While completing a paving project on I-93 in 2010, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation found structural deficiencies on 14 separate bridges that required replacement rather than repair. The reality of replacing these bridges along a major thoroughfare that accommodates 200,000 drivers a day was daunting.
Using $93 million from Governor Deval Patrick’s Accelerated Bridge Program and $5 million in federal funding, however, union labor completed the “Fast 14” project in record time late this summer by prefabricating pieces off site so that they could be installed over a period of 10 weekends. This innovative procedure allowed traffic to be diverted to one lane, meaning the road was never fully closed. Had the project been done in the traditional manner, Boston drivers would have had to battle through three to four years of stagnant traffic. The project was a success and is likely to become a standard-barer for future projects.
So it comes as little surprise (though with great excitement) that the “Fast 14” project has been named “Best Project in the New York Region for 2012″ by the Engineering News-Record. In praising “Fast 14,” which was finished ahead of schedule and substantially under budget, ENR notes that one of its most innovative aspect was MassDOT’s ability to keep people informed. Originally informing people via Twitter, the agency took to multiple forms of social media to keep the public in the loop, thus allowing them to alter their travel plans accordingly.
Besides its Twitter feed, the agency used other platforms including email blasts and text messages. It also organized public meetings, alerted municipalities, attracted local news coverage and installed a regional traffic media system on highways that gave estimated travel times throughout construction zones.
ENR notes that the public became so informed about the process that during the Medford demolition onlookers gathered on a hillside with lawn chairs to see it all go down (pun intended).
The design and coordination of the project were instrumental in its success, but it would be foolish not to recognize its central driver: physical labor. According to ENR,
To meet the deadline, the project team worked 55 hours during the weekend. Separately, two shifts of workers labored seven days a week to prepare for those weekends, says Jim Cahill, assistant project manager at J.F. White.
“The planning effort was the ticket to completing each bridge on time,” Cahill says.
The story we posted in late August about the completion of the final bridge included a note from a traveler who witnessed the project first hand while on vacation. The title, “Boston’s Fast 14 slowed my vacation, but it’s too cool to gripe about,” perhaps best sums up the public’s feelings on this speedy enhancement.
State Transportation Secreatary Jeffrey Mullan wrote the following note of gratitude to the areas motorists.
“I want to thank the motorists of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts who patiently bared with us as we executed this project. I want to assure them that while they had 10 weekends of difficult traffic, they avoided . . . three or four years of disruption on Interstate 93 North,”
Upon reviewing the project, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood claimed that,
This kind of innovation is exactly what President Obama means when he asks us to be smarter in the way we do business,”
Perhaps most telling is MassDOT’s plans to use the same exact method to replace the Commonwealth Avenue Bridge Deck in the Summer of 2014.