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P3 Program Helps Pennsylvania Cut Bridge Delivery Time in Half

See below for more information on the Rapid Bridge Replacement Project

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February 13, 2017

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) published an article about the Rapid Bridge Replacement Project in their magazine, Civil Engineering. The full article is pasted below. It can also be found online here:

An innovative program taps into private activity bonds and employs standardized designs to speed the replacement of structurally deficient spans.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) has developed an innovative bridge delivery program to replace 559 of the state's approximately 3,512 structurally deficient bridges. The Pennsylvania Rapid Bridge Replacement Project combines public-private partnership (P3) funding, standardized designs, and standardized review procedures to deliver the bridges in less than half the time required under conventional delivery methods. 

PennDOT chose the bridges for the project because they have similar key characteristics. Most are single-span structures serving as important connections in rural areas. All are deemed structurally deficient. "Each bridge has its own unique project delivery risks and challenges. But, at the end of the day, what we tried to do was identify similar structures," says Michael Bonini, the director of PennDOT's P3 office. This enables the project team to standardize not only elements of the design process but also the review and fabrication processes, Bonini says. 

The project capitalizes on a 2012 state law that authorizes PennDOT to work more closely with the private sector on the delivery, maintenance, and financing of transportation projects. In this case, a consortium known as Plenary Walsh Keystone Partners (PWKP), headquartered in Pittsburgh, was selected by PennDOT as a private partner in 2014. This consortium has secured $899 million in funding through private activity bonds. 

HDR, Inc., headquartered in Omaha, Nebraska, is the principal design firm for PWKP. Plenary Group USA Ltd., headquartered in Los Angeles, and Walsh Investors, LLC, of Chicago, are providing financing under the agreement. A joint venture of Walsh Construction, of Chicago, and Granite Construction, Inc., of Watsonville, California are leading the construction of the bridges, and Walsh Infrastructure Management, of Chicago, will provide maintenance for 25 years after completion of the bridges. 

The amount of information being transmitted between PennDOT and PWKP (design submittals, correspondence, et cetera) on this project is significant. In order to effectively manage this enormous challenge, PennDOT has implemented a cloud-based program management software solution to track and report project progress and status, highlight team member accountability, and reveal program trends. The agreement between PennDOT and the consortium includes specified time frames for reviews and comments at each stage of the process. The new tracking system enables everyone on the team to see the status of any submission, the next action that's required, and the party that is to initiate the action. 

This design/build/finance/maintain delivery method amounts to the introduction of performance-based contracting in the state, Bonini says. And ultimately PWKP has a great deal of latitude under the agreement to make technical design decisions based on risks that come to light through its assessment of each bridge and site. 

"They are responsible for the design, the construction, and the first 25 years of maintenance for each of these bridges," says Bonini, who expects the new bridges to be a mix of steel and prefabricated-concrete spans. 

PWKP is responsible for striking the best balance between up-front construction costs and long-term maintenance costs. To that end, the consortium has already determined that it will utilize a polyester polymer concrete overlay on concrete bridges in lieu of the typical epoxy overlay—something PennDOT typically doesn't do because of the expense, Bonini says. Use of the overlay makes economic sense in the long-term. 

"They are proposing that, and we are [eager] to see whether or not that provides value over the term of the agreement and … how much further past that," Bonini says. 

Although PWKP is technically responsible for just the first 25 years of maintenance costs, the bridges are expected to last far longer than that—100 years. However, when the consortium turns the bridges over to the state in 25 years, they must rate a 7 on the scale of 0 to 9 that is part of the National Bridge Inspection Standards. A rating of 9 on this scale denotes excellent, and 4 means structurally deficient. 

"I think that's one of the grand experiment aspects of this project," Bonini says. "Will the long-term maintenance of these bridges … be reduced? Typically, when we have a bridge in year 25, it's rated at around a six. These bridges have to be rated seven. So, we are expecting a better bridge than [from] our typical bridge delivery program." 

PennDOT will pay PWKP through the traditional source of motor vehicle license fees when projects reach key milestones. Once the bridges are complete, PWKP will receive availability payments over the 25 years that the bridges are in service under the maintenance contract. 

Bonini says PennDOT is excited about the project, the first multiasset, multilocation P3 project in the country. "Other states are looking to us, looking at the model, looking at the delivery to determine whether or not it's a feasible option for them to consider." 

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