Express lane expansion demands both technical and collaborative skill

HNTB Fairfax and Stafford Counties, Va.

Project highlights

Client challenge:
After years of court delay, the Virginia Department of Transportation was eager to proceed on the expansion of express lanes on Interstate 95 outside Washington, D.C. But meeting its aggressive timeline required an infrastructure design consultant with ample technical capacity – and the ability to minimize review cycles. 

Our approach:
Haley & Aldrich brought not only a wealth of senior talent to the project, but also unique strengths in managing project complexity and efficiency in dealing with oversight agencies. 

Value delivered:

  • During the 13-week preliminary design phase, Haley & Aldrich performed 90 test borings and provided subsurface evaluations and preliminary design support on 29 miles of roadway, 47 new sound- and retaining walls, and the design, replacement or widening of 21 bridges.
  • We coordinated the efforts of 15 subcontractors and subconsultants, and performed 450 test borings and 170 pavement cores supporting final design of 20 miles of roadway, 4 new and widened bridges, 26 retaining and sound walls, and more than 100 toll gantries, overhead signs and stand-alone poles.
  • We assisted the design team in understanding the underground risk, and ways to cost effectively manage that risk.

A case of operational excellence in action: Doing things right, the first time

Getting highway construction off to a fast start

The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) has increased the number of high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes and high occupancy toll (HOT) lanes on its interstate highways that serve Washington, D.C. The new HOV lanes add capacity, reducing traffic congestion and enabling faster emergency response. The new toll lanes will generate revenues to help fund improved and expanded public transportation, such as new buses and ride facilities. The $1 billion project improves a 29 mile section of highway, and extends HOV/HOT service south of Fredericksburg.

Working via a public-private partnership – that is, doing the construction jointly with a private company that also helps fund the project – VDOT was able to deliver the project far faster than would be possible using only public funding methods. Under the partnership agreement, VDOT owns and oversees the new HOT lanes while its partners Fluor-Lane and Transurban provided construction, plus operation and maintenance over 75 contract years through their joint venture 95 Express Lanes LLC.

Originally proposed in 2009, the project languished for years due to lawsuits from a local community that opposed certain parts of the plan. Meanwhile, the traffic situation in the D.C. Beltway steadily worsened. When legal hurdles were cleared in 2011, VDOT and its partners were eager to make up for lost time.

Smart people, working smart

The initial 13-week phase of the engagement was to develop preliminary design that could be used as the basis for contract bids, known as a “ready-for-estimate” or RFE plans. This was very sensitive work, given that the scope of the entire project would be shaped by the findings and design decisions generated at this stage.

And the project was massive: almost 30 miles of roadway would undergo new construction as well as re-construction, doubled by the fact that it was a divided highway with north- and southbound lanes. The addition of the HOV lanes would widen the roadways, requiring bridges to be extended, retaining walls to be moved or built, and a number of other infrastructure design issues to be considered. The introduction of HOV lanes into more distant sections of the existing highway would require the construction of new roads and bridges as well.

Haley & Aldrich was a natural fit for this project, given our substantial previous experience with major roadway reconstruction. Thanks to our deep bench strength in civil and geotechnical engineering, we were able to provide the comprehensive pre-planning services required to achieve the extensive RFE plan on schedule.

Haley & Aldrich had previously demonstrated this ability to perform to our client, HNTB, and to VDOT, having been brought in to assist with project design on its similar I-495 Express Lane project when schedule compliance became a serious concern. Because by contract the builders are levied significant liquidated damages for each day the project completion is delayed, performance on schedule was more than a matter of pride.

The management style we brought to the project was unique. A number of years earlier Haley & Aldrich had adopted the operating excellence system championed by Toyota, and had developed skill at recognizing the issues most essential to creating value – and at eliminating any factors that impeded value creation. For example, failure to understand VDOT’s internal review process would have resulted in lost time and re-performing of work, which had proved to be a major source of problems in the I-495 Express Lane project.

Delivering complete service, reducing risk

During the compressed, 13-week preliminary phase timeframe the team executed a subsurface exploration program consisting of 90 test borings, which provided the basis for preliminary foundation design recommendations for 21 bridges and 47 walls. Haley & Aldrich also made recommendations for pavement design, ground improvements, abutment stability, acidic soils, overhead sign foundations, and toll gantry foundations.

Haley & Aldrich was also retained to provide services through final design and construction. Additional services included reviewing contract submittals and fulfilling requests for information, as well as providing field service on the more advanced technical challenges of the project. During the final design phase we performed 450 test borings and 170 pavement cores, and coordinated the efforts of 15 subcontractors and subconsultants. Our field exploration efforts supported final design of 20 miles of roadway, 4 new and widened bridges, 26 retaining and sound walls, and more than 100 toll gantries, overhead signs and stand-alone poles.

More than simply civil engineers, Haley & Aldrich performed as a trusted adviser to VDOT and concessionaire 95 Express Lanes LLC throughout the project, helping to reduce the unknowns and allowing both to proceed with greater confidence at every stage. The I-95 Express Lanes project was completed on schedule and opened to traffic in late 2014.

For more information on this project, contact:

Derrick Shelton
David Schoenwolf

Project photography courtesy of 95 Express Lanes.