Crossing over


Ken Warbritton, left, and Bob Brendel of the Missouri Department of Transportation stand near a recently completed project on Route WW in Columbia, Missouri, USA.


Tragedy prompts a governmental agency to rebuild and repair more than 800 bridges.

During rush hour on 1 August 2007, the eight-lane I-35W bridge in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA collapsed without warning—killing 13 people and injuring 145.

The catastrophe inspired officials in the nearby state of Missouri to fast-track the Safe and Sound Bridge Improvement Program, an aggressive initiative to rehabilitate or rebuild 802 of its own worst bridges within five years.

The program plays a central role in the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) plan to improve the state's infrastructure.

“MoDOT has been focused on making improvements that benefit the entire state system,” says Bob Brendel, outreach coordinator for program delivery and project manager for the agency. “We've made significant progress in improving the condition of our major roadways, but our bridge network was lagging behind. We have a hard time staying ahead of the number of bridges that go to deficient status each year.”


MoDOT began seeking bid proposals for the program in 2006, but the U.S. credit crisis delayed the program and forced the agency to come up with a new financing plan.

“The original model was a design-build-finance-maintain contract whereby the successful team would be responsible for improving 802 bridges in a five-year period, then maintaining them for 25 years,” Mr. Brendel explains. “At the end of the 25 years, the bridges were to still be in a satisfactory condition.”

The contracting team would finance the program, with MoDOT paying them back during the 25-year maintenance period. The idea was to motivate the team to meet its deadline so the contractor would start receiving the annual payments.

However, the credit meltdown in 2008 made that model unaffordable.

“The private sector just couldn't borrow that kind of money with a repayment schedule that could fit within MoDOT's means,” Mr. Brendel says.

Consequently, the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission directed MoDOT to pursue a second procurement. The 554 bridges MoDOT deemed most in need of replacement were packaged in a single design-build contract. The remaining 248 rehabilitation projects were grouped by type, size or location, and put out for bids through the department's regular monthly letting schedule.

In May 2009, the Lee's Summit, Missouri, USA-based conglomerate KTU Constructors was chosen for the replacement portion of the program.

The proposed price tag: US$487 million. When added to the remaining bridges’ rehabilitation cost, the entire budget comes to almost US$700 million.


The design process required a large volume of work to be accomplished in a relatively short amount of time.


“A big part of this fast, streamlined design process was standardized plans,” says Ken Warbritton, project director, MoDOT. “KTU Constructors included a variety of structure types in their proposal. However, the bulk of their bridges consist of two basic types of structures. The adjacent girder superstructure with asphalt leveling and riding surface was the most prevalent, followed by spread girders with concrete decks.”

These bridge types utilize similar beams—box girders or cored slab girders. Both have a relatively shallow depth, an advantage because they provide more hydraulic clearance. That means project teams don't have to raise a bridge to accommodate the streamflow, the volume and rate of water flow, or deal with any extra tie-in work.

With the standardized process, skew angles were in 10-degree increments and no greater than 40 degrees, while span lengths were in 5-foot (1.5-meter) increments.

“This standardization helps in the fabrication of girders, providing fewer changes to precast dimensions. That allows fabrication plants to produce several girders of common length between form changes, which is a more efficient manufacturing process,” Mr. Warbritton says.

The team also applied standardized details to many of the bridge plans, reducing the number of detail sheets.

After their plans were finalized, designers, construction engineers and MoDOT staff conducted a joint constructability review at each worksite.

“The point is to have input from all parties prior to design—not after. These reviews served as a good overview of the structure type and any site-specific issues which needed to be addressed. It also led to less rework during the remaining design process,” Mr. Warbritton says. “After this process was underway, designs were being produced at a rate of three bridge designs every two days, with the total design effort completed within a single year.”


For a program that includes at least one project in each of Missouri's 114 counties, a good communication plan was always a top priority.

To break the program up into manageable groupings, KTU divided the state into five districts, set up mobile satellite offices and assigned a regional superintendent to each. MoDOT also chose a field engineer to work closely with each superintendent.

The MoDOT central office team conducts daily video teleconferences first thing in the morning so any issues can be immediately addressed.

Team members also hold weekly half-day meetings and a statewide video conference every other week.

Members of the executive partnership group—senior leaders from the two organizations—meet quarterly.


The number of bridges to be rebuilt in the program
The number of bridges to be repaired

The program's budget


Project professionals have been discussing what's needed to successfully manage projects in the public sector in the PMI Government Community of Practice. Winnie Liem, PMP, weighed in: Being a project manager in the public sector, my experience has shown that one's project requires some of the following:

1. Commitment from the business area and key stakeholders. many projects fail or don't meet deadlines because the business areas do not commit key resources and time to your project. In the public sector, there are often many competing priorities faced by your clients. I will clearly outline the level of commitment on my charter that a business area lead needs to be colocated and commit at least one day a week with my project team.

2. Contingency planning for “all those government processes.” Extra time needs to be factored in to follow the various government processes that will inevitably cause delay (e.g., enterprise architecture, procurement, internal/external service providers, etc.).

3. Managing your issues and risks. Do up-front planning for your risks and manage your issues throughout the project life cycle. outline how you plan to deal with risks and how you are handling your issues. Issues should not be hidden, but instead exposed and dealt with head on (e.g., escalation to the CIO).

Project managers in the public service have to strive for excellence and be more diligent, because we are under a microscope in spending public funds.

image >> Join the discussion at

“We are in constant contact with each other even if we are not meeting face-to-face,” Mr. Brendel says.


One of the program's main goals is to complete the bridges with minimal impact on users. For project teams, that meant closing each individual bridge initiative as quickly as possible.

“These bridges are being built very, very fast,” Mr. Warbritton says.

In fact, the average project closure is 40 days, and last August, one bridge in the program reopened every 2.5 days on average.

“We are going to get to a level where we have 60 to 100 bridges being worked on at any given time,” Mr. Brendel says.

To keep the projects moving at a rapid, economical—and safe—pace, the team has adopted a policy of fully closing bridges when its members are on-site. This maximizes workdays but also involves dealing with local officials, schools and emergency management agencies regarding detours.

It has also meant accommodating stakeholders. For example, one school did not want to change its bus pickup route at the beginning of the school year but was okay doing so later. The project team moved that particular bridge down in the schedule.

And when the city of Stockton was holding elections, the project team delayed the start of any bridge construction in that area until after people voted.

“We have to have schedule flexibility,” Mr. Warbritton says. “It's our primary tool to responding to concerns from public stakeholders.”

Any time a schedule changes, the field engineer and the regional superintendent notify project leaders in weekly schedule updates.

To keep citizens informed of the program's progress and of any upcoming work in their area, community briefings are held one to two months ahead of construction.

So far, “the comments have been favorable about our ability to get in and out and leave them with a brand-new bridge,” according to Mr. Warbritton.

Halfway through the program, MoDOT has completed 332 bridges, with another 32 currently under construction. The organization is ramping up for its busiest year yet.

At the start of every year, team members review progress and figure out how to improve processes for quality and scheduling. “December 2013 is absolutely our deadline,” Mr. Warbritton vows. PM




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