A recent case study by Graham Construction on Calgary’s Macleod Trail and 162nd Ave. SE Interchange Project shows what early construction involvement (ECI) can accomplish.
Bryce McKay, Graham’s senior construction manager of civil infrastructure in Calgary, explained that the company was well prepared for ECI after its team had cut its teeth on similar projects like the Calgary West LRT.
“We learned a lot on the project,” said McKay. “It was a particularly complex job with a compressed schedule. That experience gives you unique insight into being able to foresee problems.”
The project required designing and building around existing infrastructure, including two major roadways and numerous underground utilities including storm drains, large sanitary sewers, water feedermains and major telecom lines. This also had to be done while keeping a traffic corridor that serves almost 100,000 vehicles a day open. The physical work all had to take place in two main construction seasons plus one winter – only 19 months in total.
“We worked with the designers and brainstormed a solution to get by that,” explained Jayson Veldhoen, Graham’s district manager of civil infrastructure in Calgary. “We got significant costs savings from that and saved a bunch of time. We realigned the detour to avoid these lines. There was also a bridge we hadn’t planned on building that year, but we fast tracked it to ensure it was completed to accommodate the new detour alignment.”
Veldhoen said this also reduced the amount of earth moving that needed to be done during rainy parts of the year.
Completing the bridge during the first season by accelerating construction efforts proved wise as it was one of the wettest summers on record and had the potential to delay the project an entire year if milestones weren’t hit.
Veldhoen and McKay noted while ECI may not be a perfect fit for every project, when deployed appropriately it has the potential to solve problems before they arise.
“There is a huge benefit to getting construction people involved in the early planning,” said Veldhoen. “We see things differently. We think more about the temporary conditions perhaps than the designer would.”
He noted having the extra time as a contractor not only makes things run smoother, but allows time for the whole project team to build trust before they are out on the field. Then the team can work together to solve problems, regardless of whose risk it involves.
When it comes to picking a successful team member for an ECI job, McKay said honesty and trust are key.
“You also need a progressive owner that knows they will get the best product when the job is going smoothly and people are making money,” he said. “That is the bottom line.”
The ECI approach saved the project nearly $2 million and it was completed on time without impacting traffic. However, the team noted it won’t work in every case.
Small projects or megaprojects may not reap the benefits or may even be slowed down by ECI, stated Graham’s case study.
Instead, Graham recommends it be used on “Goldilocks” projects that are mid-sized in terms of scope and scale of risks.
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