Caltrans Prepares for California's Future Infrastructure Needs
As a recent college graduate Caltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty, a New Jersey native, was lured to California by the variety of experiences promised by the Caltrans engineer rotation program. While earning his Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering at Rutgers University, Dougherty worked for a consultant on land development and municipal engineering. "Solving problems that turned into tangible infrastructure is really what attracted me to civil engineering," Dougherty said. So when he graduated, the promise of being turned loose on the variety road and bridge projects that Caltrans offered its entry-level engineers was enough to get him to move cross-country. That, and the lure of California itself.
Through the rotation program, Dougherty worked on projects across the state. "One opportunity led to another," he said, "And we have some incredible people that just have a level of expertise that I just would not have had the opportunity to work with anywhere else in my opinion. Both in the public sector in my organization as well as the private sector." California is also unique, he said, because of the size of the program and the geographic diversity of the state.
"It's just been an incredible experience," Dougherty said, "And the opportunity to work on some very rewarding projects including several mega-projects has always kept the wind in my sail and looking forward to the next day of work."
After beginning as an engineer in 1992, Dougherty held management positions in Design, Project Management and Traffic Operations, then became District Director in the Fresno Area, Chief Engineer, and Chief Deputy. Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. appointed him to Director in May 2012.
As Director of Caltrans he leads an $11 billion organization with 20,000 employees who build, maintain, and operate the 50,000 lane miles of California's transportation system.
Working High-Profile Projects
One of the most high-profile projects Dougherty worked on in a number of capacities was the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, the world's largest suspension bridge, which opened on Labor Day in 2013. The massive project saw numerous political and engineering challenges, Dougherty said, "But to open up and provide safe passage for hundreds of thousands of people every day going to cross the Bay was certainly very rewarding."
"In the state of California at any given time we have about 600 construction projects going on," Dougherty said, "Every one of them either taking care of and rehabilitating the infrastructure, improving safety or improving mobility and access for people and goods."
Examples of the diverse slate of major active highway projects in California:
Construction has just begun on the $80 million Marin-Sonoma Narrows project which includes the realignment of U.S. Highway 101 between Marin and Sonoma, a new cycling facility, and replacement of the San Antonio Creek Bridge. Completion is expected in 2018.
A $79 million SMART Corridor project on Interstate 80 between the Carquinez Straits and the Bay Bridges is expected to be completed this summer. This project includes innovative technology partnered with traffic lane management to improve safety, reduce traffic congestion and provide real time travel information to drivers during emergency and special event protocols.
In the fall, work begins on the $225 million project realigning a section of State Route 99 in Fresno to make way for California's new high-speed rail system.
Work has just begun on the $128.5 million Interstate 5 (I-5) North Stockton Improvement Project. This project will add High Occupancy Vehicle lanes (the first in the Stockton area), auxiliary lanes and sound walls. The project also reconstructs the existing six-lane freeway with continuously reinforced concrete pavement.
Work is being completed on a $133.3 million on the Interstate 80 "Across the Top" project, which is constructing about 10 miles of High Occupancy Vehicle Lanes in north Sacramento. The project is also rebuilding existing lanes and while adding new auxiliary lanes near the I-5 interchange.
Work progresses on the $355 million Interstate 5 Empire project in Burbank. This project will construct 4.4 miles of new carpool lanes to reduce traffic congestion. Completion is expected in 2019.
Construction continues on a $950 million project to replace the Gerald Desmond Bridge on State Route 47 in Long Beach. Completion is expected in 2017.
Work also continues on a $370 million project to add two miles of new High Occupancy Vehicle lanes and mixed flow lanes to Interstate 5 in Norwalk to reduce traffic congestion. The project also includes three new highway bridges. Completion is expected in 2017.
Partnering for the Future
In relation to the construction industry, Dougherty said Caltrans is making a major effort to implement partnering. He notes there are inevitable conflicts due to unforeseen conditions, contract language, and "between us getting the quality that we're looking for, and them getting the profit margin that they want." But, Dougherty said, "If we all enter the project knowing that those are all each of our objectives and we share those objectives, when issues come up if you take a facilitated partnering approach to it, hopefully we can resolve those conflicts in construction at the earliest possible time."
"That benefits all of us and ultimately benefits the user of the transportation system," Dougherty said. "We can expedite the delivery of the project and save dollars in the long run as opposed to escalating the conflict. It's just a better way of doing business." The approach is formalized in contract language on larger projects, and involved training and private sector partnering facilitators.
Caltrans is also paying attention to innovative project delivery methods.
"You manage those projects differently," Dougherty said, "Who does the quality control is different on a design-bid-build than it is for a design build." The division of responsibilities and risks also varies, he noted, adding, "We need to make sure that between us we're managing those different types of project delivery appropriately."