There are many reasons Polk County, Fla., residents and elected officials should be proud.

For one, the National Civil League dubbed it an All-American County for its grassroots community programs. And for another, people like working there. A recent survey of county employees indicates that 89% (and 90% of public works employees) are well satisfied with their jobs, and their employer.

Department of the Year judges recommended that the county's public works department and fleet management division be honored for their overall achievements, they were most impressed by a $40 million, 3.4-mile road-widening project. Even though construction began while public works was cleaning up the debris from three hurricanes, the project was completed on time and within budget.

Today, County Road 540A boasts additional lanes, a bridge, shoulder pavement, bike lanes, and sidewalks, all built to accommodate increased traffic spurred by commercial and residential growth. It was funded by bonds, gas taxes, transportation impact fees, and a state grant.

To ensure a teamwork-based atmosphere, the participants held a preconstruction meeting conducted by a professional facilitator. Attendees included the construction contractor, county project management personnel, utility providers, construction engineering inspectors, and design engineers.

The meeting was providential, because the resources of every expert involved would be called upon to resolve issues no one had foreseen.

Obstacle Course

First were the slime pits: a byproduct of phosphate mining.

The ultra-soft clay of the ponds is not conducive to building a bridge, but that's exactly what the county did by driving 147 18-inch-square, 55-foot-long concrete piles for axial and lateral capacity. The bridge abuts a major railroad line and construction was prohibited from interrupting train schedules. This required considerable communication between the county, contractor, and railroad company.

Next came dealing with the project's impact on wildlife.

The county had to obtain a federal permit to relocate protected habitat for gopher tortoises, which entailed installing permanent fencing to prevent the reptiles from becoming road kill. It also entailed frequent consultations with the Nature Conservatory, homeowner associations, businesses, and property owners along the road frontage.