Project Management Institute

Tight PM contols result in smooth ride on Texas freeway

Project Management in Action


The Southwest Freeway in Houston is one of the most heavily traveled freeways in Texas, with more than 250,000 vehicles per day. The Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County (Metro) and the Texas Department of Transportation (TX DOT) joined to form the Southwest Team, which was charged with relieving the daily traffic nightmare on U.S. 59.

Construction started in August 1989 and was initially scheduled for completion in five years. After using project management software, the schedule was amended to 40 months. The project— the largest in Texas history-was completed on time and $30 million under budget. “It's one thing to meet a schedule,” says Brad White, senior project manager at Metro, “it's another to beat or meet an accelerated schedule.” For their exemplary management of the Southwest Freeway project, the SW Team won the Project of the Year award from the Houston PMI Chapter.

Project managers determined the effects of different work schedules on the project's duration. After undergoing what-if analyses, the SW Team settled on a moderate schedule of five days a week, 16 hours a day. During execution, White tracked the daily progress and rolled that into the activity level. He explains, “Instead of just saying you'll have a paved road in 20 days, we could follow the exact progress. If there was a problem, we could start early and cut it off.”

To integrate schedule data and strengthen communications, all contractors on the project used the same project management software. This was particularly effective in preventing claims from the contractors. In one case, a contractor believed they were being delayed by a sewer problem. But the management team discovered the real reason for the delay was a low production rate on the construction of retaining walls. “They were trying to do twice the work with half as many people as they needed,” White says. “We brought this to the contractor's attention, and they gradually improved their production rate.”

The original plan was to build three temporary transitions due to a minimum 2-to 4-foot grade difference between the old lanes and the new inside lanes. “We found that if contractors focused on certain areas, then the new lane could be ready at the same time,” White says. Instead of constructing the transitions, the SW Team decided to switch to the new inside lanes simultaneously, calling it “Operation Big Switch.” The first operation was so successful that it was repeated when the outside lanes were completed. Together, both Big Switch operations saved $1 million.


Project management reports such as bar charts were used to communicate with the public on the status of the U.S. 59 upgrade. “During construction, we had a display at a local mall where the public could see the progress,” White says.

For the SW Team, the time and money invested in project management was worthwhile. White says the ratio of project management cost (both in software and labor-hours) to the total project cost was .05 percent. An economic analysis by the Texas Transportation Institute showed the early finish saved the public $270 million.

From: Bill Zander
Welcom Software Technology
Product Used: Open Plan

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.

PMNETwork • September 1994



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