In July 2017, TxDOT initiated construction of improvements to realign and rebuild I-20 in Eastland County from approximately 3.5 miles east of Loop 254 to .5 miles east of SH 16. This $76.2 million dollar three-mile project will improve safety by reducing the steep grade and improving the curves at Ranger Hill. We spoke with three of our senior Construction Engineering & Inspection (CEI) staff members to learn more.
The Ranger Hill project was the Construction Engineering and Inspection group’s (CEI) first big win. Could you tell us how the project got started, and what did that mean to your team and the infrastructure group?
Lynn Passmore, Project Manager:
Ranger Hill has been a safety problem for a long time because it was a 6% profile grade for a mile through there, and the maximum should be 3.5%. It didn't meet that standard. Plus, they put a couple of curves in the middle of it so there were a lot of wrecks on it there. It became very un-passable in bad weather. TxDOT made it a project and did the plans on it. In February 2017, Howard Holland (Vice President, Infrastructure) put a team together and Raba Kistner was successful in winning the project for Ranger Hill in February 2017. It didn't start until July 2017.
What was involved with CEI work with this project? What were some of the challenges in the project?
Bill Burgoon, Construction Inspector V, Chief Project Inspector:
We provided all of the construction inspection on the project, any engineering related decisions, material testing, record keeping, things of that nature. We do everything on this project that TxDOT inspectors would do on this project. One of the TxDOT area engineers that we had worked with previously on this project had told us that "Raba Kistner's CEI group was an extension of our office." The services that we provide for this project make it a turnkey project for TxDOT. We provide them with all the necessary resources required to oversee the inspection engineering, material testing and record keeping.
Justin Nipp, Deputy Project Manager/Project Engineer:
Our first big task was essentially blowing up a mountain right next to the interstate. The contractor chose to do drilling and blasting. The first big problem we had to solve was shutting down traffic on the interstate both directions, and working with the contractor to develop a plan to execute it safely where we can do the operation we needed to do. That's not something you do every day where you shut down traffic both directions. All the coordination that went into that with first responders and law enforcement. We would coordinate with the fire chief to have his crew in a safe spot where they can get to wherever they needed to go if there was an accident, or if there was some kind of incident with the blast. Luckily, we never had any incidents with that. The contractor did a great job. We oversaw the traffic and made sure we were tweaking things as needed.
The next big problem was, as we got into the material, the contractor crushed the rock to make embankment, but we also encountered a lot of shale, which we couldn't use as embankment. There were areas where we were building the interstate directly on shale. We found when we tested the shale it would degrade if it was soaked in water. It was imperative to develop a plan, one, to make sure we had adequate pavement structure over the shale layer. Two, we could do our best to keep water out of it and protect it.
Those two challenges plus there were two million cubic yards of embankment on the project. That is a massive amount of embankment. Just the tracking between the densities and keeping track of all the different types of soil we use for embankment, that was a big challenge. Working with the contractor on that where we could not hold them up, we could do the testing we needed to do quickly and accurately and keep the contractor moving. When they were in full production they had a lot of moving parts and a lot of equipment moved around.
Let me add a little bit to that. How many times did we stop traffic? Like 70 times, something like that, wasn't it, Bill or Justin?
Yes, ball park.
It was somewhere in that neighborhood. It's very uncommon on an interstate to stop traffic in both directions. Typically, traffic will be stopped for about ten minutes. The contractor had a very good blasting plan in place. They could go in there following the blast and determine that everything was all clear, that we didn't have any debris on the highway where the traveling public drove on, that portion of it. As soon as they cleared everything, they just went ahead and let the traffic go, and go ahead and open it back up.
Photo: Bill Burgoon
What were some of the best practices on the project?
We have had 12 different inspectors out here. That's not counting people that work for some of our sub-providers that are just coming out to provide professional services for us like surveying, or geo technical services, things of that nature. The best practice that I found, when you have that many people that you're trying to work with as an inspection team... there's a lot of things that I put into place with our group. It mainly centered around two things. That one thing was ensuring that our inspectors studied the plans and the specs, and I'm talking about the TxDOT specs. Also, to be timely in their daily record keeping. On a project of this scope, when you have something this large that you're working on, one thing that is very easy for an inspector to do is to get behind on some of that, especially his record keeping. That is one thing that I did insist on from the inspection team that I was leading, that they get their records in on a timely manner.
Due to some of the design elements on this project, I highly encouraged all of our inspectors to become very familiar with the item of work that they're inspecting, and the specifications that go along with that. A lot of the questions that they have are going to be found in the specifications, or in the plans.
How did the project exemplify mentorship and leadership?
In my career, I always believed the important thing is find good people and trust them. If you have good people you can trust, then let them do their job, provide oversight, and help solve problems as they come up. That's what I did here because I had two excellent employees, actually I had more than that. The two you're talking to today are both excellent employees. They take care of their job, you can trust them entirely, and they're very capable and know what they're doing. From my side, that's the important point there. Just to provide assistance when needed.
Photo: (L-R) Jerry Johnson (Zachry Superintendent), Justin Nipp and Lynn Passmore
For me, Lynn is still a great mentor. With his wealth of experience and all the situations he's been in in his career, I've leaned on him. It would be foolish for me not to tap into his wisdom and knowledge. He's been a big mentor for me on this project. I always looked at inspectors as, you try to put guys in a position to succeed when they're in the field. You find out what people's strengths and weaknesses are, and deploy them in that manner. I think Bill did a good job of that.
I'd say that Bill provided a lot of mentorship to those, maybe more than 12 inspectors, that were out there during the duration. They have all come away from the project with a lot more knowledge than what they came in with.
Why does quality, one of our core values, matter to each of you?
Taxpayers are paying for a product, or a facility in this case, Ranger Hill, that they use. If it does not perform to their expectations, then TxDOT, Raba Kistner, and the designers have not done our jobs properly. The quality of the plans by the designers and our quality of inspection is important to make sure that work adheres to the TxDOT Standard Specifications, which have been well tested over many years. You must have a good project that lasts.
This is something I use out on the project when it comes to quality, especially when we see something that is not being done up to the quality that it needs to be. I will make this statement to the particular foreman or the superintendent or somebody like that on the project, I'll tell them, "We're striving to build something that will last 100 years. What you're building right here won't last ten years. We're looking for something of quality that will last."
I think what Bill said about making sure something lasts many years is a part of it, too. Even yesterday, Bill and I were solving a problem that may not come in to play for 30 years. We were looking at for the West of our project, if they widened out to three lanes. How best with what we were doing would connect to that in the future. They may not do that project for 30 years. I will hopefully be retired in 30 years, and Bill and Lynn, I don't know where they'll be in 30 years, but just having that quality mindset.
What do you enjoy most about your roles?
I like to see the project progress take shape and become a useful facility that will be much safer. What it's all about is safety. Besides moving people, it must move people safely.
What I've enjoyed about this role was seeing how my relationship with the contractor has evolved over the course of the project.
I think it's human nature to want to be a part of something, whether it's a team or a club, or some kind of organization. I think working on a project like this is a collaborative effort between TxDOT, the contractor, and Raba Kistner. Personally, a lot of what I've done is to solve problems. I think for me that's been challenging. Being outside, getting to breathe the fresh air, being a part of that is something I personally enjoy.