"A lot of people said there is no way this project can be completed in 24 months," says Bill Moore, project engineer for New York City-based construction manager Parsons Brinckerhoff. The Big I opened a month early on May 25, with less than 2% in change orders and 2 million work hours without a lost-time accident.

CONNECTED Big I is the heart of Albuquerque's business transportation. (Photo courtesy of Twin Mountain Construction Co)

"We compare it to open-heart surgery, since almost all the commerce in Albuquerque travels the Big I or is centered around it," says Allan L. Whitesel, project director for the New Mexico State Highway and Transportation Dept. (NMSHTD). "We had as much construction going on in that 1-mile radius in two years as we did in one year for the rest of the state."

"NMSHTD began the mammoth reconstruction effort eight years ago. Traffic on the 36-year-old, $12-million interchange stood at 90% over capacity. URS Corp., New York City, designed a 24-month reconfiguration with 111 new lane-miles and 55 bridges within a 1.5-mile radius."The existing interchange was long outdated and operated very poorly," says Jim B. Eshbaugh, URS deputy design manager. Old right-sided on-ramps sat next to left-sided exits, resulting in dangerously sharp transitions. The new design for 400,000 daily vehicles adds a sixth travel lane and creates a two-lane frontage road system 30 ft under the Big I to carry an extra 60,000 daily motorists each way.

Though the state legislature had not yet approved design-build, URS sought feedback from contractors at 65% and 90% design completion before releasing documents for bid. NMSHTD strove to eliminate red tape. "We were able to form a true partnership, and we did not have decisions go up this long ladder," says state Transportation Secretary Pete K. Rahn. .
"URS has $600,000 in potential milestone incentives related to on-time completion. Albuquerque-based Twin Mountain Construction II Co. held a $226.6-million contract with a $35,000-a-day liquidated damages clause starting June 30. There was no monetary early completion bonus, but Twin Mountain gets to keep a 15-acre staging area for finishing on time.

"Twin Mountain had four months to ramp up operations and begin precasting 663 concrete segments for eight flyovers while Albuquerque Underground Inc. worked on 70 miles of utility relocation and drainage. That $18.5-million contract included 660 drop inlets, 15 miles of storm drain up to 84-in. dia. and 4 miles of waterline.

"Twin Mountain used two shifts of 500 workers, 100 subs and suppliers and $36 million worth of equipment on the 240-ft-tall, five-level interchange, rebuilding from the top down to resume traffic as flyovers were finished. The job required 1.8 million cu yd of excavation, four detention basins and 1.3 million cu yd of infill. Crews built 750,000 sq ft of mechanically stabilized earthwalls. Soft sand and decomposed bedrock required 44 piers, each 80 ft deep and up to 10 ft dia. Crews built four steel girder spans and 33 concrete girder spans. For the segmental flyovers, Twin Mountain erected up to 13 segments daily, using nine cranes and 1,500 workers at peak. The I-25 south/I-40 east flyover, 80-ft-tall and 2,800-ft-long, is the state's longest bridge.

NEW LOOK Precast flyovers and other spans reshaped interchange (left). (Photo courtesy of Twin Mountain Construction Co.)

"The contractor divided the project into quadrants and the core, tackling the work in two phases. "If we became hung-up in one area, work could still continue elsewhere," says Van Groves, president of Twin Mountain. The firm kept two traffic lanes open from 5:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily or faced a $2,000-an hour penalty. It missed twice, for $35,000 in damages.

"According to Rahn, similar projects have taken three to four times as long to build. Other highway officials ask NMSHTD how it achieved such a feat. "The secret is pride," Rahn says. "No one wanted to be the one who screwed it up."

Departure of a Highway Official Sparks Exodus of Colleagues
By Tony Illia

Peter Rahn, a former insurance salesman who established a reputation as a popular, progressive transportation chief, announced his resignation from the New Mexico State Highway and Transportation Dept. this spring-prompting a mass exodus of key state highway officials.

Rahn pioneered innovation for roads. (Photo by Tony Illia for ENR)

"The gubernatorial elections coming in November fueled Rahn's decision to leave in seven months. "These are political appointments and the current governor is finishing his second term," he says. NMSHTD deputy secretaries Adolfo Lucero and Charlie Trujillo, both 27-year veterans, consequently have decided to retire. Rhonda Faught, NMSHTD's adjutant secretary, plus two bureau chiefs and three division directors, are leaving as well. Even Reuben S. Thomas, the Federal Highway Administration's New Mexico division administrator and a 31-year federal employee, has opted to go. Pete Rahn's "legacy has proved that government agencies don't have to be bureaucracies to get things done," says Thomas. "Once you've had a taste of that, there's no going back."

"Rahn helped pioneer the state's use of Grant Anticipation Revenue Vehicle bonds and private-public financing, which led to $2.64-billion worth of projects in the state over the last 5.5 years. Previously, New Mexico was only meeting about 12% of its $7 billion in transportation needs. In Rahn's seven-year tenure, the state built 570 miles of four-lane highway. And there's more to come, including the $100-million rehabilitation of U.S. 285-84 between Santa Fe and Pojoaque.
Colleagues credit Rahn with reducing change orders by 38.8% and building performance guarantees into projects. For example, the state's 140-mile, four-lane widening of Highway 44 has a 20-year, $60-million warranty from the developer-contractor Mesa PCD, a division of Koch Materials Co., Wichita, Kan. New Mexico only pays for road striping over a four-year period.

Rahn also pushed for a corridor approach to highway expansion in the mid-1990s as a way to complete projects quickly. In addition, he lobbied the legislature to use design-build on public road projects, the first of which is a segment of U.S. 70. "It will be a real challenge to keep the momentum going that [Rahn] created," says Kathie Leyendecker, NMSHTD spokesperson. "There is a sense of apprehension to see what will happen next."

n the heart of Albuquerque lies a maze of Interstate ramps known as the "Big I," a convergence of Interstates 41 and 25. For years the bottleneck has provided a daily white-knuckled driving experience for 300,000 motorists. But a Herculean $289-million, 24-month fast-track project has changed that.