Michigan DOT & Engineering Council Hold Partnering Conference in Lansing

By Anahid Lisa Derbabian, A.P.R. | September 28, 2010

More than 400 professionals attended the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT)-American Council of Engineering Companies/Michigan (ACEC/M) Annual Partnering Conference in Lansing on February 1 for a comprehensive day of insights. MDOT Director Kirk Steudle shared partnering accomplishments and challenges ahead in the state budget, economy and Federal Revenue Rescission Plan.

"Understand that there's a big discussion going on, and we're part of it," said Steudle, who also reminded everyone that the Mackinac Bridge turns 50, with a celebration on November 1, and a bigger celebration in July.

Myron Frierson, MDOT finance and administration, discussed improvements to contract selection and increases in selection activity between 2005 and 2006, which went from 395 to 435 selections. "We put information on the web, through an intranet for contract services, and a public website that includes information such as vendor announcements and requests for proposals," he said.

Ongoing process improvements include defining the scope and duration of as-needed contracts, reviewing significant changes in dollar value of contracts from selection to awards, reviewing project scopes prior to posting, refining Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) participation and good faith effort processes, reviewing feasibility of a fully electronic selection process, and reducing selection team efforts.

Dan Belcher, P.E., P.S., MDOT Design Division, spoke about design specifics that came from various forums and provided an update on the eProposal system. "All trunk line plans and proposals are now published in eProposal. People really like eProposal and actually want it used for everything," he said.

He described the Machine Assisted Construction of Highways (MACH1) pilot project, a US-127 business route south of Mt. Pleasant that will be constructed as a modified boulevard section using the existing two-lane section, in preparation for the extension and intersection of a county road during the 2007 construction season.

Belcher discussed how MDOT is looking to MACH1 to "pave the way to future highway construction. MACH1 will pilot software and technology, recently developed for the Minnesota Department of Transportation that bridges the electronic gap between design and construction. With modifications to GEOPAK (road design software) MDOT will be providing proposed Digital Terrain Models (DTMs) for machine-controlled grading," he said, adding that MACH1 will develop standard processes and procedures for use on future highway construction projects.

GEOPAK Civil Engineering Suite represents an industry standard in civil design and supports real-time, simultaneous multi-user design. GEOPAK enables simultaneous design in cross section, plan and profile view, for highly accurate models throughout a project.

David Geyer, P.E., MDOT Design Division, discussed a rewrite of GEOPAK and the various tools added to the MDOT system, such as new files for consultants, and customizations in pull-down menus.

The Construction Quality Partnership (CQP) in Michigan started two years ago, when the Michigan Infrastructure & Transportation Association (MITA) and the Michigan Concrete Paving Association (MCPA) approached MDOT to develop a statewide partnership. At the Strategic Forum on Quality and Warranties, total and continuous quality improvement was deemed the goal for products, processes and relationships. "The status quo is not acceptable. This whole effort is to focus on quality," said Mark Chaput, of MDOT.

"Certification of people initially will be voluntary and will become mandatory for skills and knowledge sets needed," said Glenn Bukoski, P.E., of MITA. "This will include everyone from contractors, owners, staff, and agencies. We want certification of contractor companies and consulting firms and we want to raise the level from individuals to corporations," he said.

Anticipated benefits of CQP are enhanced product quality and value through joint training and skill development, skilled personnel across the industry, improved industry-wide relationships, reduced risk for everyone, and increased public trust in the industry.

Relative to construction engineering contracts, MDOT tries to build a fair and level playing field in selecting firms. They reduced proposal size, and selection panels include knowledgeable people not related to the program or area.

Relative to road and bridge design, Dan Christian, of Tetra Tech, discussed Best Management Practices (BMP) concerning pollutants, space availability, existing infrastructure, availability of hydraulic gradient, soil properties, and groundwater issues. MDOT started early coordination and scoping; defined maintenance requirements for each BMP; provided guidance on BMP selection, review and edit of standards, review of existing facilities and maintenance needs, and education.

Mark VanPortFleet, of MDOT, discussed design flexibility. "Many engineering documents haven't changed, yet we're expected to provide different answers. When we think of flexibility, we should bend not break. The engineers' charge is to preserve the integrity of the bridge, ours is to protect the traveling public. We must work together for safety," VanPortFleet said.

"For a long time we followed a high-end, cookbook mentality in order to comply with federal regulations. All sorts of solutions are coming now from the engineers," he said.

MDOT works with Paralyzed Veterans of America on Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) sidewalk ramps to make modifications consistent with the law. More survey and engineering is necessary, and ramps must be built right, he said.

Steve Hall, vice president of government affairs at ACEC national, described federal lobbying efforts. "Projections regarding the highway trust fund are looking worse. Clearly, Congress has to focus on it now and look at revenue options," Hall said.

"On the aviation side, a must-do for Congress is to find initial funds for an airport improvement program. And, the so-called 3-percent contractor withholding mandate as part of a tax package was a revenue raiser and a way of enforcing tax laws. This serious issue will affect anyone that works for a federal or state agency," he said.

Mike Nystrom, vice president of government and public relations at MITA, said that, "Michigan initially plowed into infrastructure funding efforts. In the last 20 years, that system aged, and we haven't kept up with needs. Now, our roads are in sorry shape.

"How much business are we losing due to our infrastructure? We need to strengthen it to help turn our economy around. Past debt is eating up revenues, and a dramatic increase in material prices and gas prices are eroding our revenues," he said.

Action taken includes promoting more funding at the state level and fundraising. A three-pronged approach involves educating legislators on needs and how the system is funded, and educating the news media and the general public.

Focus groups and a polling of registered voters indicate that a majority believe that the system is broken, is in poor condition and needs help. "We need an infusion of investment," Hall said, and discussed gas tax, diesel tax, registration fees, and county-based fees. Long-term solutions, such as fast lanes and toll roads, will be evaluated.

Leon Hank, chief administrative officer at MDOT, discussed funding alternatives. "We have gone to the bond market on a regular basis to compensate for lack of funds. We have borrowed monies at 1-percent interest and made very good strategic moves. Our strategy is to educate, so the funding problem is well known. Revenue enhancements are needed to maintain infrastructure investments," he said.

Federal funding policy recommendations and funding alternatives include road user fees and truck mileage charging systems. Public-private partnerships are the hottest trend in transportation funding.