Albuquerque Interchange: Design-Build Success Story

By Bruce Higgins | September 28, 2010

The Aug. 22, 2005, issue of Rocky Mountain Construction featured an article about the construction of the new I-40/Coors Boulevard interchange in Albuquerque. This a design-build project under an $86-million New Mexico Department of Transportation contract with the joint venture of Twin Mountain Construction II Co./Parsons Transportation Group. Twin Mountain led the joint venture, responsible for overall project management, design oversight and construction, while Parsons was responsible for the design. The project is part of the "Gov. Richardson's Investment Partnership" (GRIP) program, a $1.6-billion economic package to improve New Mexico's aging infrastructure.

The design-build contract, while not new in the construction industry, is unusual in public construction, especially in New Mexico. The design-build approach was used to expedite construction from concept to completion. The old interchange was experiencing vehicle traffic beyond the design capability. Going through the conventional sequence of design, funding and construction would have extended the project completion date an additional three years. It is estimated that using the design-build approach saved Albuquerque and west side commuters more than 2 million hours of travel delay, significantly reducing driver inconvenience. As an example of the benefits of design-build, the original NMDOT concept featured a four-level interchange; the Twin Mountain/PTG team reduced the structure to three levels, lowering cost and improving constructability.

Throughout construction, traffic was kept moving during peak hours. With more than 140,000 vehicles traveling through the interchange daily, sufficient lanes had to be kept open while new construction was ongoing in close proximity to existing travel lanes. "Our construction phasing focused on keeping traffic moving through the interchange and maintaining traffic in similar patterns," said Kevin Swaving, Twin Mountain project manager. "Most of our lane closures occurred during the evening hours to maintain the peak hour traffic."

Part of the success is attributed to a proactive communication program, run by the contractor and the state, to distribute advanced closure information to the all media and commuters on a daily basis. Radio, television and print media kept the motoring public faithfully advised of the lane restrictions and closures, sometimes hourly as required.

As of May 1, 2006, most major project activities had been completed. A flurry of final activities and lane closures were necessary to complete construction by June 1. During May, crews laid an open graded friction course to finish the asphalt paving. In addition, permanent traffic striping, landscaping and painting were completed. The project's final completion was celebrated on May 25, with Gov. Bill Richardson, New Mexico Department of Transportation Secretary Rhonda Faught and Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez in attendance. Crews opened the final two ramps — the eastbound I-40 to northbound Coors Boulevard off-ramp and the northbound Coors Boulevard on-ramp to westbound I-40 — in time for the Memorial Day weekend holiday. The project met an aggressive 18-month work schedule and would have been subject to liquidated damages had construction exceeded the June 1 deadline.

A unique feature of the project is the artistic designs incorporated into the structures and retaining walls. By state law, 1 percent of the dollar amount of all public construction projects must be spent on artistic content, and NMDOT partnered with the city of Albuquerque to provide $3.3 million for aesthetic concepts. Twin Mountain/PTG established a public advisory committee to guide the aesthetic selection process. The project team selected local artist Karen Yank to integrate aesthetics throughout the project. In partnership with the community and the project team, artwork was placed on the two pedestrian overpasses and textured walls. The designs capture the dominant features of the local scenery, such as the volcanoes on the west side of the Rio Grande. The color staining theme was selected with the community selecting a color palette that complemented the art elements and landscaping. Approximately 16 acres of landscaping was designed by subcontractor Sites Southwest and installed by Westwinds Landscape Construction Inc. The project team has made significant beautification for the motoring public that will be very long appreciated. For further information, visit the project website,, and click on the aesthetics links on the right side.

Twin Mountain's internal quality control program was essential to ensure owner satisfaction in meeting project requirements and avoiding re-work. Workers at all levels not only were trained in the policy but understood their role in the success of the program. NMDOT partnered with Twin Mountain on the program with the expressed intention of exceeding expectations, not just meeting them. Subcontractor Western Technologies Inc. provided testing and quality control support. All subcontractors participated in adhering to program requirements, attending a pre-activity meeting prior to construction activities being started to ensure that everyone understood the expectations and requirements. NMDOT staff joined Twin Mountain/PTG project staff on monthly "Quality Tours" of the project, identifying areas of need as well as areas of success. This group selected the "Crew of the Month" for special recognition. It should be no surprise that this effort resulted in a 96-percent approval rating on overall project quality.

In the August 2005 RMC article, so much design had yet to be completed that quantities could not yet be defined. Now, the full scope of the impressive quantities can be presented: a total of eight bridges, 140,000 square feet of MSE walls, 40,000 square feet of noise abatement walls, 16,000 linear feet drilled shafts for structure foundations, 600,000 cubic yards of earthmoving, 14,000 linear feet of drainage structures, 260,000 tons of base course, and 140,000 tons of asphalt roadway materials, including the final open graded friction course. Materials used in construction of the eight bridges are also impressive: 30,000 cubic yards of concrete, 3,750,000 pounds of reinforcing steel, 2,250,000 pounds of structural steel, and 16,400 linear feet of bridge girders.

Part of the overall success of the project has been in the public outreach to businesses, residents and commuters by way of daily e-mails, media information broadcasts, website information, fact sheets, information phone lines, and personal interactions. Involved citizens had constructive input that factored into the planning and execution of the project. All together, this partnering with the community has worked to reduce the impact on businesses and those traveling through the construction zone. Sometimes the information was used to plan for alternative routes or schedules. Overall, the approach has worked to develop a very positive image for NMDOT and Twin Mountain/PTG with the local community.

The project employed more than 500 New Mexicans, many subcontractors -- including ATS Drilling, Coyote Concrete Pumping, Dustrol Inc., the Feed Bin, Hark Drilling Inc., Hartwig & Associates, Highway Supply LLC, JD Steel/PRS-a joint venture, McDade-Woodcock Inc., Nelson Industries, Parsons Brinkerhoff, PBS&J, Poly-Carb Inc., San-Bar Construction Corp., Scott Derr Painting, Terracon Inc., Reinforced Earth Co., Sites Southwest, Valley Fence Co., Valiant Builders Inc., Westwind Landscape Construction Inc., Western Technologies Inc. — and hundreds of New Mexico suppliers.

Key personnel for the project team include Hank Padilla, NMDOT project manager; Paul Lindberg, NMDOT design manager; Kevin Swaving, TMC project manager; Rod Hoy, TMC construction manager; Tom Virding, design manager for Parsons Transportation Group; and Michelle Halstead, public information officer for TMC.

About the Author: Bruce Higgins has been in the New Mexico construction industry for 38 years, 20 years as general manager of Tom Growney Equipment, Inc. (John Deere Construction Equipment, Bobcat, Dynapac, Sakai, and Broce Broom distributor) and 18 years as an officer of two major contracting firms based in Albuquerque.