TEAMWORK GETS RESULTS
The potential for countywide gridlock was great. McMullen Booth Road is a designated evacuation route, so the timing of the road closure would be critical to public safety. Construction was slated to begin in mid-May 2007, when most schools would be out of session, traffic volumes are at their lowest, and the threat of hurricanes still was low.
The best defenses against a potential transportation nightmare were a well-informed public and cooperation among the jurisdictional entities affected by the road closure. The notification process was implemented in three phases.
The first was a multijurisdictional coordination meeting held eight months before construction that included public officials from surrounding municipalities, representatives from public transportation, emergency services, sheriff, police, school board transportation, FDOT, and CSXT.
Next, several county departments developed a public notification plan that included:Direct mail showing alternate routing to 5,000 households directly affected by the closure or the detour routeAn insert in utility bills to 110,000 householdsFace-to-face visits by staff to businesses affected by the closureOne-on-one appointments with large private or public entities that would be significantly affected by the proposed constructionLocation-specific notices mailed to households that would have direct ingress/egress limitations due to detour routingAll available resources such as the Pinellas County Government Web site, Pinellas 18 TV, a county e-mail news service, and reverse 911Public service announcements and regular media releasesA dedicated hotline with a recorded outgoing information option or that transfered to a live county representative 24 hours a dayVariable-message boards that showed dates of closure and an information number placed at 27 intersections around the closure site 30 days before construction.
Finally, CSXT and county crews developed a four-step plan to minimize the duration of the road closure: assemble the new track off of the existing tracks rather than assembling it in place, devote an ancillary work train solely to running across the new tracks and ballast several times daily to expedite compaction of the new ballast, set the final rail profile with infrared technology to improve accuracy and save time, and install prefabricated 3,000-psi concrete panels to replace the full-depth rubber crossing.TIME IS MONEY
McMullen Booth Road closed after the evening rush hour at 9 p.m. Friday, May 25, 2007—the beginning of the Memorial Day holiday weekend. Although residents criticized the timing, the county decided that having a few days to tweak traffic control systems before the crush of daily routine traffic began again would ultimately benefit everyone involved.
Public works traffic engineers stood by at critical detour intersections with handheld control devices and were guided by the department's traffic control monitors observing from a Sheriff's Department helicopter. Throughout the closure, the county employed 1,500 hours of uniformed off-duty sheriff's officers for traffic control at key intersections, and county staff handled more than 4,000 calls to the information hotline.
Originally, consulting engineer TBE Group Inc. planned for a 21-day road closure in addition to 12 days of partial-road opening via temporary traffic lanes. But the planning and cooperation between the agencies allowed the entire project to be completed in just 13 days. The additional costs of the contractor's overtime, additional variable-message boards, and off-duty uniformed traffic control were nearly offset by the savings in material that would have been used to reroute traffic.
Three weeks later, a second grade crossing was replaced on a major east-west arterial roadway using the same techniques with similar results. This cooperative project-management approach will be used on all subsequent crossing improvements.
— McKibben is project manager in the Civil/Site Engineering Division of Pinellas County Public Works in Florida.