Deploying about 380 workers and 214 pieces of equipment shift by shift on the reconstruction of the Paseo del Norte and Interstate 25 interchange is a hands-on affair at Kiewit New Mexico, general contractor for the project.
Roughly 40 superintendents and engineers gather at 1 p.m. daily for a half-hour in a 20-by-40-foot conference room, walls covered by magnetic dry-erase boards with handwritten logistics, at Kiewit’s headquarters at 5130 Masthead NE. Smartphones and laptops are unnecessary.
They work out the assignments for 50 crews, each with an average of five to six workers, for that evening’s shift and the next day’s shift with an eye on making sure the crews are efficient, effective and not working on top of one another, said Gray Kite, senior vice president and top executive of the New Mexico division.
“This is the heartbeat of the job,” he said about the daily meeting. “It’s the choreography of the job, what goes where.”
Born in Taos and raised in Cimarron, Kite has been with Kiewit for 31 years. He was involved in the Big I reconstruction, completed in 2002; the Coors and Interstate 40 interchange reconstruction, completed in 2006; and the RailRunner track extension in the Santa Fe area, completed in 2008.
Adding it up
The Paseo project will require shifting 29,000 dump-truck loads of fill dirt, erecting 160,400 square feet of retaining and sound walls, rehabbing two existing bridges, and laying 116,750 tons of hot-mix asphalt from Kiewit’s plant near the Big I, according to company numbers.
The project also calls for five new bridges, including its signature flyover for traffic northbound on I-25 to westbound on Paseo that’s currently going up. The first girders were trucked in from Little Rock, Ark., joined together on site and hoisted into place with two huge cranes this past weekend.
Other major bridges are the Paseo overpass at Jefferson and a southbound frontage road overpass to allow westbound traffic on Paseo to flow seamlessly to southbound I-25.
These three bridges will eliminate traffic lights that create congestion for commuters traveling from homes on the West Side to jobs on the east side of the river in the morning, then back again in the evening.
“Those are the main improvements, the direct connects to I-25,” Kite said.
The other traffic bridge is at the new braided ramp configuration for northbound lanes between San Mateo and San Antonio. The fifth bridge will be for pedestrians.
A small footprint
One of the challenges of the Paseo project is its comparatively small footprint, which is about one-fourth of the size of the Big I reconstruction footprint. Kite said about 70 percent of the work is taking place in a three-quarter-mile corridor from the interchange west to just past Jefferson.
While all this activity is underway, the Paseo interchange remains open for traffic during the critical rush hours, morning and evening. When the project started, traffic on Paseo at the interchange was approaching 155,000 vehicles a day, almost six times the traffic count in 1988, the year after the road opened.
“First and foremost, the safety of the traveling public is a priority,” Kite said. “Correct signage and correct lanes, all that stuff makes a huge impact on how successful the project is from a public perception.”
It almost seems ironic that the project has made Paseo a safer road to drive on.
“We’re having half as many accidents as there were prior to construction starting. That could be due to more signage, more lighting, slower speeds,” Kite said. “We had similar stats during the Big I project.”
The disruption in traffic caused by the project actually has created cost-saving opportunities for businesses in need of warehouse space.
Industrial real-estate brokers Mike Leach of Sycamore Associates and Jim Smith of CBRE either have marketed or are currently marketing space in the area north of Paseo/Jefferson with a special construction discount on rent through the end of the year. The discounts are offered only on long-term leases.
“The thought process was let’s cut people some slack if they want to be a tenant and cope with the congestion,” Smith said.
The 14-month construction project began in October after the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta concluded and is scheduled to end Dec. 20
“We’ll make that Dec. 20 date,” Kite said. “We have a lot of workforce out there, and we’re currently on track to beat that (date) a little bit. Things are coming along about as we expected them to.”
On face value, the $93 million Paseo project has taken place on a short timeline.
The New Mexico Department of Transportation put the project out for final bids in early June 2013 as a design/build contract. Kiewit submitted its final bid in mid-July 2013 and was awarded the $75 million construction contract at the beginning of August. Work began several weeks later.
Long time planning
In reality, Kite said Kiewit started preparations years ago to win the contract and build the project. Forecasts were developed for the needed manpower, equipment and material and where it all would come from. The actual bid solidified the forecasts.
By the time the contract is awarded, he said, “you pull the trigger and overnight sets it all in motion.”
Kiewit New Mexico is part of a network of decentralized offices of Omaha, Neb.-based Kiewit Corp., an employee-owned construction firm that dates back to 1884. As such, it can mobilize resources from across the country for a given project. For example, equipment for the Paseo project comes from as far away as Tampa, Fla.
“Probably 75 percent of our craft workforce are employees who have worked for Kiewit here in New Mexico many times over,” Kite said. “That helps when you start a new job (because) you’re not hiring a brand-new workforce.”
Kiewit employees get accustomed to traveling where their skills are needed. In 2009, for example, Kite said he spent nine months in New Orleans working on the $1 billion Gulf Intracoastal Waterway West Closure Complex, a post-Katrina storm-surge protection facility.
Kiewit teamed with Bohannon Huston, an Albuquerque engineering firm, on the Paseo project’s design and critical path schedule.
“From a coordination standpoint, the project is broken into multiple different disciplines – a roadway discipline, a drainage discipline, a walls discipline, a structures discipline and so on,” Kite said. “Each one of those disciplines is managed by multiple superintendents, engineers, foremen.”
The critical path schedule gets a detailed update every month, which is then broken into a three-week “look ahead” at the required construction activity. The three-week look ahead is reviewed weekly by the 40 or so superintendents and engineers. The daily meetings are the final step in managing the project.
The reconstruction of the Paseo/I-25 interchange is not a Kiewit project, Kite said, but a “community project that has many, many stakeholders.”
The stakeholders include the involved government entities – state of New Mexico, city of Albuquerque and Bernalillo County – as well as the motorists who use the road and businesses located near it.
“It takes everybody for a project like this to be successful,” he said. “Everybody is pulling in the same direction.”