Episode 39 — I-85 Bridge: The Collapse Heard Round the World

Episode #39
Original Air Date: 08.01.2017

34 Minutes

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Our Guest This Episode: Marc Mastronardi

Gentlemen, start your cement mixers! This episode is packed with interesting content on the rebuilding of the Interstate 85 Bridge that collapsed after a massive fire. This corridor carries more than 250,000 commuters in Atlanta, GA every day. With so many people impacted, all eyes were on GDOT’s Director of Construction, Marc Mastronardi.

In over 20 years at GDOT, Marc's roles have included area engineer; construction liaison engineer; assistant state construction engineer and state construction engineer.

Mastronardi is credentialed in the areas of erosion control and storm water management. He serves on the Board of Directors for North American Certified Inspector of Sediment and Erosion Control certification. He was previously appointed by Governor Nathan Deal to the Erosion and Sediment Control Overview Council. He also served as section chair for AASHTO’s Roadway and Structures section under their Subcommittee on Construction. Mastronardi is a registered professional engineer.

Tune in now to hear him discuss all aspects of the I85 rebuild project including demolition, risks, budget, schedule, safety and more!

Favorite Quotes from Our Talk:

"In terms of attacking this, it’s understanding – first it’s understanding what is the extent of this?  What’s the risk?  How far is this going to be?  You know you have one span that has collapsed.  You’re uncertain what the damage is to the other areas.  But specific to that very moment in time it’s how do I maintain or, in this case, provide some mobility?"

- Marc Mastronardi

"The full demolition took about six days, a little more than six days, which is very impressive.  That’s about 13,000 pounds of debris, or excuse me, 13 million pounds of debris that are hauled out.  But that gives the contractor full accessibility to the site.  And that’s key to a quick delivery."

- Marc Mastronardi

"You have to manage expectations.  And again, you go back to that, and I know our audience are a lot of project management staff.  You manage expectations of your client, and you need to do that in a way that maintains your credibility.  You can tell a lot of good things are coming.  But you need to give those couches and caveats to say “however”; right?  And so in our instance it was that."

- Marc Mastronardi

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ANDY CROWE ● BILL YATES ● NICK WALKER ● MARC MASTRONARDI

NICK WALKER:  Welcome to Manage This, the podcast by project managers for project managers.  This is our chance to meet and talk about what matters to you in the diverse and exciting and sometimes perplexing field of project management.  We want to explore the challenges and the rewards of the career by sharing genuine stories from those who are doing the job every day.

I’m your host, Nick Walker, and with me are the two guys who probably have more stories than most.  They’re the resident experts, Andy Crowe and Bill Yates.  And Andy, we have in the studio today someone who many might say worked a miracle when it came to solving a major Atlanta traffic problem.

ANDY CROWE:  You know what, a lot of project managers are faced with big tasks.  But this one really stands out.  So I’m looking forward to this ‘cast.

NICK WALKER:  Well, let’s talk to him.  Marc Mastronardi is the Director of Construction for the Georgia Department of Transportation.  He joined the Georgia DOT in 1993 and has more than 24 years’ of experience in construction bidding and administration, storm water regulation, and soil and water conservation.  He is a registered professional engineer and was instrumental in the rebuilding of the Interstate 85 bridge that collapsed as the result of a fire last March.  The bridge reopened in mid-May, a full month ahead of schedule, to the cheers of about a quarter of a million Atlanta commuters…

BILL YATES:  Oh, yeah.

NICK WALKER:  …who drive that route every day.  Marc, it’s a pleasure to have you here on Manage This.

MARC MASTRONARDI:  Thanks a lot, Nick.  I appreciate it.

NICK WALKER:  Now, the I-85 bridge collapse was a story broadcast nationwide.  Worldwide, really.  I had people all over the country calling me and asking me about it.  Initial estimates were, as I recall, that it was going to be midsummer before the road was open again.  But with so many people affected, I can only imagine that the pressure was pretty intense to get that bridge open as soon as possible.

MARC MASTRONARDI:  Oh, absolutely.  It’s a major corridor in the city, and we knew it needed to be restored as quickly and safely as it could.

NICK WALKER:  Well, take us back to March.  How did you figure out what you were up against?

ANDY CROWE:  And maybe before that, Nick.  I’d like to know, what were you doing when you first heard that this was going on?  What was going on?

MARC MASTRONARDI:  Interestingly, it was a Thursday evening.  Just finished dinner, I get a text from my brother-in-law that says, “I think you’re going to be working some overtime.”  I didn’t know what that meant.  So my wife and I turned on the television, and I turned, gave her a kiss, said “I don’t know when I’ll be back, but I know where I need to be,” and headed out the door.  We have an emergency response center and a protocol for the Georgia Department of Transportation.  And so we all rather instinctively convened there and started to triage the event.

ANDY CROWE:  And at this point you knew there was a fire, but the collapse had not yet happened.

MARC MASTRONARDI:  I think the collapse – I think by the time I was aware, it may have happened.

ANDY CROWE:  Okay.

BILL YATES:  And just to get a sense for the listeners who don’t live in the area or did not read the news – even USA Today was quoting this like crazy.  It was the leading story nationwide and across the globe.  Describe where this was and the impact that it had on the freeway.

MARC MASTRONARDI:  Sure.  So just north of the city of Atlanta, Interstate 85 diverges from I-75.  They actually run parallel to each other right in the heart of the city.  But as it diverges and begins to go a little more easterly, you go through a very populated part of the city, an area that we refer to as Buckhead, the community of Buckhead, a major populated area.  An awful lot of businesses there, as well.  The corridor carries around, and you were right, somewhere around a quarter million people a day, trips a day.  So it certainly couldn’t be in a worse place.

NICK WALKER:  And there’s not easy alternatives.

MARC MASTRONARDI:  No, there’s not.  That’s absolutely, you know, I think to the question, in terms of attacking this, it’s understanding – first it’s understanding what is the extent of this?  What’s the risk?  How far is this going to be?  You know you have one span that has collapsed.  You’re uncertain what the damage is to the other areas.  But specific to that very moment in time it’s how do I maintain or, in this case, provide some mobility?

And so our traffic operations engineers were key in understanding, what are those detour routes?  And then, as those detour routes are identified, the reality is what are their capacity?  And then to the extent they’re signalized, what can I do to facilitate that?  And there’s a lot of technology behind that.  And we were able to synchronize a lot of signalization and actively manage that signal timing in real time.  So those guys get a lot of credit in that initial effort to get traffic moving.

NICK WALKER:  So we’re talking about projects within projects, multiple projects ongoing here.

MARC MASTRONARDI:  Absolutely.

NICK WALKER:  So where did you start?  I mean, did you just get everybody in a room, say okay, here’s what we’ve got to do?

ANDY CROWE:  Yeah.  And before we even get to that, Nick, let’s define what actually happened here.  So there’s a fire underneath the bridge to start with.

BILL YATES:  Right.

ANDY CROWE:  Either materials were set on fire or caught on fire.  The flames are coming up.  And so that’s the point at which I saw there’s black smoke billowing.  But then the bridge physically collapsed across all lanes; correct?

MARC MASTRONARDI:  Correct.  All the lanes northbound.

ANDY CROWE:  Right.

MARC MASTRONARDI:  And so what you’ve got is you actually have a north and a southbound I-85.  And those two directions are actually separated.  So it’s not one continuous bridge in width.  And it’s a viaduct.  It’s a long-spanning bridge.  But, yeah, so there was material underneath.  There was a high-density polyethylene pipe.  Again, there’s been charges given in terms of arson to how this began.  And for us, the understanding is, geez, we have this intense fire.  What is the extent of the damage?  And as you said, you have a span that fell, not really knowing what else is there in terms of what else has been damaged.  So to the extent that we knew we had a loss of section, we didn’t know what all we really were dealing with yet.

NICK WALKER:  So where do you even start with something like this?

MARC MASTRONARDI:  So I think the very interesting thing about the agency is that we have a lot of disciplines within the agency.  And we have a bridge inspection team and several teams that manage the inspection throughout the state.  And so they were actually some of the first people on the site to respond, as flames were still there.  The fire had not been put out.  They couldn’t access the site to begin to assess those damages.

But in terms, to answer your question, the first thing you do is try to assess that structural damage, after you’ve done your traffic piece, and look at now what do we have?  So there’s a lot of information-gathering.  And in real-time you’re dealing with a lot of other sister agencies in terms of how does this impact the transit in the community?  What’s going to happen tomorrow morning?

BILL YATES:  Right.

MARC MASTRONARDI:  And so those conversations really happen in just short order.

NICK WALKER:  So in terms of a series of projects, do you identify small little pieces that you’re going to work on one at a time?  Or can you look at the whole picture without being overwhelmed?

ANDY CROWE:  Right, right.

MARC MASTRONARDI:  Well, and that’s, again, that’s where – so as the information’s coming in, and your bridge inspectors are reporting back, we have other spans that have to be replaced.  They’ve not fallen, but they have to be replaced.  That conversation starts to begin, okay, where’s your bridge design team?  And where are we at in an effort to pull those old plans?  And so our state bridge engineer – very similar stories amongst all of us.  In some form or fashion we were eating dinner, or just had dinner, or preparing to eat dinner, or something was in the oven, and folks are turning around and coming back.  And our bridge engineer did that very thing.  Wasn’t able to leave his son behind, brought his son with him and began looking at archived plans.  And so in terms of, you know, in terms of biting at this monster elephant, getting your arms around that bridge repair in terms of, all right, now I’m getting a sense of scale.  What do I need then for staffing to develop the design?

BILL YATES:  So when I think about this in terms of figuring out the scope of the project, you guys needed information as quickly as possible.

MARC MASTRONARDI:  Correct.

BILL YATES:  And you had to make sure it was accurate.  So it took those inspectors first, but you’ve got to put the fire out.

MARC MASTRONARDI:  Yeah.  Interestingly, you know, we looked to take advantage of some technology and tried to deploy some drones.  But the heat thermals were actually not allowing the drone to pass.

ANDY CROWE:  So, Marc, I’ve got a question for you.  As you’re assessing this, you have the bridge inspectors.  You have some of the people start figuring out alternative routes and signal coordination, some of that.  At some point pretty quickly, once the fire is out, and once things have cooled down – and safety has to be a huge issue there – you’ve got to start getting boots on the ground and moving away debris and rubble.

MARC MASTRONARDI:  Absolutely.

ANDY CROWE:  And that’s by itself a pretty monumental task.  How quickly did that begin?

MARC MASTRONARDI:  Actually, it began the night of the fire.  We had a lot of outreach.  We have a great contracting community.  We had a lot of outreach, and actually the contractor we selected, C.W. Matthews, was actually just up the road on that corridor at an adjacent project, gave a call to us.  And we said, “Look, we know first thing we need are some lights.  We need to assist the fire department.”  That’s Thursday night.  And then the conversation as the night goes on – this is a 24/7 operation for several days.  So as the night goes on it’s can we start talking about demolition?  Can we start talking about cleanup?

BILL YATES:  And how long did it take to do that demolition and do that cleanup?

MARC MASTRONARDI:  So the full demolition took about six days, a little more than six days, which is very impressive.  That’s about 13,000 pounds of debris, or excuse me, 13 million pounds of debris that are hauled out.  But that gives the contractor full accessibility to the site.  And that’s key to a quick delivery.

BILL YATES:  Another question I had:  In these early hours of realization and the different departments figuring out, the different teams within the department figuring out who’s going to do what, did you have an intact team that then took over your piece of the project?  Or did you have to go pull different team members in?  How did you get your squad together?

MARC MASTRONARDI:  So again, we rely on the key personnel.  Essentially your bridge engineer’s directing both the inspection team and the designers.  Me on the construction side, I start looking at how do we contract this?  And again, with our Federal Highway Administration, there is a process for emergency incidents.  And we were very fortunate in that they designated this one that did not warrant bidding – actually develop a full set of plans, put it out for bidding, advertise it, and then award.  We were able to actually negotiate a contract.  So in terms of the teams, again, very discipline-specific.  But the overarching element of it is everybody’s role is to work to get it open.

ANDY CROWE:  And Marc, we’ve hinted at it in this, as we started this.  But describe for the listeners what was your role in all of this.

MARC MASTRONARDI:  Sure.  So in a sense – and I think our project manager element is probably shared by several people.  But once it was – it was very clear to us that night that it was going to be a construction project.

BILL YATES:  Right.

MARC MASTRONARDI:  And so they looked to the lowly construction guy to have all the answers.  And I looked behind me, and there’s nobody else there.  So frankly it’s a matter, honestly, I say that jokingly, a lot of experienced staff.  And we drew on past experiences.  But a lot of that early coordination was shared by a bunch of people.  But falling to the contracting piece, the staffing piece during the construction phase, that was me.

ANDY CROWE:  So gentlemen, start your cement mixers.

MARC MASTRONARDI:  Yeah, very much, very much.

NICK WALKER:  In terms of past experience, I mean, have you ever encountered anything remotely like this in the past that you can draw on?  Or did you kind of have to reinvent the wheel in many ways?

MARC MASTRONARDI:  This, because of where it was and because of its impact to those many thousands of commuters, both that would be on 85, on the interstate, and on those other local roads, was very unique.  We have had bridge damages before.  We had major flooding in 1994 that I was involved in, and there’s a lot of early relatable elements to that to bring back to this.  But on the scale, no, not at all.

ANDY CROWE:  And the fascinating thing, when you look at the impact, yes, it impacted that quarter of a million commuters that went across that bridge every day.  But it impacted us all over because people were taking alternative routes.

MARC MASTRONARDI:  Absolutely.

ANDY CROWE:  And so it impacted a lot more, you know, the ripples were bigger than the rock.

MARC MASTRONARDI:  Correct, yeah.  You know, one of the first demands the next day is on transit.  The outreach is to say find another way.  Please consider transit.  And we’re still, as a society, we’re still very dependent upon our automobiles.  Some people took that very challenge, and it worked out well for us that they did.  They found that other means of transportation.  But absolutely you’re right.  The impacts were far and wide, frankly.

BILL YATES:  One of the things I want to explore with you, which I think some project managers will learn from, is how did you expedite some of the things that you were able to do?  You mentioned the Federal Highway Administration.

MARC MASTRONARDI:  Right.

BILL YATES:  How quickly were you guys able to get the okay from them to take an exception with this?  And then how did that – how were you freed up to get contractors in place as quickly as possible?

MARC MASTRONARDI:  Right.  So, and again, in our emergency response center, the Federal Highway Division Administrator for Georgia showed up that evening.  He was there.

BILL YATES:  Wow, okay.

MARC MASTRONARDI:  And so part of that assessment was it was also a matter of minutes, you know.  Once you see that the span has fallen, and you get your arms around what is the impact, you look at this doesn’t need to go the typical route.

BILL YATES:  Right.

MARC MASTRONARDI:  This needs to go to negotiate a bid.

BILL YATES:  How long a span is it again?

MARC MASTRONARDI:  So, well, ultimately you ended up with about 350 feet in each direction.

BILL YATES:  Okay.

MARC MASTRONARDI:  You know, in that ballpark.  But the initial span was a little bit of a different shape, but it was around 100 feet.  But so again, the outreach from the industry essentially, I talked to our commissioner and our deputy commissioner and our chief engineer, and I said, “Look, I think this is who we need to go with.”  So when you’re looking for that key answer, how did you settle on who you did, we looked at their past experience, their availability.  And again, to project management this is very relatable.  What’s your resource?  What’s your ability to staff this and deliver this?  And so their expertise came through in a big way.  But that conversation began that night, and they went to work on faith, getting a demo contractor in in the morning.

BILL YATES:  Wow.

ANDY CROWE:  So in this case, in any project, you’re going to have obstacles.  That’s something project managers deal with all day every day.  And sometimes those obstacles can be other people, other agencies, people wanting to slow things down or do some kind of further study.  What were some of the larger obstacles you faced, other than the gargantuan task that you’ve got a huge gap where there was a span?

MARC MASTRONARDI:  Right. Yeah, and I’ll tell you, the interesting thing and the challenge is actually getting ourselves in position to deliver the materials.  You have a site that has access issues of its own.  There’s 61 beams that have to be cast and delivered to the site.  And so something that we drew from the logistics side of things is a right-on-time delivery mentality.  And when you look to schedule management, these guys were managing on the shift.  Not on a day, not on a week, but on a shift.  And if those beams could come in whenever they were needed, essentially that right-on-time delivery, you didn’t lose any shift.  So some of our normal procedures we had to relax in terms of we’ll allow those beams to be delivered during the day.  Typically that’s overnight.  It’s a haul that is essentially an oversized load.

ANDY CROWE:  Right.  Is that a waiver process that you get?

MARC MASTRONARDI:  It’s a waiver, yes.

ANDY CROWE:  And so you in this case would go to somebody and say, hey, I need a waiver for this.  And instead of going through the usual maybe lengthy review process, that probably got signed off pretty quickly.

MARC MASTRONARDI:  Correct.  And fortunately that is also us; right?  We’re the ones to guard those bridges.  So, similarly, when we looked at, to your question, when we looked at what equipment’s going to be needed, there’s a crane with 850-ton capacity.  That’s a very, very large crane.  The counterweights themselves come in several loads.  And you’re looking at that’s got to travel over our bridges.  We have to do the analysis of that loading over those bridges.  And that occurs for every oversized load.  So that, again, there are so many concurrent activities.  And that is a key to delivering any project is to recognize that needed concurrency.

BILL YATES:  So the level of scheduling accuracy and precision for this must have been extraordinary, even for your team, because it seems like everything was done in a compressed manner.  When I look at the – when I go online and see the time-lapse video…

MARC MASTRONARDI:  Yes.

BILL YATES:  …you know, from whatever, March 30 to May 13, it’s amazing.

MARC MASTRONARDI:  It is, it is.

BILL YATES:  You talk about an ant farm.

MARC MASTRONARDI:  Yeah.

BILL YATES:  And you have multiple spans, multiple cranes working.

MARC MASTRONARDI:  Well, and so when we prepared our estimate, we used a P6 schedule.  That’s a Primavera scheduling tool.  And the contractor did their own.  And we were able to look at theirs, and for a period of time we were getting their updates, and then a period of time we kind of fell off their distribution list.  But we weren’t concerned.  We knew they were heading in a positive direction.  But, yeah, they literally – the scheduling was activities per day.  Very, very subdivided, detailed schedule.

NICK WALKER:  And when things are moving along so quickly, the obvious question that comes up is, hey, wait a minute.  Is this thing going to be safe?  How do you deal with the safety aspects?

MARC MASTRONARDI:  Yeah.  And that was really born out of the speed was that very question:  Is this going to be safe?  And so, again, we employed a rapid-curing concrete.  That’s not a new technology.  That’s really something we use rather selectively because of cost.

BILL YATES:  Okay.  Talk more about that.  What is the tradeoff?  I’ve had people say to me, hey, why don’t they just use this kind of concrete for every project?

MARC MASTRONARDI:  Yeah.  Well, typically it can be almost double in cost.

BILL YATES:  Okay.

MARC MASTRONARDI:  And so you have to do that cost benefit analysis and say “I’m going to gain days.  What’s my value here?”  And again, a road user cost, when we look at the impact to the traveling public, we were able to demonstrate that road user cost is nearly a million dollars a day.  What that is, is what’s the length of detour?  What are some input values on the amount of time you’re on the road on the detour versus typically passing through this corridor?  And you extrapolate that across the number of days and the hours saved.  That early delivery saved around $27 million just in that drive time piece.  That’s not the reality to business losses, anything else, and the fact that they didn’t suffer those full losses.  But that early strength concrete is, again, there’s a tradeoff in terms of workability.  You know, this is a little bit of a boutique mixture, what they did with it for some admixtures.  But certainly it’s not something foreign to us.  It’s just rather selective.

ANDY CROWE:  Marc, you know, I know there were risks that you saw at the beginning.  What unknown unknowns kind of crept up in this?  Because I heard something that really kind of made me laugh.  I would have never foreseen this.  But as some of the traffic got pushed into these alternative arteries, and maybe people were cutting through neighborhoods, the neighborhoods responded by reporting accidents in Waze and in other apps in order to discourage people from cutting through.  And it’s a bit of a cat and a mouse game.

BILL YATES:  Interesting.

ANDY CROWE:  What things did you see that you didn’t anticipate?

MARC MASTRONARDI:  Yeah.  And you’re spot-on with that.  That actually was a bigger problem than people realized.  The other piece that was big for us – and again, thankful for the opportunity to be here today – was the communication piece.  You know, you have to manage expectations.  We’re a government agency.  We know we need to be transparent.  Never more important than in a crisis.  But managing those expectations in today’s reality of social media, just this ever-present demand, ever-present criticism, that was something we weren’t really, you know, we weren’t really versed in.  We recently hired a gentleman to do some strategic communications for us, and his timing was great.  We needed that help.

But to the other challenges, certainly, we knew one major risk was the beam delivery.  It would only take one of those beams to hold the entire project up.  The beams were an odd shape that is no longer a shape that’s used.  So our bridge designers actually retrofitted a more modern design.  And so beams were cast in a couple different locations.  But we knew that that, in terms of an item on a schedule, that sits there with a lot of concurrency.  It doesn’t have an importance yet, but it reaches critical path at X day.  If there was a snag, that would bust your whole schedule.

ANDY CROWE:  And so these aren’t sitting in a giant warehouse somewhere.  These are raw materials that have to be designed and cast.

MARC MASTRONARDI:  Yeah, these are – that’s exactly right.  And 61 different dimensions.  So it’s not – 61 different reinforcement configurations in those beams.  So that’s certainly, to us – and again, you go back to those early conversations, the beam supplier reached out that evening, said I don’t know who you’re going to utilize.  We’re here to help.  We’ll do whatever we can.  And again, that conversation started with that contractor that night, as well.  And so it was, again, I’ve said this in some other opportunities:  Everything that had to go right, did.

ANDY CROWE:  I’ve got another question, just as we’re talking about risk here, because risk is sort of the most prominent aspect from the outside looking in at this project.  You think of the impact it’s having and the visibility and the costs and all these things.  Weather had to be a risk.

MARC MASTRONARDI:  Absolutely.

ANDY CROWE:  To some degree.  How did that, first of all, how did you predict, what did you predict that risk would look like?  And how did reality line up?

MARC MASTRONARDI:  So whenever we establish contract time, we look at historical weather data.  What’s the time of year?  We look at what are the number of days lost to temperature, number of days lost to rain events and so on.  And so we plug that in to say typically we’re going to lose this many days.  So in our schedule we did that.  The contractor did, as well.  What was fantastic was they lost maybe half a shift.  They can work in the rain.  It’s lightning strikes that are the things you don’t want with equipment in the air.  So we account for it, and we try to adjust that risk.

And that’s part of that June delivery date was more along the lines of, if normal weather occurs, if a couple of these hiccups occur, it’s going to be out here.  The possibility, and when we incentivized the work, it was, okay, this is aggressive, but achievable, which is a tenet to what we do, schedule-wise.  Said, look, the big win, if we’re done before Memorial Day, this is huge.  This is great.  If we’re done the weekend before Memorial Day, that prior Sunday, that’s a major, major win.  Anything beyond that is gravy.  And so we looked at a structure, and we negotiated a structure, looking at those road user costs, saying, you know what, it’s worth a million and a half if you’re done by the 25th.  If you’re done by the 21st, it’s $2 million.  And then $200,000 a day to a max of 3.1.

ANDY CROWE:  And these were incentives that you offered to the prime contractor in this case; right?

MARC MASTRONARDI:  Correct, yeah.  It was urged by our governor.  It’s a process we use from time to time.  Again, selective in when we do that.  But time is a critical element, and there’s a value to it.

BILL YATES:  I think as a matter of disclosure I should make it very clear that, even though we have Nick Walker in the room with us, with his weather expertise, he received no money to guarantee that good weather to make sure this came in ahead of schedule.

MARC MASTRONARDI:  Yeah, thank you.  I would say that, if you’ve paid much attention, it’s rained every day since we completed, though; right?

BILL YATES:  Yeah, how about that; right?

NICK WALKER:  And that’s what I wanted to ask you.  I mean, with the weather the way it’s been the last month here in the Atlanta area, if this had been delayed even a few weeks later, do you think this would have really slowed things down?

MARC MASTRONARDI:  Well, the interesting thing, because you don’t have the grading element, the earthwork element of it, a lot of this work is when the rain stops you can go back to work.

BILL YATES:  Right.

MARC MASTRONARDI:  So it wouldn’t have been a huge hit.  The big hit would be when you’re pouring those bridge decks, you really can’t have that torrent of water running across that bridge deck.  So you would lose that activity during the current event.

BILL YATES:  So one thing I do want to ask about, Marc, is has your department received any negative feedback on the incentives that were offered to the contractor?  I think, from our perspective, we would have gladly helped raise funds to pay…

ANDY CROWE:  Start a Kickstarter campaign; right?

BILL YATES:  That’s right.

MARC MASTRONARDI:  Exactly.

NICK WALKER:  GoFundMe.

BILL YATES:  But I’m just curious, you know, what’s the reaction been?

MARC MASTRONARDI:  Not that I’ve heard.  Frankly, it was our governor who said, you know, we need to take some normal business practices and apply them here.  So it was his urging to a resource that we’ve always had.  And we saw ourselves, again, in this instance your client is the commuters or the road users.  And you’re saying, what’s the value to restore that to them?  And there really is a value, and that’s where we came up with that.

And so I think the figures to some startled folks because you’re looking at roughly a $12 million contract, and then there’s a $3 million incentive.  You go back and look at it, and you go back to those early projections – how long is this going to take, how much is it going to cost – and you deliver something in six weeks on a $15 million cost, not a lot of negative criticism, frankly.  We’ve heard a lot of positive things.

BILL YATES:  One of the other things, and I think Nick earlier brought up the question of safety.  And when we do look at how compressed that schedule was, that’s an obvious thing.  But even looking at some of the articles and newscasts that came about with this event, USA Today, one of the reporters quoted:  “This was the most inspected, most scrutinized construction project ever.”  That was someone in your department that was quoted as saying that.

MARC MASTRONARDI:  Yeah, that was our Commissioner that said that.

BILL YATES:  Okay.

MARC MASTRONARDI:  And I think he’s probably right, frankly.  Again, ensuring safety, that is paramount to civil engineering.  But to the traveling public you’re looking at, okay, what are these materials we’re using?  There are standard tests that you do.  And we performed those.  And so we had round-the-clock inspection, round-the-clock testing.  As those cylinders were curing, somebody would take them and break them to look at compressive strength.  The steel inspection, the beam fabrication, all real-time, real people there looking at it.  So it’s, again, that otherwise happens on a longer schedule so that the sacrifice is being we will be available to whenever you need us.  Again, the contractor driving that schedule, that was more of a reactive element.

ANDY CROWE:  So, Marc, you’re managing this project.  What’s keeping you awake at night while the project’s being executed?  Because execution started the next morning.

BILL YATES:  Right.

ANDY CROWE:  So this wasn’t a long, lengthy planning cycle that happened upfront; you get everything exactly planned.  You’re sewing on the prom dress as you’re walking out the door, more or less, in this case.  So what kept you awake?

MARC MASTRONARDI:  Yeah, the real concern was that things would fit.  Again, you’re designing to an existing structure.  We did a lot of pre-survey.  They did survey themselves.  So there’s that actual adjustment in the field.  So you have to be ready to respond.  A lot of information was answered.  And again, fortunately, this technology we have today, someone could text you, hey, there’s a question about X, and it gets answered.  And if you can’t answer it, you can find somebody that will.  And that really is just critical to keeping schedule.

NICK WALKER:  When this project was complete, it seemed like there was this almost sense of surprise.  I turned on the radio; and, you know, it’s going to open next week.  And it’s like, even the news reporter’s kind of, “Really?  What?  What?”  Was there any kind of sense of surprise within your agency?

MARC MASTRONARDI:  So I’ll tell you, the key thing to me that I saw schedule-wise early on was in the demolition of the columns that were retained.  So there’s 13 columns that had to be retained.  And we thought it was going to be a very intensive hand process, hand demo.  The contractor was able to utilize really conventional pneumatic equipment, but they dialed down some things, did some special techniques, and it really came out of the ground fast from that perspective.

So at a point I actually began worrying because I was the one doing the weekly updates curbside.  And I said, geez, you know, credibility-wise, we’ve got to make sure we tell people where this is headed because it’s looking like it’s going to be quick.  But no, there wasn’t really a surprise on our end.  It was more a matter of, you know, is there that shoe that’s going to drop, as you were waiting on that.  But your expectation was, geez, this is going fantastically.

BILL YATES:  And it’s so public, you know, to your point about social media and people with cell phones with video, et cetera.  Everybody’s seeing this, and so the reports are out there all the time.  So there is that sense of, hey, we have some potentially great news.  But I’m sure for you guys it was hard to know how much do I share and how much do I buffer, hold onto.

MARC MASTRONARDI:  Yeah.  You have to manage expectations.  And again, you go back to that, and I know our audience are a lot of project management staff.  You manage expectations of your client, and you need to do that in a way that maintains your credibility.  You can tell a lot of good things are coming.  But you need to give those couches and caveats to say “however”; right?  And so in our instance it was that.  There were times where we knew more detail than we shared.  But it was not that we’d shared it out of secrecy, it was we didn’t share it out of certainty, lack of certainty.

NICK WALKER:  As far as looking ahead, should you ever encounter something even remotely similar to this again, do you feel more confident?

MARC MASTRONARDI:  Absolutely.  Absolutely.  One of the things that’s been a nice byproduct of this, as we look, several of us are nearing the end of our careers and about to do something else.  What’s really impressive is to see the young staff rise to the occasion, see their innovation, see their commitment.  It’s been such a collaborative effort.  And with the contractor, as well.  They have that same concern, that generational turnover.  Where’s the talent coming from?  Where’s my bench?  This has been a pretty good demonstration.  So, Nick, I think we’ll, you know, I hope it never happens.  But if it does, we have a lot of lessons learned we gathered for that, started to put those on paper, looking to see what we can standardize, incorporate into our normal work.

NICK WALKER:  Well, Marc Mastronardi, thank you again so much for being with us.  We want to let our listeners know how they can contact you.  How can people get in touch with you?

MARC MASTRONARDI:  Sure.  The best way to get a hold of me is through my email account.  And that is mmastronardi@dot.ga.gov.  And I’ll spell that out.  That’s M-M-A-S-T-R-O-N-A-R-D-I at D-O-T dot G-A dot G-O-V.

ANDY CROWE:  I’d like to buy a vowel.

MARC MASTRONARDI:  Thank you so much for the opportunity to be here.  This is great.  Again, this is, you know, fortunately, we’re telling a good story.  And it doesn’t happen without a lot of good people doing a lot of hard work.

ANDY CROWE:  And a huge congratulations to you on our behalf.  That was an outstanding job.  It represented the city well.  It represented the state well and solved an amazing problem in a phenomenal amount of time.

MARC MASTRONARDI:  Well, on behalf of the Department, we thank you for that.

NICK WALKER:  And with our congratulations, we also want to offer you this great Manage This coffee mug that you’ve been using, sitting in front of you.  And take it, enjoy it, and consider it a gift from about a quarter of a million commuters, as well.

MARC MASTRONARDI:  Absolutely.  There were a number of days I would like to just have enjoyed a cup of coffee.

NICK WALKER:  Yes, I bet.  Well, thanks again, Marc.  Andy and Bill, thanks to both of you for keeping us on the road.

We want to remind our listeners that you are on the road to receiving free PDUs just for listening to this podcast.  That’s right, you’ve already earned those Professional Development Units.  Now all you have to do is claim them.  To claim your free PDUs, go to Velociteach.com and select Manage This Podcast from the top of the page.  Click the button that says Claim PDUs and just click through the steps.

That’s it for us here on Manage This.  We hope you’ll tune back in on August 15th for our next podcast.  In the meantime, you can visit us at Velociteach.com/managethis to subscribe to this podcast, to see a transcript of the show, or to contact us.  And tweet us at @manage_this if you have any questions about any of our podcasts or about project management certifications.  We like hearing from you.

That’s all for this episode.  Thanks for joining us.  Until next time, keep calm and Manage This.

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