Reducing delivery time on a major road project by 17 years was not a reality the team at the Ohio Department Transportation (ODOT) thought could ever be achievable. That is, until they entered into their first public-private partnership (P3) to complete the 16-mile-long bypass of Portsmouth known as the Southern Ohio Veterans Memorial Highway/S.R. 823, the largest single roadway construction project in state history.
What pushed this project forward was the opportunity for ODOT to help boost economic development in a largely undeveloped region of the state. “This highway is really the last segment of the Appalachian highway system that we’re going to have to build in Ohio,” Tom Barnitz, ODOT District 9 project manager, told Roads & Bridges. “Not only are we building through the mountainous terrain of southeast Ohio, but we’re alleviating congestion and solving some safety issues through the existing Portsmouth state routes.”
The highway principally goes through a green field area, but also has connections at U.S. 23 on the northern end, an area which has potential for economic development. The Portsmouth Gateway Group (PGG), the project developer, is constructing a four-lane roadway across the 16 miles of the bypass.
ODOT was originally planning to bid out the work in early 2011 as a three-stage project. As luck would have it, the Ohio Legislature passed a law allowing P3 projects in the same year. With this opportunity, ODOT changed its plans. Going the P3 route allowed the department to build the project in a single phase with a single developer, significantly decreasing project delivery time. “In this case we were able to build the project in much faster time than ODOT would have been able to build,” Barnitz said. “This project’s construction timeframe is three years, eight months—we probably would’ve taken that long just to build the first phase.”
Barnitz noted the P3 route was easy to get off the ground as the project had already been partially designed, with environmental documentation already completed and right-of-way acquisition well underway by the time the P3 consortium was brought in.
The developer was met with “20 million challenges” during construction due to the amount of earthmoving required. “We’re moving 20 million cu yd of earth, the vast majority of which needs to be coaxed out of the ground with explosives,” PGG CEO Bill Maddex told Roads & Bridges. That aspect of the roadwork is moving along, as PGG project manager Matt Reiser, P.E., estimates crews have moved about 19 million cu yd of earth at this point, with approximately 750,000 cu yd left in total. In addition, according to Reiser, overall progress on the Veterans Memorial Highway is 80% complete, including nearing 60% completion on the 22 bridges along the highway.
Project: Southern Ohio Veterans Memorial Highway/S.R. 823
Location: Portsmouth, Ohio
Owner: Ohio Department of Transportation
Designer: ms consultants
Contractor: Portsmouth Joint Venture
Cost: $429 million (construction)
Length: 16 miles
Completion Date: December 2018