The Quest for Quality: Pennsylvania's Meyersdale Bypass Project
When the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) began the U.S. Route 219/Meyersdale Bypass Project in Somerset County, state officials had high expectations, and those expectations were exceeded.
"The Meyersdale Project set a new standard for public-private partnering," said PennDOT Chief Engineer Gary Hoffman. "We wanted this road to serve as a model for the way highways are designed and constructed for all future Pennsylvania projects."
And judging from the awards that this project has received, it truly can serve as a model for future projects. The bypass, one of the largest single-section highways ever built by PennDOT in Western Pennsylvania, won the Project of the Year Award at the 1999 Pennsylvania Quality Initiative (PQI) Awards Program, and it was also honored with the PQI Concrete Pavement and Environmental Award. As a result of its success at the state level, the project was entered in national competition, and it was a "Gold Level Winner" (national runner-up) in the National Quality Initiative Awards.
The National Quality Initiative (NQI) is a dynamic partnership of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), and 11 other highway construction-related associations. NQI focuses on continuous quality improvement within the highway industry. The seven gold level winners and the national winner illustrate how quality improvement can be made a part of our everyday lives. These awards were based on the following criteria: the quality process and results, customer focus, teamwork, innovation and value, and long-term improvement.
Nestled in the Casselman River Valley near the rural farming community of Meyersdale in south-central Pennsylvania, the $53 million bypass was officially opened by Gov. Tom Ridge in October 1998. Finished in 21 months and $600,000 under budget, this remarkable nine-kilometer, limited-access, four-lane concrete road involved moving 3.8 million cubic meters of earth and rock, placing nine kilometers of four-lane concrete pavement, constructing almost 4,600 linear meters of pipe, 21 kilometers of underdrain, and building 13 major bridge structures, including two large river crossings.
Hoffman says that beyond the erosion and sedimentation impacts and the relocation of major facilities and environmental challengesthat had to be overcome, the true Meyersdale Bypass story is the success of the special public-private partnership that was determined to build a beautifully designed, environmentally friendly, quality-constructed highway that would greatly benefit the region.
Working closely with members of the community, PennDOT District 9 Engineer Earl Neiderhiser and his staff inspired the dedicated and empowered teams that worked together. The partners included the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection; Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission; Pennsylvania Game Commission; The Somerset County Conservation District; the prime highway contractor, New Enterprise Stone & Lime Co.; design firms Gannett Fleming Inc. and Greenhorne & O'Mara; consultant inspectors SAI Inc.; utility companies; and FHWA.
"We knew that partnering was essential to produce a quality product," Hoffman said. "As a model for all future projects in Pennsylvania, we knew this one would symbolize what can be achieved through partnering, with an uncompromising level of quality."
Complaints about heavy truck traffic, congestion, and air and noise pollution in Meyersdale began in the 1950s. By the 1970s, the design of a bypass was started, but it was not completed due to fiscal constraints. In the 1990s, intense public demand from area residents and businesses restarted the design process, and in October 1998, the long-awaited bypass was opened.
Many unique factors became a part of the project during the design and construction phases. Local students built a foot bridge, trail, and an outdoor classroom at the wetland replacement site. PennDOT and the Game Commission formed a partnership to mitigate the loss of wildlife habitat.
A regional public television station produced a program on the archaeological studies associated with this project. These studies were the most extensive ever done in Pennsylvania, and several Native American village sites were discovered. A key discovery was the oldest house foundation ever found in Pennsylvania; it dated back 5,000 years. These unique findings were very popular with local officials and the public.
The Partnering Process
From the start, PennDOT provided a full-time manager for the project. Normally, PennDOT project managers are simultaneously involved with numerous projects.
Also, from the very beginning, PennDOT recognized the public as a partner and consulted with the bypass "customers" from the surrounding communities, including a large group of Amish farmers.
The project began with public meetings to identify interested parties. A partnering committee was formed. A formal partnering workshop was held at the start of each construction season, and weekly partnering meetings were held on site.
In addition to PennDOT managers, the weekly meetings often included the design consultant; the contractor; the mayor of Meyersdale; local school officials; Summit Township officials; and representatives of FHWA, the local utilities, the Game Commission, and the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.
Maintaining communication with the public was an important part of the partnering process. Traffic surveys and interviews with local motorists were conducted. Numerous public hearings were held during the design and construction phases to determine public needs and address its concerns. Newsletters kept the public informed on the progress of the design. News releases were submitted to local media on a regular basis. For two years, Somerset County Fair officials donated space for an information booth to PennDOT. As a result of the constant dialogue, solutions were found long before issues became problems.
A forum of partners committed themselves to achieving seven goals:
- Complete on time.
- Ensure quality project with minimum disruption to the community.
- Strive to achieve zero rework and zero claims.
- Improve on a construction and public safety record that already exceeds the industry standards.
- Obtain rideability that is better than the specified requirements.
- Provide an environmentally sound and responsible project.
- Have fun!
The Quality Process
The quality program used throughout the project was as complicated as the project itself. The formal project quality assurance/quality control (QA/QC) program can best be described as a combination of the various QA/QC processes used by each partner on the project team. Such a complex project required quality work from every participant. Each team member used the QA/QC processes best suited for his tasks.
Throughout the development of the project, team members kept a constant focus on quality. During the design phase, separate teams, including representatives from FHWA, were formed for both bridge and roadway design. The weekly team meetings allowed immediate feedback to ensure that quality was incorporated into all plans. Looking ahead to the construction phase, construction personnel assisted in performing constructibility reviews at various times during the design to ensure quality during construction.
An incentive program for pavement smoothness was offered and awarded. The pavement incentive bonus had a specification of seven inches per mile (177 millimeters per 1.6 kilometers) or less, which was met and far exceeded in most of the lots. A total monetary bonus of $119,192.09 was awarded to the road contractor for the nearly 92,500 square meters of concrete pavement.
The contractor accepted the challenge and the responsibility for building a quality project. Even though a quality design had been developed, it would have been impossible to build a quality project without the implementation of the QA/QC plan for construction. The contractor used several innovative methods to obtain a level of quality that exceeded the standards.
To maximize the smoothness of the roadway, various measures were taken. Because of the amount of concrete required and the need to ensure uniform quality, the contractor constructed an on-site batch plant. This gave the contractor total control over the quality of the concrete, which was in the 1- to 1.5-inch (25- to 38-millimeter) slump range and between 6 and 6.5 percent in air content. This consistency in mix is essential to quality slipform paving.
The field crews had radio contact with the batch plant during concrete placement and could request modifications to the concrete mix if needed. In addition to excellent concrete, random tining was used to reduce noise created by tire/pavement interface. Instead of using conventional texturing techniques, random spacing between the grooves reduced the noise.
The combination of these factors allowed the contractor to exceed the pavement-ride specifications in the contract. The contractor received a bonus payment of 105 percent on 16 of 19 lots and a bonus payment of 104 percent on three lots. As a result, stricter pavement specifications will be used on future projects.
Various agencies involved in the project were also instrumental in the quality process, and during construction, numerous QA/QC reviews by local, state, and federal team members verified that the desired quality results were being achieved.
PennDOT maintains a Quality Assurance Division of 38 employees dedicated to ensuring quality transportation projects. The members of the division are highly proficient in construction techniques, specifications, contract requirements, and material sampling. PennDOT's QA team performed 33 formal reviews throughout the construction period. Of these reviews, only one resulted in the need for corrective action.
FHWA provided insight during design, was an active partner participating in both the formal and weekly partnering meetings, and conducted seven reviews of the project during construction.
The Department of Environmental Protection and the Somerset County Conservation District also helped the quality process by reviewing the project during the design phase, participating in partnering meetings, and conducting on-site inspections during construction.
The high level of quality on the job can be objectively measured through a variety of methods. The fact that 36 environmental inspections were conducted and no citations were received is a testament to the project's excellent design, construction plan, and implementation. The outstanding performance noted in numerous QA reviews proves the project team's commitment to quality. In addition, no problems were found in the seven reviews of the batch plant. The final pavement smoothness numbers prove the skill and efficiency of the paving crew.
The quality of the finished project can be judged by the numerous positive comments from the local citizens, the satisfaction of the participating agencies, and the numerous awards given to the project.
"The U.S. 219/Meyersdale Bypass sets a national standard for what can be accomplished when dedicated, empowered teams (including the public) focus on quality design and construction and work together through partnering," said Frieda Brinskelle, former executive vice president of the Northeast Chapter of the American Concrete Pavement Association. (Photos credit: Gannett Fleming Inc.)
Robert R. Long Jr. is the executive director and chief executive officer of the Northeast Chapter of the American Concrete Pavement Association. He joined the Northeast Chapter in February 1993 and became the executive director in January 1996. Prior to coming to the chapter, Long was the staff pavement engineer for the Virginia Asphalt Association, and before that he worked for the Virginia Department of Transportation as a research scientist at the Virginia Transportation Research Council. Long has a master's degree in civil engineering from the University of Virginia. He routinely works with U.S. DOT and FHWA engineers in his current role as a representative for the concrete pavement industry and is actively involved in the Transportation Research Board.