Skanska is currently hard at work finishing construction and development of the Elizabeth River Tunnels (ERT) project with the Virginia Department of Transportation. Skanska’s first US P3 project, ERT encompasses the construction of a new Midtown Tunnel and MLK Extension, the rehabilitation of three existing tunnels, and the development of an efficient connected transportation network. Constructive Thinking recently sat down with Wade Watson, ERT Project Director for SKW (the Skanska, Kiewit, Weeks Marine construction joint venture), and talked with him about ERT and its “Building What Matters” impact on the Hampton Roads region.
Constructive Thinking (CT): “How is Skanska Building What Matters at ERT?”
Wade Watson (WW): “A second Midtown Tunnel [at the bottom of the Elizabeth River between the cities of Portsmouth and Norfolk] will provide several benefits for the region. First, it will reduce traffic congestion on U.S. 58 by providing extra travel lanes, and enhance driver safety by having one tube for eastbound traffic and another tube for westbound traffic. The project has also created construction-related jobs. According to Elizabeth River Crossings (ERC*) data, 500 direct and 1,000 indirect construction-related jobs were created. Finally, we expect the tunnel to enhance the general quality of life for Hampton Roads’ residents and visitors.”
Wade Watson at the ERT worksite.
CT: “How have SKW Constructors (construction joint venture of Skanksa Kiewit Weeks) and the ERT Project Team worked with the community?”
WW: “The design-build phase of the ERT project has a number of positive impacts on the local community. We’ve awarded more than $310M in contracts to DBE (disadvantaged business enterprises) and SWaM (small, women-owned, and minority-owned) businesses. That’s incredibly important to us as a company; that we’re contributing to the local economy in a tangible way. We’ve also operated an On-Job Training (OJT) program that has provided construction-related skills training – everything from a field office clerk to a mechanic to an electrician – and project employment opportunities for 80 people. It’s resulted in graduates being trained in a craft and having a better paying job. In addition, we’ve provided more than 40,000 hours of training to our project’s skilled craft and staff workforce.”
CT: “Why is supporting the community on this project so important to Skanska?”
WW: “Skanska believes deeply that every project has a personal impact on everyone it touches. And with long-term projects like our P3s and ERT, our workers become part of the community, if they’re not already coming from the local workforce. So supporting local educational and community service organizations through things like food drives for Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia, Portsmouth Area Resources, and Oasis Social Ministry are critically important. I’m especially proud of our toy and financial resource drives, where we collected more than $25,000 in combined cash and gifts like toys, electronics and gift cards and donated them to Edmarc, a Portsmouth-based hospice for children, Wounded Warriors, and Children’s Hospital of the Kings Daughters (CHKD). Community outreach initiatives like these make a difference to so many people who don’t even play a direct role in the project. But if we can do it, we will.”
CT: “You’ve also focused on similar efforts for the environment, correct?”
WW: “We are among one of the first US construction firms to have all our operations ISO 14001 certified. ISO 14000 is a set of environmental management standards that help companies minimize their negative impact on the environment, comply with applicable laws, and continually improve operations. We have also participated in events like Earth Day celebration and Clean the Bay Day, where our employees and family members helped to remove trash from the shores and waters of the Elizabeth River and the Chesapeake Bay. We also brought more than 100 local Cub and Boy Scouts together for the Scouting the Midtown Tunnel event, to introduce them to civil and environmental engineering and construction management and help them earn their engineering merit badge. ”
CT: “How is sustainability factored in to the ERT?”
WW: “We started out with the aim to deliver not only a high quality finished product but to deliver an outstanding environmental project – to improve the local environment. To help us with this objective, we hired Carissa Agnese as our project’s environmental manager, and we challenged her to design and implement an innovative, cost-effective, and efficient environmental management system. Through her environmental leadership, the SKW project team developed several environmental best practices, wrote and publicized environmental reports and case studies (to help share our project’s knowledge and best practices with other companies in the construction industry), and received several local and state-level environmental awards including the Virginia Governor’s Environmental Excellence Award and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (VDEQ) Environmental Excellence Program (VEEP) Award. We are now working to have the ERT project undergo the accreditation process and designation as a sustainable infrastructure project by Envision.”
CT: “How is ERT a personal project for you?”
WW: “During my 37-year career with Skanska, I’ve worked some large, complex projects, and I have learned a few things along the way. We have to be good neighbors, we have to know what the community thinks, and we have to do our work, day in and day out, in a conscious way that minimizes the short-term impacts of the construction activity as we communicate the long-term benefits of the project. We have to take care of the communities in which we are working, to help them in whatever ways we can, whether that’s providing contributions or manpower to local charitable organizations, or providing educational opportunities to local school and university students, or helping to improve the environment around the project. We need to be proactive at sharing our project with the public. Projects of this scope, scale, and technical complexity are interesting to the public and serve to engage the community at large.”
Wade Watson is a Vice President of Operations with Skanska USA Civil SE and Project Director of the ERT Project with SKW Constructors (a joint venture of Skanska USA Civil SE, Kiewit Infrastructure, and Weeks Marine)
*ERC is the joint venture of Skanska Infrastructure Development and Macquarie Group for the purpose to finance, deliver, operate and maintain ERT