, and provide the fastest turnaround possible.
In our industry, we are all accustomed to project owners who expect us to deliver ever more value to their projects in terms of expedited schedules, reduced costs and better quality. That is what their customers and stakeholders demand of them. But how often do we (the industry responsible for infrastructure design and construction) offer creative solutions to satisfy the nation’s overwhelming infrastructure needs?
For a construction team to execute a project faster, cheaper and better means every member, including the project owner, has to be willing to do things differently. Otherwise, the team just ends up with fast instead of faster, cheap instead of cheaper and good instead of better.
On the runway project, the team was able to cut the completion time by more than half, a feat that would not have been possible if all of us, including the Corps, had not agreed to do things differently. Our goal for the pre-design meeting was to secure the understanding, acceptance and commitment of the project stakeholders, which included the Corps, U.S. Army Reserve, airport authority, Cambria County Conservation District and the Federal Aviation Administration. This gave us the buy-in the team needed to handle this project differently.
The team agreed that it is possible to be flexible with procedures and still achieve the desired outcome. The Corps agreed to forego its usual 30-60-90% submittal reviews for a single 90% review followed by a 100% submittal. Meeting for the 90% review in a single location, project team members were able to interact, addressing questions and necessary revisions on the spot. This “over-the-shoulder” review was a huge time-saver.
Shortcuts do not have to compromise quality if they blend common sense with procedure. With a collaborative reviewer-designer relationship, the runway team was able to achieve the desired outcome and quality, while significantly expediting the review process.
Because the team was under time constraints, multi-tasking and overlapping activities were a must. It divided the design into two smaller design phases—one for the northern portion of the runway and one for the southern. It finalized one design and began construction while working on finalizing the other design.
The runway project demonstrates how conditions of engineering have changed, and the urgent need for the profession’s talents and skills. We should bring new and creative ideas to the table, along with flexibility, common sense and an understanding that the old ways need to be adapted to today’s needs. If project owners don’t demand the impossible, we should deliver it anyway.