The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) is unabashedly pushing five innovations in its latest initiative to jumpstart project delivery on the nation's highways - and states will be expected to implement them in less than two years.

The "Every Day Counts" (EDC) Innovation Initiative is designed to identify and deploy innovation aimed at shortening project delivery, enhancing the safety of the nation's roadways, and improving environmental sustainability."It takes an average of 13 years from planning to design to delivery of major highway projects. It's clear that we need to deliver projects faster," Gregory Nadeau, FHWA Deputy Administrator, told attendees during last week's APWA Congress and Exposition.

EDC implementation teams are working with governments and industry transportation groups to deploy the program, which includes accelerating use of technology and innovation, offering a toolkit to local and stage agencies for shortening project delivery.

FHWA has recognized that traditional project delivery must make way for a new project delivery method - the construction manager/general contractor (CM/GC) - which occupies the middle ground between traditional design-bid-build and design-build. "The CM/GC provides for project acceleration because the contract allows the owner and construction manager to be in contact with one another earlier in process," Nadeau said. "The owner gets more valuable information about constructability during the design process. By bringing the contractor to the table sooner, contractors can help us find paths to a more efficient approach."

The administration also plans to reduce the number of active environmental impact statements at any given time. "There's a point at which you've got to analyze the project and make a determination. (EIS) is expensive, time-consuming, and often disruptive to the community. We owe residents to get to a rapid conclusion," Nadeau said, adding that the initiative "is about taking technology that's proven, that's market-ready, getting it off the shelf, and putting it into widespread use."

Following are five technologies and innovations highlighted in the initiative:

  • Warm-mix asphalt. In many cases it reduces production and placement temperatures by 30-75 degrees, making for less fuel consumption, better compaction, and a longer paving season. "This is not new technology; FHWA first tested warm mix in 2004. It's now ready for prime time," Nadeau said. Nine state DOTs have already let interstate highway projects using warm-mix asphalt, and FHWA wants 40 states by December 2011 to specify warm-mix on interstate highway projects when appropriate.
  • Safety edge. FHWA also will require state DOTs to specify a safety edge, a sloped pavement edge cut to a 30-degree angle that allows drivers more controlled re-entry to the roadway after tire drop-off. The equipment, commonly known as a "boot," is attached to the paver and costs less than $4,000. "We loaned several of these boots to local and state agencies across the country to get on-the-ground experience beyond what we already have," Nadeau told attendees. "The goal is to see 40 states adopt the safety edge as a standard for paving projects by December 2011."
  • Prefabricated bridge elements. Many of the elements are built offsite at the same time as the demolition of the old bridge, dramatically shortening project delivery time. "Again, this is not new, but this approach cuts down on construction time, improves work zone safety, and minimizes disruption to the traveling public," Nadeau explained. "Because the bridge elements are built under controlled conditions, the end product has to be better, but it is not nearly as pronounced in the marketplace as it should be."
  • Geosynthetic reinforced soil. Alternating layers of compacted fill and layers of geosynthetic reinforcement to provide bridge support reduce construction costs by 25% to 50%. It also eliminates the approach slab or construction joints at the bridge-to-road interface and allows for construction of short span bridges with less heavy equipment. "It's also less dependent on weather conditions, and because of its flexible design it is easily modified for unforeseen site conditions," Nadeau added.
  • Adaptive signal control systems. These adjust signal timing to actual traffic conditions rather than remaining on the same schedule throughout the day. "It's a real operational challenge in many intersections across the country, and with the reduced ability to currently fund the redesign of intersections that were built 40 years ago, this type of technology can be the bridge to that point where we can afford to rebuild that intersection in the future," Nadeau said.
  • "EDC is one way to the make case for more funding at local and state levels," added Nadeau, who admitted that the initiative has yet to be funded. "I can't even begin to try to predict how and what vehicle will address the funding aspect, but the current highway reauthorization expires in December, so there's a lot of heavy lifting that Congress is well aware it has to address by the end of the year," he said.

    This fall FHWA will hold 10 regional initiative summits with key contractors and state safety engineers. Meanwhile FHWA has identified one person in each of its division offices as an EDC coordinator. So far, 45 state DOTs have identified an EDC coordinator as well.

    "By the end of the year expect 1,000 state and local transportation officials and contractors to have been briefed and trained on this initiative," Nadeau told attendees. "At our core we're a regulatory, compliance oversight agency, but this is the area where we can be innovative. We want our division personnel to be on the front lines, so we're preparing our own organization to do that."