Two major projects that I’ve written cover stories on opened in July. Unfortunately we didn’t have enough space in the magazine to do them justice. One is a signature cable-stayed bridge in South Carolina, and the other is a sparkling new airport terminal in Dallas. If variety is the spice of life, then covering the transportation beat is like tabasco, wasabi and Massaman curry washed down my gullet with a gulp of cider, Guinness and a shot of Jameson’s all at once.

Raves for Ravenel

The Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, aka Cooper River Bridge, opened a year ahead of schedule and within budget. Bobby Clair, South Carolina Dept. of Transportation project director,says that engineers from the far reaches of the globe as well as from the DOTsnext door have come to take a gander at the $640-million structure, with its two diamond-shaped pylons, 128 Freyssinet-supplied cables and North American-record-breaking main span length of 472 meters. The structure is strong enough to stand up to a hurricane, and made to survivean earthquake.The bridge is named for a Charleston native who is a retired general contractor and served as a republican member of congress from 1987 to 1995.

Knowing that many industry folks will be interested to know how Palmetto Bridge Constructors completed a $530-million design-build contract a year early, the SCDOT plans to put out a manual of lessons learned. "The coordination involved was fascinating," says Justin Davis, SCDOT associate engineer. "The amount of materials, the tight schedule, and on an even broader scale, the coordination." In addition to quarterly sessions with the prime contractor, owner and "anybody else at the time who need to be involved," smaller meetings were held with the participation of mid-level officials, from field inspectors to associate engineers, he says. Everything from the next concrete pour, to the bankruptcy of a steel supplier, to the next RFP and to the coordination of concrete deliveries via the Port of Charleston was discussed in advance. "Everything from right-now problems, to could-be problems, to what’s going right," Davis says.

Clair says that the state’s on-the-job training program for disadvantaged local residents results in 82 trained people who graduated eventually to journeyman levels and continued working on the bridge. The program had a 60% retention rate.

One fatality marred the project. "A man unhooked his safety lanyard and walked down a girder, slipped and fell and drowned," says Clair.

J. Cashman and Testa Corp. are beginning a $59.9-million demolition of the two obsolete steel bridges that no longer serve Highway 17 between Charleston and Mt. Pleasant. The new bridge will surely make 70,000 daily vehicles’ worth of commuting a mountain’s worth more pleasant, while allowing bigger ships to sail in and out of Charleston’s burgeoning port.

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Tremendous Terminal In Texas

The recently opened Skylink, possibly the world’s longest on-airport people mover system, now has a new terminal to serve. It’s so big, there are two people mover stations. With a Texas-sizedflourish, Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport unveiled the world's largest post-9/11 airport expansion on July 23, with the debut of the 2 million-sq-ft International Terminal D.

The $1.2-billion international terminal features soaring 80-ft ceilings and a plethora of public exhibits, including a sculpture garden Officials estimate it (the terminal, not the sculpture garden) will create more than 77,000 new jobs and $34 billion in new economic activity over the next 15 years. It will house all DFW international flight operations to 38 destinations. DFW is set to serve 5.6 million passengers overall this year.

"This was a project of monumental proportions," says Clay Paslay, executive vice president for airport development. "More than 500 companies and 12,000 people from around the world worked more than 10 million man-hours to complete this terminal. And our safety record was unprecedented for a project of this size. We did it all with minimal injuries and no deaths. That's the most monumental statistic of all."

SAFETEA-LU and what it means to whom? To you

Karen Hedlund, Arlington, Va.-based partner with Nossaman Guthner Knox Elliott LLP, has probably almost memorized whole sections of the multi-thousand-page document containing the new provisions for innovative financing in the $286-billion new highway/transit bill. Her firm has been involved with just about every innovative megaproject in the country, from the groundbreaking Interstate 15 design-build project in Utah to the forthcoming Trans-Texas Corridor. Anticipated amendments and revisions to the bill notwithstanding, Hedlund offered a specific and in-depth peek into the specific programs and changes that will boost innovative and alternative contracting and financing.

  • "One of the things we’ll see is increased investment by the private sector in highway and intermodal projects as a result of the new private activity bond provisions in the act,"she says. For example, up to $15 billion worth of tax-exempt bonds will be available for private equity investment in major projects. "The private activity bond provision essentially levels the playing field between private and public investments in infrastructure," Hedlund says. "The private sector had been disadvantaged [previously] vis a vis government project ownership and operation because it could not take advantage of the lower-cost debt that was available to governmental projects."
  • Hedlund does caution contractors that only projects that are also receiving federal funding are eligible for the private activity bonds. "That means these projects, to the extent that they use federal funds, will be subject to federal requirements such as Buy America and the prevailing wage," Hedlund says.

    The ability to use tax-exempt bonds for private investment also extends to freight-related and intermodal projects, which had not been eligible for this kind of funding previously.

  • Design-build flexibility–and in turn, ability to speed up projects–increases, thanks to SAFETEA-LU, notes Hedlund. Projects no longer have to cost at least $50 million to be delivered through design-build without special approvals. Moreover, agencies no longer have to wait until after environmental approvals are finalized in order to issue RFPs or enter into design-build contracts. "If you wait until after a Record of Deicsion to solicit proposals, you often end up with new good ideas from the design-build team that requires going back and redoing the NEPA approval process," notes Hedlund.
  • The bill also provides for protection from eleventh-hour lawsuits that in the past has held up projects, as in the case of the San Joaquin toll road. There is now a new 180-day statute of limitations for claims seeking judicial review of federal project approval. "What this will do is reduce major risk associated with developing transportation projects," says Hedlund. Potential litigators who want to challenge the validity of the environmental process will no longer be able to file lawsuits against a project that’s ready to receive a Notice to Proceed.
  • Public freight rail and intermodal freight projects will now be eligible for Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act loans. Also whereas previously only a handful of states could use federal allotments to beef up their State Infrastructure Banks, now all 50 states can do so.