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U.S. Department of Transportation U.S. Department of Transportation Icon United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation

Public Roads - March/April 2011

March/April 2011
Issue No:
Vol. 74 No. 5
Publication Number:
Table of Contents

From ''Carmageddon'' to Complete Success

by Linda Wilson

The reconstruction of St. Louis’ Interstate 64 went from disaster to victory, thanks to innovative procurement, regional partnerships, and award-winning public outreach.


These crew members are aligning new steel girders for a flyover ramp at the I–170 and I–64 interchange during the first year of Missouri’s reconstruction of I–64.


How do you completely close the oldest interstate in St. Louis, MO, for reconstruction and expect to survive the public scrutiny? From 2007 to 2010, Missouri did just that, while on a limited budget and using a flexible contracting approach, finishing the Interstate 64 (I–64) project in St. Louis ahead of schedule, $11 million under budget, and with a public satisfaction rating of 95 percent.

I–64 (also U.S. 40) is the oldest highway in St. Louis, dating back to the 1930s. Originally designed for cars with a posted speed of 30 miles per hour (mi/h) (48 kilometers per hour, km/h), the interstate had more of a parkway feel as it meandered through the heart of St. Louis. But by 2000, more than 150,000 vehicles used the highway every day at a posted speed of 55 mi/h (89 km/h).

Unfortunately, the oldest 10-mile (16-kilometer) section of the highway and its 30 bridges were deteriorated and outdated, so they had to be replaced to improve safety and capacity and to meet interstate standards. Limited funds, restricted space, and the need to complete the project quickly to reduce the impact on the traveling public complicated the situation.

The I–64 project involved complete reconstruction of 13 interchanges (including a freeway-to-freeway connection with I–170), eight major overpasses or other bridges, and removal and replacement of the mainline pavement between Spoede Road in St. Louis County and Kingshighway Boulevard in the city.

A New Model for Design-Build

With an original budget of $535 million, the I–64 project was the largest construction contract that the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) had ever awarded and its first-ever design-build project. Early estimates indicated that the reconstruction would cost more than the available funds, so MoDOT implemented a flexible procurement process that allowed for creative innovations in contractor bidding.

“This project was going to be more than we had money for,” says Kevin Keith, MoDOT’s director. “Keeping traffic on [the highway] and rebuilding it conventionally would have taken 5 to 7 years.” Keith recalls that MoDOT said to potential contractors, “Here is how much money we have. This is what we’d like to have built, and we’d like this done in not more than 4 years.”


This aerial photograph shows the I–64 and I–170 interchange during reconstruction. The interchange served as the hinge point for a traffic detour. The western half of I–64 was closed, but traffic could continue to flow easily between the open section of I–64 to I–170 through the central part of St. Louis County.


The new I–170 and I–64 interchange, shown here, is a complicated system of ramps and collector roads handling more than 150,000 vehicles per day on I–64 and 100,000 per day on I–170.


The normal approach for design-build contracts includes a fixed scope based on specific State standards, with the bidders competing on price. For I–64, Missouri’s approach provided a fixed-cost, flexible-scope process with innovative contract bidding that allowed the competitors to identify which federally approved State standards they would use. The agency based the selection on how well the contractors reached MoDOT’s goals for the project: being on time and on budget, building the maximum number of improvements that would last 50 years, minimizing impacts by handling traffic well and communicating effectively with the public, and creating a new model for design-build.


The I–64 reconstruction project, shown in this project limits map, covered 10 miles (16 kilometers) of new roadway and 13 interchanges.


MoDOT had budgeted $535 million to cover the cost for the design-build contract as well as the cost for the environmental study, property acquisition, staff salaries to administer the contract, utility relocations, and contingency. There was a fixed cost of $420 million for the contract.

In 2005, the agency issued its request for qualifications, and two teams emerged. The following year, MoDOT initiated the request for proposal process by saying, “We have $420 million to pay for design and construction…How much can you build with that?” Typically, States stipulate how traffic will be handled during construction. With I–64, Missouri specified only that the contractor could not close the project’s entire 10 miles (16 kilometers) for the project’s 4-year duration.

“We told the contractors to tell us how they would construct the project and keep traffic moving around the region,” says Ed Hassinger, MoDOT’s St. Louis district engineer. “It was a controversial approach with the public, but we knew the region could not sustain the impact of a long construction project on this key central interstate. It had to be done fast.”

In November 2006, MoDOT selected a proposal submitted by the joint venture firm Gateway Constructors as maximizing the creativity and flexibility needed to develop a project that would deliver the most quality improvements, as quickly as possible, with the least cumulative impact on traffic. The contractor’s approach included complete closure of 5-mile (8-kilometer) segments at a time for 2 years. The company’s maintenance of traffic approach, or transportation management plan, kept I–64 open to I–170. Then a direct interstate-to-interstate detour helped to move traffic around the closure. In an aggressive, proactive traffic plan, the contractor also proposed to improve signal timing on the four parallel arterial routes closest to I–64. The proposal provided all of the desired improvements in MoDOT’s original scope, as well as a commitment to hiring a diverse, local workforce.


As part of the flexible-scope process, MoDOT required the contractor to develop its own schedule as long as the project would be completed by October 1, 2010. The contractor actually committed to a completion date of July 31, 2010, exceeding MoDOT’s goal by 2 months. The overall schedule contained four phases spread over 3.5 years.


MoDOT former Director Pete Rahn addresses the St. Louis media following the first morning rush hour after the first I–64 closure on January 2, 2008.


These traffic engineers from MoDOT and the contractor are discussing intersection issues the morning of the first closure.


The first year (2007) included some overpass closures and offpeak closures at the I–170 and I–64 interchange and the I–64 and Kingshighway interchange. The second year involved the complete closure of I–64, all lanes in both directions, from I–270 to I–170. The third year incorporated the complete closure of the other 5 miles (8 kilometers) of I–64 from I–170 to Kingshighway. The final year of 2010 had minor offpeak closures for cleanup and punch list items. MoDOT believed this approach was simpler to communicate and safer for the public and workers than trying to keep some lanes open to traffic. It also kept construction disruptions on local streets to a minimum because the work would take place within the closed section of the highway, including dirt moving and trucking from the concrete batch plant.

MoDOT provided the contractor with an incentive for exceeding the key schedule commitments. The first incentive was $2 million for reopening the western 5 miles of I–64 by December 31, 2008. A second $2 million was available for reopening the eastern 5 miles by December 31, 2009. The contractor exceeded the first goal by 2 weeks and the second by more than 3 weeks. For its ongoing efforts to maintain regional traffic flow, the contractor earned an additional $1 million incentive, giving a total of $5 million in incentives related to traffic impacts.

The State required the contractor to adopt a proactive, regional approach to handling traffic flow in its construction staging. The contractor hired a traffic engineering subconsultant to adjust signal timing continuously and proactively on the four major arterials parallel to I–64. During the major closures and even the minor overpass closures, the subconsultant adjusted the signals to handle the changing traffic patterns. In addition, altering the contractor’s schedule by only a few days avoided the major impacts to traffic trying to reach special events. Each month the contractor presented a report to MoDOT outlining these traffic handling efforts. The cumulative reports documented the actions that enabled the contractor to earn the $1 million for traffic handling.

Preparing for the First Closure

Completely closing two sections of the interstate would affect the entire region because of changes in traffic patterns. The late 2006 selection of the contractor and announcement of the schedule gave MoDOT engineers 1 year to prepare for the January 2008 western-half closure. The contractor was responsible for traffic handling on the closest parallel arterials and the cross streets to I–64. But MoDOT and its city and county partners were concerned about traffic on all the region’s roads and especially the parallel interstates. MoDOT’s plan included preparing the rest of the regional roads to handle the extra traffic, working with regional partners to get their roads ready for additional flow, planning specific detours for each closure, and developing the incident command structure to proactively monitor traffic changes.

Also, MoDOT striped an additional lane in each direction on I–70 and I–44, the two major parallel interstates. The agency upgraded signals on State arterials that would serve as alternate routes. In addition, St. Louis County worked on its alternate roads to prepare them for the extra traffic. For the first time, State, county, and city engineers worked as a team to coordinate their signal systems and make arrangements for the big closure.

“Our partners came to the table and did the things we needed them to do to get other roads ready to handle the extra traffic,” Hassinger says. “We couldn’t have done it without those partnerships.”

Developing Regional Partnerships

Just the thought of closing an interstate for 2 years generated concerns across a broad spectrum of audiences. In response, MoDOT staff engaged in extensive outreach to all the major users of the road system.


During construction in 2007, the new I–64 and I–170 ramps create what looks like a puzzle of crossing steel.


“As we planned for the I–64 closure, we quickly realized it was much more than a construction project,” says Hassinger. “It was going to take all of the regional partners to make this a success.”

One concern was emergency response. The I–64 project affected the center of the city and directly or indirectly impacted 10 hospitals. How would emergency responders reach fires or other incidents quickly and transport patients requiring urgent care to those facilities?

In 2006, MoDOT began a series of meetings with the emergency community, including two dozen local police, fire, and emergency management services (EMS) providers responsible for covering the city and most of St. Louis County. MoDOT’s district engineer and I–64 project director began meeting regularly with the presidents of the 10 hospitals to discuss their concerns and form alliances. By listening to their input and working with these core emergency stakeholders, MoDOT developed a team approach to finding solutions proactively rather than pointing fingers after the fact.

The State staff also visited all the major school districts, schoolbus providers, and private schools to discuss the construction plan and alternate routes for school traffic. Some of the private school districts created carpools for the first time and even developed satellite parking lots with shuttles to encourage carpooling.

“MoDOT worked to develop a mentality that we are all in this together,” says Hassinger. “If everyone did what they could to help the situation, St. Louis would be able to handle this.”

The 2006 meetings with the emergency responders and traffic engineers developed into a twice monthly maintenance-of-traffic meeting. The contractor hosted these meetings at the construction project office to share the upcoming schedule and discuss the details of every work zone closure and how to handle traffic.

Meetings averaged 30 people representing the hospitals, police, and fire from the six municipalities closest to the project. Staff from the city and county highway departments and city public works attended as well. The group shared concerns about safety in the work zone, discussed signal timing adjustments on alternate routes, and, most important, worked to develop detour routes for every closure, whether a ramp or an overpass, major interchange, or full interstate closure.

Public Information: We Can Do This

In addition to regional mobility, hospital and emergency access, and alternate routes to and from public and private schools, the outreach had to address the concerns of large and small businesses and employers, regional attractions, and commuters and shoppers. MoDOT shared the public information responsibilities with two staff members from an engineering and architectural firm to distribute information about the big picture, schedule, regional mobility, and coping information. MoDOT also required the contractor to have full-time public information staff. The contractor worked with a subcontractor communications firm to communicate the project’s progress, traffic issues, and daily construction updates. The MoDOT/contractor team approach facilitated a seamless flow of information. Five public relations professionals were colocated at the project office to develop and implement the extensive outreach.


These finishers are providing a smooth surface on freshly poured concrete for the new I–64 driving lanes.


Between 2007 and 2009, the public information team delivered more than 300 speeches to employers, business associations, neighborhood associations and townhalls, schools, chambers of commerce, and other groups, reaching approximately 30,000 customers.

The project Web site,, contained daily, weekly, and monthly updates on construction activities that would affect traffic, and customers could sign up for regular emails with project updates. The site posted photos, maps, drawings, flyers, and other information to reflect progress and evolving hot topics. Depending on the time of year, the site received from 40,000 to 100,000 visits per month. The project team answered thousands of emails the same day they were received.

With the highway closed for construction, the public could not see the progress on a daily basis, so MoDOT used the Web site as a window for viewing the work. The agency installed five cameras at key intersections and took a photo every 10 to 15 minutes. Site users could click on the current photo, any past photo, or a time lapse of photos to date. Two of the cameras remained in the same location for the duration of the project. The other three moved from the west half to the east half. The photos were the site’s most popular feature.

Starting in November 2007, the public information managers with MoDOT and the contractor cohosted a weekly 1-hour chat room on the Web site of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the newspaper’s first-ever nonstaff chat room. The “I–64 Live” chat room became the newspaper’s second busiest, exceeded only by its sports chat room. On average, the team answered 25 to 50 questions every Wednesday for 2 years. The newspaper printed excerpts every Monday so the conversations could be read by subscribers as well. The chat room was so successful that the newspaper continued it beyond the completion of the I–64 project. It is now called “The Road Crew” and is hosted weekly by MoDOT, the city, and St. Louis County with more than 50 questions each week about regional road issues.

The public information team engaged the media on a weekly and sometimes daily basis. Due to the project’s controversial nature, the St. Louis news media exhibited interest in the project from day one. The lead-up to the January 2, 2008, closure included countdowns on the local news for 1 month.

The Closure: Would St. Louis Come to a Halt?

On January 2, 2008, all lanes of I–64 for 5 miles would be closed for 1 year. Apprehension mounted in the public and media as the closure drew near.

“A lot of people were uncertain about the process,” says St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley. “Uncertain about what it meant to them as far as going home and going to work. How do you go about getting around a major metropolitan area when the major corridor is closed off? [But] people started realizing we could do this if we did it together.”

MoDOT treated the I–64 closure as a planned incident and followed the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s National Incident Management System protocol. The agency organized a new I–64 closure command team to ensure that MoDOT and its partners would be knowledgeable about the condition and operations of the region’s transportation system and be able to actively manage travel time reliability and communicate with the public. MoDOT gathered preclosure travel times on the alternate interstates and major arterials. The agency’s goal during the closure was to have travel times no more than 50 percent greater than those preclosure conditions.


Paving crews are pouring the new concrete lanes of westbound I–64 near the I–170 interchange.


Crews set girders for one of 30 bridges on the I–64 project. The closed roadway created a safer working environment for both workers and drivers.


Traffic engineers from MoDOT, the contractor, county, and city developed a network of teams to monitor the major routes, watch for bottlenecks, and make improvements. MoDOT installed computer sensors to collect data and organized teams to drive the routes to verify the travel time information. They monitored traffic and travel times from 5 a.m. to 9 a.m. and from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. during the morning and evening rush hours. After the teams reported the information, the command team shared it publicly at a news conference at 11 a.m. and 9 p.m. to ensure timeliness. The command team later debriefed the teams that traveled the routes and brainstormed solutions to be implemented prior to the next rush period. Due to driver confusion with some of the restriping on the alternate routes, the striping was touched up and markings added, including interstate shields on some new exit lanes on the detour routes.

During the first days of the closure, media Web sites covered the news conferences live. The public responded through the media, and the command team then made changes based on those responses. In some of the most affected areas, only 25 percent of surveyed motorists said their commute time had increased by 15 minutes, while many others reported it was better or unchanged from before the closure. The same survey indicated that 91 to 95 percent felt they were well informed about the closure.

“The closure command process is the real lasting benefit of the I–64 project,” says Hassinger. “It showed us that we can proactively monitor roads and address issues and solve problems if we work together. The relationships we built with our regional partners will benefit the region long after [the reconstruction of] I–64.”

Measurable Results

Prior to the 2008 closure, headlines screamed “Apocalypse Now!” and “Traffic Nightmare!” Some publications even went so far as to name the upcoming closure “Carmageddon.” The headlines immediately after the January 2008 closure read “Region’s Traffic Nightmare a No-Show” and “Preparation Pays Off.” The communication effort and traffic planning had paid off.


Federal Highway Administrator Victor Mendez, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon, and a host of other Federal, State, and local officials, along with MoDOT and contractor representatives, celebrated the early completion of I–64 at this December 6, 2009, ribbon cutting.


The region’s traffic continued to flow even better in some areas than before the closure. Under normal conditions, the interstates and arterial roadways had predictable travel times, and incremental changes in signal timing on key arterials fine-tuned the trouble spots. The command team identified, evaluated, and solved problems -- often within hours of first notice. Motorists used the traffic information resources to find recommended alternate routes. Businesses offered flexible schedules to their employees and location or delivery options to their customers. Surveys, mobility studies, and tests showed that freeway travel times in the region were similar to the previous year, a strong verification of the team’s success.

One month after the closure, MoDOT received a complimentary letter cosigned by the region’s top three business associations. The St. Louis Regional Chamber & Growth Association, Regional Business Council, and Civic Progress wrote: “In addition to excellent engineering and construction work, the outstanding communication from you and your staff, the resources made available to workers in the area via news media, the Web, and direct communications with local businesses -- all have ensured a smoother, easier transition for commuters.”

Dooley points out, “[The project] showed us for the first time that when we work together, we can change the game. We can make a difference. And that’s what we are here for, to make a difference, to move our community forward with economic development, great jobs, and opportunities. That’s what infrastructure does.”

In February of 2008, 2009, and 2010, MoDOT used a consultant to mail surveys to residents in more than two dozen ZIP Codes along the project route and in areas well to the east and west. The purpose was to measure public opinion of the information outreach and the overall project. Each year’s results showed improvement in the public reaction.


Several thousand runners and walkers turned out for a 3-mile (5-kilometer) run on the new I–64 for the opening ceremonies. In total, an estimated 20,000 people participated in the opening festivities the day before the highway opened to traffic.


In general, St. Louis residents showed extremely high levels of satisfaction. In the February 2010 survey mailed after the highway reopened, a large majority of respondents (95.1 percent) supported the decision to close the highway for 2 years as opposed to taking 6 to 8 years to complete the project using lane closures. Overall, 94.6 percent of the community was satisfied with how the project was handled.

“The traveling public, the citizens, as well as government leaders are now more confident in going into the next project,” says St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay.

Exceeded All Project Goals

The I–64 project reopened nearly a month early in December 2009. The project has won numerous local, State, and national awards for innovative procurement, cooperative regional partnerships and traffic handling, and outstanding public outreach.

“We built this project under budget and ahead of schedule, which for a half-billion-dollar job is just amazing,” says Keith. “But not only that, the community support was fabulous. The traffic handling was not an issue, once we got started. We created a positive for the engineering community with a new way to approach complex design-build projects. When you put all that together, this is a positive for MoDOT and a positive for the St. Louis community.”

Linda Wilson is community relations manager at MoDOT’s St. Louis office. She has managed public relations for MoDOT for more than 19 years. Wilson has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri. In 2010 her work on I–64 received awards for Communicator of the Year from the National Association of Government Communicators, Communicator of the Year from the St. Louis Community Service Public Relations Council, and Missouri State Employee of the Month.

For more information, contact Linda Wilson at 314–453–5063 or Also see /final_rule/modotcasestudy.htm.