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Avoiding Failures in Communication Results in a Successful Project for All
by Matthew I. Hickson, P.E., Structures Project Manager
Traffic Planning and Design, Inc.

The ramifications of a bridge or retaining wall failure are fairly clear and well understood even by those outside of our industry. While these structural failures can result in enormous financial losses for a contractor, designer or local and state agencies, even more important are the safety risks they may pose to the traveling public. These risks are well known by design engineers, and for this reason several factors of safety are incorporated into structural designs, in order to minimize the chance of a structural failure. However, the chances of a structural failure are much less than the chances of a failure in communication and coordination during the design and/or construction phases of a project. Communication and coordination are essential for a project's success, and a failure in this aspect of project management can have effects just as devastating to the project as a flawed design.

The need for efficient communication and coordination becomes even more critical on a project in which private developers; environmental and historic agencies and local and state government authorities are all involved with the funding and approval processes. Traffic Planning and Design, Inc. (TPD) recently completed a project of this nature in Chester County, Pennsylvania. The intersection improvement of Ship Road (S.R. 1001) and Swedesford Road (T-413) included intersection design, roadway realignment, signal design, and structural design of a replacement reinforced box culvert. As a structural engineer with experience on major bridge projects, including a long span truss bridge structure and several complicated curved and splayed superstructure designs with 3D analyses, this project didn't present a significant engineering challenge with respect to the structural and hydraulic design associated with the reinforced box culvert. The most significant challenge arose from the necessity to provide efficient communication and coordination between the developers, the local and state government authorities and the engineering team.

The existing intersection, located in rapidly developing West Whiteland Township, consisted of two offset legs of a state roadway, Ship Road intersecting with a local roadway, Swedesford Road, with a combined average daily traffic of 8,725 vehicles per day. With the ever increasing traffic volumes in West Whiteland Township, these offset approach legs resulted in significant backups and delays along Ship Road during the morning and evening rush hours. In association with a nearby housing development being constructed, a national developer was required by the Township to provide improvement for the existing substandard intersection. As part of the intersection improvement and due to hydraulic criteria and requirements, it was necessary to replace a shorter existing 3'x6' reinforced concrete box culvert with a 200' long, 6'x14' precast reinforced box culvert. Although the developer provided a majority of funding for the project, all designs required state approval and, therefore, were required to follow PennDOT criteria for design and plans. This is where the most significant communication and coordination efforts were needed. Since the developers were not accustomed to being involved with PennDOT approved structures projects, even the most typical design methods and details required extensive correspondence and justification. This coordination was required between the engineer, the developer and PennDOT in order to provide justification to the developer concerning the specific PennDOT requirements for certain design aspects and structural details.

This project was further complicated by the aggressive design and construction timetable required by the Township. Another bridge construction project was scheduled within the Township's commercial district prior to the start of the Christmas shopping season that required a bridge and roadway closure on a major parallel route through the Township. Having both of these North-South roadways closed at the same time would have produced gridlock within the surrounding communities. In order to minimize these potential delays, the Township required that the Ship Road/Swedesford Road intersection improvements be completed prior to the other previously scheduled bridge construction. In order to meet this aggressive schedule, significant coordination was required between the engineer, PennDOT, the Township, the developer, environmental and historical permitting agencies, the precast concrete fabricators and the construction contractor. This coordination was first required in the plan approval and permitting process. In order to allow adequate time for construction and minimize associated delays, the contract plans and shop drawings were combined and approved together. While this required significant communication between the designer, the fabricator and PennDOT, it minimized delays during construction by allowing the fabricator to begin the lengthy process of fabricating the precast box sections. By having these box sections fabricated early, it eliminated delays during construction and allowed the sections to be delivered and installed within the tight construction schedule. There was also significant coordination necessary with the historical and environmental permitting agencies. With wetlands located adjacent to the project along the creek and historical dwellings and properties adjacent to the project, receiving environmental and historical permitting was a critical step in achieving the schedule. Typically these permitting procedures take numerous months for these agencies to review the applications and issue the permits. However, due to the tight timetable, TPD and the Township engaged in intense coordination and communication with these agencies in order to get the required permits in a timely manner, such that the project construction was not significantly delayed.

The overall project was completed within the aggressive month schedule for design and construction, and traffic delays within the Township were minimized significantly. This project was beneficial to all parties. With a majority of funding provided by the developer, an intersection that was in need of major upgrades was improved without the use of any public or state funding. The community received infrastructure improvements resulting in increased safety and mobility, without the expected traffic delays during construction, had both roadways been closed simultaneously. Although this may not have been a monumental structure and roadway design project, it was a project that required intensive attention to communication, coordination, scheduling and management. Focusing on these aspects resulted in overall project success, as PennDOT, the Township, and the motoring public received the much needed intersection improvements/stream crossing to adequately accommodate the healthy growth of their municipality.

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