There’s much to be excited about with Skanska’s latest public-private partnership project, Florida’s I-4 Ultimate. There’s our joint venture’s $2.3 billion design-build contract that encompasses widening and reconstructing 21 miles of interstate highway, and building or modifying an incredible 140 bridges. I-4 Ultimate provides our team with a 40-year operations and maintenance agreement. Also, I-4 stands to be the largest and highest-ranked project certified by the Envision sustainable infrastructure rating system.
This massive project is needed because I-4 – a crucial trans-Florida link connecting Tampa and Daytona Beach – becomes an expanse of red brake lights during the Orlando area’s rush hours, a situation worsened by the highway’s outdated 1960s-era design. When our team completes construction in 2021, the Orlando stretch will be a better-functioning highway – with safer curves, improved access to connecting roads and all new driving surfaces – and a more aesthetically pleasing corridor through artful bridge design, lighting and landscaping.
This image shows how I-4 will look near downtown Orlando.
Beyond those enhancements, I-4 Ultimate will offer a new travel experience: Those willing to pay to bypass normal traffic will have access to the four dynamically tolled express lanes we’re inserting in the highway’s center median.
“This is something that all of the communities along the corridor – as well as the commuters and tourists using the highway – will certainly be proud of,” said Brook Brookshire, project director for SGL Constructors, a joint venture comprised of Skanska, Granite and Lane. “It’ll be a showpiece entrance to Central Florida.”
Added Cesar Souza, CEO of I-4 Mobility Partners, the concession company made up of Skanska and John Laing that is partnered with the Florida Department of Transportation. “I-4 Ultimate will improve the daily lives of many Floridians and will further position Florida as a leader in P3s. We’re honored to be making this possible.”
This project’s impact will go far beyond blacktop and concrete. Our team will be creating up to 2,000 construction jobs, and providing hundreds of local residents with job training. Also, central to our strategy is tapping the expertise and building the capacities of small-, minority- and woman-owned businesses. Outreach to such potential partners began during the pursuit phase, and is even greater in intensity now.
Here are some key aspects of this project:
What’s behind the I-4 Ultimate project name?
Our client, FDOT, dubbed this project the “ultimate” because it represents the final effort to physically expand this highway. Once SGL Constructors completes its work, FDOT doesn’t see future possibilities for adding lanes.
Why is I-4 Ultimate a P3?
On its own, FDOT did not have adequate funding to undertake this project in a timely manner. An FDOT study found that if the agency built these I-4 improvements as public money became available, the work would take 27 years to complete. By contracting via a public-private partnership, FDOT is able to have the full project designed and constructed in less than seven years.
Through this P3 arrangement, FDOT gains the support of two companies – Skanska and John Laing – that are investing equity and financing much of the project, and are assuming the risk for constructing the project on time and within budget, among other responsibilities. Skanska, for instance, will invest up to $73 million of equity. In turn, we secure a substantial construction project and gain a long-term concession that includes regular “availability” payments once the tolled lanes open to traffic.
As part of the financing and reflecting the national priority of this project, our team secured the largest-ever federal loan for a P3, one for $950 million through the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act.
What’s our overall approach?
To manage this extensive project, our team divided the 21 miles into four sections of four to six miles each: Attractions, Downtown, Ivanhoe and Altamonte. In each area, we’re establishing field offices staffed with 30 to 50 project management staff.
The project headquarters is in a 42,000-square-foot building along the route in Maitland. Opened this fall, it will house approximately 160 people. All key project partners are co-located here, which promotes rapid and collaborative decision making.
What are the biggest challenges?
The project’s location and length are the main technical challenges. The corridor passes through downtown Orlando, with its dense concentration of people and businesses that the project must safely accommodate. Beyond Orlando’s core, our team must ensure an Injury-Free Environment® over I-4 Ultimate’s 21 miles of active interstate. The most complicated aspect of work is building a five-level interchange downtown to connect I-4 and SR 408.
What are some ways we’ll ensure safety?
As with all Skanska projects, instilling and maintaining an IFE culture is key. This is even more important on I-4 Ultimate, given the significant number of people being hired who haven’t been part of Skanska.
To advance a proactive safety environment, our team selected a senior operations person to be safety director: Bill Reed, a project executive formerly overseeing our Interstate 275 reconstruction in Tampa. Reed is known for being a safety champion.
“Bill can connect with the workforce because he’s been in the field doing the same things that they’re doing,” Brookshire said. “And hopefully, they can connect with him in the same manner: they know this is a guy who has done this before, and they know he’s looking out for their well-being.”
Reed will oversee an extensive safety training program that will be conducted for everyone, from superintendents to laborers who have never before worked in construction. This training will include how to properly develop plans that detail every step of each activity. These sessions – which will be ongoing throughout the project – will be conducted at a training complex with a dedicated safety trainer.
How will we staff this project during construction?
SGL Constructors will have about 220 management staff, and at the project’s peak there will be 1,500 to 2,000 craft employees (both direct hire and through trade contractors). Our team has had no problems finding people to fill the management roles. However, they expect it will be a huge challenge finding that many craft workers, given the large number of workers required and the numerous other transportation projects underway in Florida.
To ensure our team has the needed skilled workers, this fall they started a tremendous outreach effort, even though those positions won’t be needed until the first quarter of 2015, when construction operations begin. This effort will include a dedicated craft recruiter and a separate office for people to apply for craft positions and be interviewed. Local craft candidates are preferred.
Orlando’s Bridge District will come alive at night with aesthetic LED lighting, an enhancement offered by our team.
How much equipment is required?
I-4 Ultimate requires a huge equipment fleet: 250 to 300 pieces of heavy equipment – including excavators, loaders, cranes and backhoes – and another 220 pick-ups and SUVs. The price tag for all this? An estimated $125 million. That doesn’t include the 90 to 100 on-road dump trucks that are also on our team’s shopping list. Most of the equipment and vehicles will be new and acquired through strategic leasing methods.
With all this, the most impressive number might be the projected $56 million equipment fuel bill, plus even more for those dump trucks.
How is BIM/VDC being used?
Our team expects to use the project’s BIM model to analyze the constructability of the I-4/SR 408 interchange. Already, we’re using the model to analyze a significant new maintenance-of-traffic plan for that junction. That work will then extend to the rest of the project alignment.
“I believe we will be able to identify cost-saving changes that were otherwise indiscernible at the time of bid, given the huge volume of information to process during that period,” said Paul Pedini, vice president.
Distinctive landscaping and bridge architecture at project boundaries let travelers know they have entered the new I-4.
Why does Envision matter?
To help differentiate our proposal, our team committed to achieving the highest standard possible under Envision, the leading sustainability rating system for infrastructure projects. That I-4 will be one of the first projects pursuing this certification, that it’s the largest to be doing so, and that our team is targeting Platinum certification all make this very significant. Beyond recognition, Envision will provide a framework for our team to share sustainability best practices.
Envision has five areas under which points are assigned: quality of life, leadership, resource allocation, natural world, and climate and risk. Much of what Envision requires is already part of how FDOT defined and planned this project. Still, key aspects of achieving enough points to attain Platinum status include such construction best practices as re-using nearly all waste materials and balancing earthwork operations so excavated materials can remain on site. The lifecycle thinking inherent with P3s also provided us with important points, as does using a customized version of Skanska’s environmental management system.
Skanska is helping pioneer the Envision system. Along with being a charter member of the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure – one of the groups behind Envision – we were also appointed to the chairmanship of the Envision construction group, which organizes the system’s construction module.
This 700-foot-long curved pedestrian bridge over I-4 is an iconic enhancement offered by our team.
What are our operations and maintenance responsibilities?
Beginning this February and for the next 40 years, I-4 Mobility Partners is responsible for operating and maintaining the project’s 21 miles. Everything is included, such as repairing potholes and guardrails, inspecting and fixing bridges, and mowing grass. This work also includes providing roving service patrols to help stranded motorists.
Part of why governments are attracted to P3 projects is that the arrangements ensure a high level of service. With I-4, for example, our team is obligated to be on the site of accidents within 15 minutes, remove any broken-down vehicles within 30 minutes, temporarily restore lighting that has fallen below acceptable levels within 30 minutes, and temporarily patch all blacktop potholes within three days.
Did we consider maintenance and lifecycle costs when designing this project?
P3s give the concessionaire – the contract holder – the incentive to consider the whole-life costs of a project, not just the initial design and construction costs. For I-4, our team performed lifecycle analyses of four key project aspects: pavement material, pavement marking, lighting and bridge structure type. For example, steel tub girders were found to be most economical over 40 years for the curved flyover bridges, surpassing the concrete superstructure alternative after consideration of the post-tensioning maintenance costs. The analyses were led by Skanska’s global lifecycle experts using models developed in-house. These studies utilized input from workshops with the full-range of team members present: development/finance, design, construction and operations.
Building this five level downtown interchange to connect I-4 and State Route 408 is the most complicated aspect of work.
How will this project benefit Central Florida?
Our team has a goal of awarding more than $250 million of work during the design, construction, and operations and maintenance phases to small-, minority- and woman-owned firms. “That’s a challenge, but we look at this as a real opportunity to infuse economic empowerment into these local communities,” said Rodney Renix, compliance officer.
Making sure the biggest pool of firms have access to I-4 contracts requires much outreach and other efforts. This fall, for example, our team held an eight-week program to educate small business owners about bonding, a hurdle for many such firms in procuring contracts. Another local benefit is that our team will be providing on-the-job training throughout the project’s duration so that 250 formerly unskilled workers become proficient in a construction craft.
“We have made a commitment to do something great here, and we intend to deliver on that promise,” Renix said.