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From Planning to Reality: Delivering and Constructing Transportation Projects

My favorite shows to watch on television are home renovation programs.  You know the shows where a young family buys the worst house on the block and the entire episode features them turning this house into their dream home? Most of these episodes are highly dramatic. The couples is in the middle of renovating and find out that they don’t have the proper permits or they start opening the walls and find surprises like bad wiring, leaking plumbing, or asbestos.  Because of these issues they are now overbudget, delayed, and now must live in their parent’s basement for another couple of months!

I think one of the reasons why I enjoy watching these types of shows is that they mirror (on a much smaller scale), what can happen on a transportation construction project without proper planning related to environmental compliance. Maintaining environmental compliance during transportation construction projects hinges greatly on a consultant’s knowledge of an expansive number of items such as the contracting mechanisms used, permitting and related impacts to stormwater and natural resources, and handling surprises like hazardous materials.

Traditional Design/Bid/Build Versus Alternative Delivery

The type of contracting method employed plays a significant factor when evaluating environmental compliance risks related to construction of a transportation project. In the traditional design/bid/build scenario, it’s the project owner’s goal to outline and specify all the environmental requirements of the project to obtain the most competitive bidding situation. From the environmental standpoint, these projects are fairly prescriptive, and the project owner is often responsible for achieving environmental compliance on the project, which lessens the contractor’s risk. In this type of delivery method, it is in the project owner’s best interest to have knowledgeable environmental consultants on-hand as the contractor can demand compensation for environmental compliance issues not specifically outlined in the specifications.

In an alternative delivery scenario, such as design/build, environmental compliance is almost entirely borne by the design/build contracting team (i.e., the contractor).  Within the request for proposal documents, the project owner merely provides an outline of the project’s environmental requirements and allows the design/build team to find innovative ways to mitigate environmental impacts. This can be done either by modifying the overall design via the alternative technical concepts (ATC) process, such as building a bridge over a wetland versus constructing a road.  Also, construction practices can be altered to mitigate environmental impacts such as using cranes on barges for river bridge erection rather than building a causeway. When environmental experts are an integral part of the design/build team, project costs and risks are reduced benefitting both the owner and the design/build contractor.

Stormwater Pollution Prevention Permitting and Practices

As within any construction project, stormwater pollution prevention practices (SWPPP or SWP3) become critical at the onset of earthwork activities. For transportation projects, erosion and sediment control can be challenging often due to the linear nature and sheer scale of the project.  For example, reconstruction of a roadway through a densely populated urban area often doesn’t allow room for temporary sediment control basins. When a heavy rainfall results in a wet, messy grade or small swimming pools in utility trenches, it can be tempting to directly pump the water into the adjacent storm sewer resulting in something resembling chocolate milk entering into the closest water body.  This is a finable offense under National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit requirements. Not to mention that this would definitely be frowned upon by the multiple soil and water conversation districts and public MS4 entities that are watching this project.  A more creative and environmentally compliant solution can include the use of large weir tanks, that “follow” earthwork activities, to store accumulated rainwater and allow for treatment using flocculant, so that turbid-free water can be discharged directly in the storm sewer network.

For the Red Wing Bridge project, Braun Intertec assisted the contractor with the design of specialty SWPPP best management practices like this one to prevent erosion from a soil surcharge pile protecting the nearby Mississippi River.
Natural Resources

In addition to stormwater, there are numerous natural resources considerations when constructing a transportation project. One of the most notable considerations, as it is often unique to transportation projects, especially bridge projects, are working on and adjacent to bodies of water.  Construction in and around water bodies require additional permitting and must ensure that the water is not impacted from spills, debris from bridge demolition, concrete washout, and dredging.

Caption of photo below: After the collapse of the I35W Bridge in Minneapolis, Braun Intertec assisted the rebuilding contractor with applying for dredge permits and dredge materials disposal to accommodate the large cranes on barges within the Mississippi River.
Hazardous Materials

Another less commonly understood environmental compliance issue what to do when hazardous materials are unearthed during construction.  This is a particular issue on transportation projects that travel through urban areas where adjacent property uses (like gas stations, dry cleaners, industrial facilities) have impacted the underlying soil and groundwater and migrates into the project area.  Encountering surprises like stinky soils, groundwater with a rainbow sheen, asbestos containing materials, or debris may represent significant handling and disposal costs that will almost always adversely impact schedule and project cost. A properly completed Phase I Environmental Site Assessment (ESA) and Phase II ESA can help identify potential surprises before construction so that appropriate the remedial and contingency plans can be developed and implemented.

Braun Intertec has specialty staff dedicated to the quality delivery of transportation projects. We work with clients through every phase of the project lifecycle – from initial site selection, to design and construction, through closeout. Environmental consultant, Jackie Dylla, CHMM will share insights into navigating environmental compliance requirements on transportation projects and how to avoid common “potholes” when designing and delivering these projects in our live webinar on October 22. Join us!

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Jaclyn Dylla, CHMM Transportation Market Division Leader

P: 952.995.2490