Trickle-down Infrastructure

Tackling the Nation's Transportation Needs One Project at a Time
Whenever infrastructure has come up as a political topic in recent years, it’s assumed to mean large, publicly funded projects:interstate highways, municipal water systems, dams and ports. But an anticipated flood of construction activity in this sector has a trickle-down effect. Construction owners that support infrastructure functions—such as transportation—sense opportunities and invest private funds in their own projects.

Experienced contractors are doing their part to support expected larger-scale highway, rail and aviation improvements—one project at a time. They are leveraging technology in response to trends in these sectors, but have not lost sight of the fact that contracting remains a relationship-based and customer service-oriented and business.

Truck Terminals Bolster E-commerce
For Ladson, S.C.-based Frampton Construction, truck terminals offer high value because of the critical role they serve in an evolving consumer economy. Keaton Green, director, reports that as e-commerce companies such as Amazon continue to disrupt traditional retail by giving consumers ever-increasing convenient and rapid access to goods, trucking companies are faced with delivering those goods to the customer faster than ever. Truck terminals function as intermediate transfer points between the manufacturer and the customer and add flexibility to the supply chain.

Even though online ordering is so convenient for consumers, trucking companies still need to ship physical inventory. In this just-in-time retail environment, truck terminal location is more important than ever. 

“The more terminals trucking companies have, the more logistics they have and the more they can grow,” Green says. “A lot of our work is not only renovating these terminals, but also adding onto them because land is so valuable.”

A family-owned company that rebranded under new leadership in 2015, Frampton Construction primarily serves the Southeast. The company has renovated and expanded several terminals for Lexington, S.C.-based Southeastern Freight Lines in the past several years. 

Recently, Frampton Construction built its first new terminal for the freight company, the 45-door Southeastern Freight Lines-Waynesboro terminal, near Interstate 81 in Mt. Crawford, Va. The 17,848-square-foot pre-engineered metal building features 13,630 square feet of terminal freight dock with 45 dock doors, 90 trailer parking spaces, a 4,218-square-foot employee office with a brick veneer and 55 employee parking spaces. Around the same time, Frampton Construction began work on a dock expansion for a Southeastern Freight Lines terminal in Fredericksburg, Va., that will more than double the number of doors to 77 when completed in early 2018.

Building a new terminal is easier than renovating an existing one. “Right now, the whole trucking industry is making sure existing terminals are right for their employees, seeing if they can expand on what they have and if they can find land that works for their logistics,” Green says.

“We have improved in terms of how we think about site logistics, planning, communication with terminal managers, signs we put onsite, technology and commitments from our subcontractors,” Green says. “It’s critical that we maintain our communication throughout and make sure we’re not disrupting workflow.”

Frampton Construction’s philosophy is to challenge the status quo on every project. Green explains that’s why the Waynesboro truck terminal has office and lounge spaces that make it more attractive for employees and drivers than other facilities. 

Breaking past paradigms includes leveraging technology such as the Procore project management information system, drones and new approaches to solving problems. 

“We’re using everything that our team has collectively bought into to make sure that we’re being efficient, but also overachieving on our owners’ expectations,” Green says. “Instead of a superintendent trying to upload photos on his laptop so we can send them to the owner, he’s taking photos from his phone and dropping them into Procore. The efficiency ramps up, the owners see the professionalism and we exceed expectations.”

Win-win Approach With Multitalented Teams
The Middlesex Corp., Littleton, Mass., is involved in projects that fit the more typical profile of transportation infrastructure: highway and bridge construction and rehabilitation. Dave Skerrett, senior vice president of construction, lists a win-win customer service philosophy and a multidisciplinary team as primary strengths behind the company’s award-worthy work.

“First, we’re not litigators; we approach every project with a win-win attitude,” Skerrett says. “We look at what’s fair for both sides and I think that goes a long way in helping our reputation and also making our jobs profitable.

“Also, our people are multi-talented,” he continues. “We want people to do what they’re best at from a safety and productivity standpoint, but if an operator needs to drive a truck for a period of time and there’s nothing for the equipment to do, that’s what we do. Also, we preach that when you’re out there working, do it once. That’s important with today’s prevailing wages—we’re a merit shop, but we still pay a prevailing wage.”

Currently, the firm is replacing one of Massachusetts’ most heavily traveled bridges—the I-95 West River Bridge, carrying about 135,000 cars per day—with a 1,141-foot-long, 91-foot-wide 12-span structure. The $131 million project is scheduled for completion by November 2018.

Middlesex also has completed several significant East Coast rail projects. For example, construction of a $158 million, 5.85-mile segment of the New Britain-Hartford Busway in Connecticut on an abandoned railroad corridor included seven rail/bus stations along the line, the reconfiguration of four bridges and construction of four others. Also, the company renovated and expanded two Amtrak stations, 16 bridges and about 20 miles of second-track rail between Rensselaer and Schenectady, N.Y., from 2014 to 2016 without disrupting Amtrak service.

Because Middlesex works on road and bridge projects in metro areas that experience heavier-than-average road congestion, such as Boston and Orlando, Fla., Skerrett says traffic continues to spur demand for road improvement projects. 

But transportation projects, like all construction work, are subject to other factors that potentially limit profit margins and even a contractor’s viability: labor availability, safety concerns and the “paper intensity” of many projects.

For one thing, more frequent nighttime roadwork impedes talent recruitment, and it exposes workers to additional safety hazards. 

“Certainly, safety is the No. 1 priority at our company from the top down,” Skerrett says. “There’s been a lot more emphasis on that in the past 15 years. Now, most projects are requiring safety officers and we have all kinds of programs in place: daily huddles, weekly toolbox talks and safety awards that we give out every year.” 

Yet outside the importance of safety, bureaucracy looms large in terms of project management. “I thought we were headed toward a paperless society, but it doesn’t appear that way,” Skerrett says. In response, Middlesex has made moves to reduce paperwork, such as using iPads to log work hours and PlanGrid to eliminate paper blueprints.

The company also has used drones to track project progress and observe site conditions for safety purposes. Additionally, a drone recently was used to track pay quantities along a 20-mile stretch of track on a rail project, eliminating the need to do so on foot. 

Rail Yard Construction Activity Gains Momentum
Among the heavy and civil engineering projects it specializes in, Houston-based WT Byler Co., which was founded in 1973, builds and maintains infrastructure for Class-I Mainline Railroads throughout Texas and southwest Louisiana. That work accounts for about 20 percent of the company’s business, says Jonathan Hale, director of business development and marketing. A large inventory of equipment and deep collective experience among a team of 600-plus employees in constructing and maintaining railroads makes WT Byler successful in this market, says Steven Ehler, railroad maintenance manager.

The rail sector appears to be gaining momentum in a moderately recovering economy, according to Hale. The overall economy drives total carloads, which the company tracks for maintenance budgeting purposes. Total carloads also drive construction of storage-in- transit (SIT) yards—rail’s counterpart to truck transit terminals. 

WT Byler has constructed several SIT yards in the Houston area in recent years, including Alamo Junction, a 1,500-acre rail park and trans loading and loop track facility for a fractured sand delivery system. The company installed 47,000 track feet of new rail and placed more than 200,000 tons of crushed stone on the project.

Another recent major project was engineering oversight and construction of 14 miles of shear-key installation and drainage improvements from Victoria, Texas, to Placedo, Texas. The work included track shoulder stabilization and trench drains for drainage improvement.

Compliance with Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) safety regulations is paramount in railroad work, according to Geoff Pospisil, WT Byler’s director of safety and risk management. Many railroads require all personnel to go through background checks and security screenings via the eRailSafe program to gain access to rail properties.

The company is increasingly relying on drones to navigate unsafe or remote areas. “When there is high water, we contract out companies to send drones to inspect bridges to determine when they can be put in service again,” Ehler says. “If there’s a derailment out in the middle of nowhere and there’s no access road, a drone can fly over the affected area to find access points and help us determine what the equipment and material needs are prior to mobilizing.”

Supporting More Efficient Transportation In South Florida 
By building commuter rail stations along a converted freight rail line as part of an initiative to ease traffic congestion in South Florida, Fort Lauderdale-based Moss & Associates is supporting greater utilization of both rail and aviation infrastructure in the region.

Brightline is one of three regional rail systems that an under-construction Intermodal Terminal Facility (ITF) at Orlando International Airport will accommodate when the facility is completed in 2018. Brightline is a regional commuter train line that is owned by Fortress/FECR (Florida East Coast Railway), which previously was a freight line. Initial plans are for Brightline to travel between Orlando and Miami, with additional lines to Tampa and Jacksonville. Orlando, one of the nation’s top tourist destinations, serves as the system’s hub. When the ITF is completed, Brightline will be the first intercity railway to connect an airport terminal in the United States.

Brightline and the ITF are key components of a plan to ease congestion throughout South Florida and a $3.5 billion airport expansion that will allow travelers to reach Florida’s major cities from Orlando quickly. For example, the train ride from Orlando to Miami will take about three hours compared with a five- to six-hour drive. 

Moss & Associates is building stations at West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale. Service from West Palm Beach to Fort Lauderdale to Miami will begin in late 2017. For phase two, Moss & Associates is bidding to build a train station in Orlando, which was in permitting in fall 2017. 

Brett Atkinson, executive vice president, says that the stations play to a couple of Moss & Associates’ strengths.

“Working around existing rail from a safety perspective and figuring out how to logistically build and stay far away from the track was key,” he says. “So was working with the design team of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and Miami-based Zysovich Architects to ensure that the final building construction was functional to exactly what it will be used for in the long term.”

Atkinson says he thinks that the future prospects for rail station construction are promising. “It’s definitely trending upward,” he says. “As development moves more to downtown settings and to urban living, you’ve got a lot of business travelers who live outside of the city and work in the city, so there’s a need for mass transportation as urban settings become busier.”

The 60,000-square-foot Fort Lauderdale station and platform will have a modern multi-story lobby spanning an elevated passenger lounge area for travelers, as well as parking facilities. Riders will be able to easily access the Sun Trolley and Broward County Transit system from the station. The West Palm Beach station and platform has the same size footprint and lobby design and it also offers parking facilities. Riders can easily connect with Palm Tran, Palm Beach County’s countywide transit system, as well as the downtown West Palm Beach trolley system and the downtown West Palm Beach Tri-Rail station.

SOM designed the stations with an architectural flair, Atkinson notes. V-shaped columns were designed to create depth that allowed the glass structure to sit behind it and enclose exterior colored lights. Concrete for V-shaped columns was placed into forms on the ground and the elements were erected in place. They were tied together with cast-in-place beams and an elevated CIP concrete deck. The same process was completed for the second floor. 

“This was a great example of designing a hybrid structure utilizing tilt-wall and CIP to maximize the available construction dollars and get the architectural concrete look,” Atkinson says.

Suffolk Construction is building the Miami station, which is part of a 9-acre multimodal hub that will connect all transit systems in Miami-Dade County, including rail, bus, trolley, bike share and car share. Twenty-nine 70-foot-tall, 8,000-pound V-columns for the Miami station were first constructed of steel and then encased by precast concrete. 

Don Talend is a construction freelance writer. For more information, email don@dontalend.com

What the Future Might Hold For Transportation Infrastructure 
If some construction industry experts’ predictions hold true, the design of transportation support facilities will be increasingly impacted by e-commerce. Additionally, driverless cars could potentially change transportation infrastructure at a fundamental level, and wearable technologies could keep highway workers safer.

Parking garages might increasingly:
  • facilitate easier access to walkable routes or mass transit;
  • blend into surrounding buildings;
  • be located above ground less often;
  • have sustainable features, such as electric car-charging stations, green space, solar power and more energy-
  • efficient lighting;
  • be fewer in number, if space-efficient driverless vehicles proliferate; and
  • have smaller footprints, due to the use of car lifts for stacking multiple cars into one space.
Distribution centers might more commonly:
  • have smaller footprints and be located in urban areas to supplement larger centers and facilitate rapid e-commerce fulfillment closer to the customer;
  • be located in any of five “logistics clusters” that have been home to more than half of the largest logistics real estate facilities: Central and Eastern Pennsylvania, Southern California, Chicago, Dallas and Atlanta;
  • eschew LEED certification, with building codes now incorporating LEED standards, saving many owners the costs that accompany the certification process;
  • require refrigeration, as e-commerce food delivery services similar to FreshDirect become more mainstream;
  • have higher ceilings up to 45 feet, so that two levels of materials handling equipment can get into the warehouse space;
  • have cross docks that facilitate direct transfer from truck or railcar;
  • have drive-throughs to facilitate the “uberization” of e-commerce, where individual drivers deliver goods to customers
  • (reducing the need for truck docks); and
  • have multiple stories, as urban real estate and thus building footprints get more expensive.
Roadwork-related safety might be enhanced by wearable technologies such as:
  • Spot-R—a belt-mounted sensor equipped with an accelerometer, gyroscope and altimeter that tracks and records worker movements and pinpoints when and where a worker has fallen or stumbled;
  • safety vests that will alert highway workers of approaching vehicles or use touch sensors to monitor workers; and
  • wearable safety badges that track crew locations in real time to within a few inches and alert workers that they have entered a danger zone via a flashing LED.
If driverless cars become the norm, they might lead to:
  • increased highway capacity without the need to widen existing roads or construct new ones, due to more space-efficient vehicles;
  • the conversion of curbside parking into larger storm drains and wider sidewalks;
  • decreased roadway maintenance with less need for lights, pavement and pavement markings;
  • less public transit in some areas, but more in densely populated areas along highway corridors;
  • relocation of pedestrian crosswalks to optimal locations for foot traffic because traditional signalization could be eliminated;
  • parking lot obsolescence, with fleets of driverless cars operating 24 hours a day;
  • less road striping and signage for human drivers and more
  • vehicle sensors and interconnectivity;
  • signage largely designed for pedestrians rather than drivers;
  • proliferation of technologies that enable communication between roadside sensors and vehicles;
  • greater use of 5G wireless networks with instantaneous signal transmission to vehicle intelligence systems; and
  • underground infrastructure for roadside sensors (e.g., protective ducts for wires on property that is jointly regulated by public and private entities, which could lead to jurisdictional challenges).

Multi-billion-dollar Improvements Under Way At Orlando International Airport 
Orlando International Airport serves about 42 million passengers per year, stressing existing terminal capacity, and has seen double-digit increases in international travelers during the past four years. Those are two big reasons why the airport is getting $3.5 billion in improvements in the latter half of this decade.

The goal is to serve up to 50 million passengers with improvements to the existing North Terminal and a capacity- relieving Phase 1 Terminal C project in the South Terminal Complex (STC) to be completed in 2020. The primary funding source is plane ticket and rental car Passenger Facility Charges.

North Terminal Complex Improvements
Hensel Phelps is the construction manager on upgrades, including PCL Construction’s expansion of the ticket lobby that will add self-check-in kiosks. New ticket counters and video display walls are scheduled for completion in summer 2018. 

Jervis B. Webb and Beumer-Glidepath are making the latest baggage handling system improvements that started in 2002; the current phase will be substantially completed in 2018.

Littleton, Mass.-based Middlesex Corp. constructed a 220-car cell phone lot with taxi and bus hold areas and new restroom facilities for each area, as well as a return road to the terminal.

Also, Automated People Mover (APM) trains to the Airside 1 and 3 gate areas are being replaced one train at a time. By summer 2017, the Airside 3 APM was complete, and the Airside 1 APM is scheduled for completion in 2018.

Airside 4 Renovation
Hensel Phelps was the general contractor on this project, which expanded processing capacity for international arrivals in the North Terminal. Four new gates were built to accommodate the largest aircraft, such as the Airbus A380. In addition, the Federal Inspection Station, where travelers pass through inspection and customs, will be expanded by mid-2018.

South Terminal Intermodal Facility And APM Complex
A Turner Kiewit joint venture is building an Intermodal Terminal Facility (ITF) and Hensel Phelps is the construction manager at risk on an APM complex in the STC. The latter is designed to enable North Terminal expansion while relieving congestion there by running trains between the north and south terminals. The APM, scheduled to open this fall, also will have a 2,400-space parking garage.

The 1.3 million-square-foot ITF, scheduled to open in 2018, accommodates up to three regional rail systems, including Brightline. It also will support taxis, shuttle buses and public buses.

Middlesex is the general contractor for two APM projects totaling $34 million. One is for a stabilized emergency access road, bridges, mechanically stabilized earth walls along the roadways and bridges, and roadway and parking lot striping and signage. The other project is for pond construction, stormwater grading and drainage, and erosion control measures.

South Terminal C Phase 1
Hensel Phelps and a Turner Kiewit joint venture also are working on the 2.7 million-square-foot Terminal C Phase 1 project. 

Fentress Architects, HNTB and Schenkel Shultz are on schedule to complete the design by the end of 2017 and project completion is scheduled for 2020.

Hensel Phelps is overseeing the air side, which will feature 16 gates with a flexible configuration that will serve both international and domestic flights and up to 10 million passengers annually by accommodating narrow body, jumbo and super jumbo aircraft.

Turner Kiewit is overseeing the land side, which is designed with baggage claim on the third level. Arriving passengers will view Orlando on their way up from the second level after deplaning. A faster baggage handling system will use RFID technology. Departures, ticketing and security will be located on the second level and ground transportation on the first level.

The STC design will have a unifying theme called “The Boulevard”—a corridor that runs the length of the terminal and connects the ticket hall and concessions hub, as well as the APM complex and ITM facility.