Kerr Contractors Brings Decades of Experience to Sunrise Corridor
Midway through a major freeway interchange project, a contractor reflects on the road traveled, detailing the experience, equipment and partners that have brought his company this far.
Brent Kerr, President of Woodburn, Oregon based Kerr Contractors, is happy with the work his company has landed.
"Our Sunrise Corridor project is an Oregon Department of Transportation project that is currently in its second season. It is a $50 million project, and the largest project our company has done to date."
There are three parts to the project in the Portland metropolitan area: major interchange work on I-205: creating the access to 2 miles of virgin highway headed east off of 205; and environmental work related to the status of the new roadway as a former U.S. Army shooting range and a Superfund site.
"It's an interesting bit of work," Kerr said. "There are roughly 300,000 cubic yards of imported fill material, 300,000 tons of stone embankment, and 50,000 tons of asphalt paving along with 11 structures on the project. We should be complete here within the next 12 months."
"It takes all types of equipment. We've had our Komatsu PC 600 out there doing mass excavation, and we've had haul trucks, large dozers, compacters, rubber tired dozers and scrapers and a lot of rollers," Kerr said, "Then there is the paving machine and rollers."
In contrast to some construction projects, weather has not impacted progress on this job.
"Because of the way the state designed it with the stone embankment, which is 18-inch minus rock, the rain hasn't affected us," Kerr said, "We've been able to work straight on through the winter."
The larger challenges were in scheduling, the environmental issues on the job site, and a considerable amount of design change during the course of the project. "With that many structures, dealing with live traffic, and that much ground to cover, there are tie-ins to existing facilities and those always have potentially some complication," Kerr said.
Kerr Contractors has completed a number of other interchange projects. The unique aspects of the Sunrise Corridor are that "it's just a large quantity of all of the above," except for the task of screening for unexploded munitions.
Beginning a Construction Career
Kerr's path began with a solid education: he graduated in 1983 from Oregon State University's construction engineering management program. He then went to work for Grade-Way Construction, a large heavy civil construction contractor in the Bay Area of California. He rose quickly through the ranks to become the firm's youngest ever Area Manager, before returning to Oregon to establish his own company on January 1, 1988.
His first employee, his nephew Tim Kerr, had worked summer jobs at Grade-Way before graduating from high school. Tim is now Vice President and Operations Manager of the company. A few years later Kerr brought on Alan Aplin, now Vice President of Estimating, who was also an "˜83 grad from Oregon State and had worked with Kerr at Grade-Way, before also working for a national environmental remediation company. Many of the company's current leadership team members have a similar background. "We have a lot of Oregon State engineers here," said Kerr.
The company's history was basically one of steady growth, "though we had a few hurdles between 2009 and 2011," Kerr said, noting that the period was a challenge for the entire industry. "We're out of that and growing again."
Kerr Contractors now has a staff of over 200 professional consultants, construction managers, estimators, schedulers, superintendents, crew members and office support staff. The company takes on rotomilling projects throughout the western United States, and heavy civil engineering projects in Northern California, Oregon, Washington and Idaho.
Determination has been a key factor in the company's success, says Kerr. "We work hard at it, and we're not afraid of the complicated projects." Additionally, "we're not afraid of investing in our future whether its the latest technology in GPS or just equipment in general."
Maintaining a Successful Partnership
The investment in GPS survey and machine control capabilities allows for more efficient and accurate work. To be ready to mobilize for major projects, Kerr Contractors maintains a fleet of more than 400 pieces of heavy construction equipment, which is staged and cared for in the company's 14-bay, 20,000-square-foot shop in Woodburn.
Partnership with a reliable supplier has also been important to Kerr Contractors in meeting its business and technical challenges. The company has a long-standing relationship with Modern Machinery.
"I have known Phil Berard (Portland Branch Manager), for a long time," says Kerr. "For the 27 years we've been doing it he's been a go-to person for this company's equipment and solutions." When the downturn in 2009 had Kerr looking for new opportunities, Kerr said, "we saw that all the stimulus money was in paving." Kerr turned to Modern Machinery Account Representative Rob Jacobs to get the equipment needed for the paving work. "They were the Wirtgen dealer, and that is certainly our brand of choice for rotomilling. Wirtgen has acquired the Vogele paving line and the Hamm roller line since we started doing road milling."
Kerr notes "paving machines and rotomills are very maintenance critical and parts critical. When you're using them and it breaks down you don't have a week to wait, you have until the next shift, and you had better get it figured out. Modern does a good job at working with us on making sure that we're up and running."
"We have a lot of large Komatsu excavators," said Kerr, "We have two of the 600 models two of the 750 Komatsu excavators, several small excavators (228s) and five new 320 wheel loaders, three D51 dozers and one D155 dozer. A lot of Komatsu gear. We have 10 Wirtgen rotomills and two Wirtgen pulverizers to do soil cement when we decide to get into asphalt paving and we purchased four Hamm rollers and now two Hamm rollers in the rock side and the one Vogele paving machine. So all in all, we have been committed to Modern and they've been committed to us."
"It took the state of Oregon 20 years to finally get the funding for the Sunset Corridor, and this is Phase One. I hope between Salem and Washington, D.C. they can get the funding for the next phases. It's a great start to solving some traffic problems, and we need it."