The US 290 Program by TxDOT & HNTB Corporation (Houston, TX) was presented with the 2020 Texas Outstanding Civil Engineering Achievement (OCEA) Award on November 5 during CECON 2020 Virtual. The Texas OCEA Award is given to a completed project that demonstrates the greatest contribution to civil engineering progress and society. Read on to learn more about this award-winning project.
Posted June 2021
There was an undeniably urgent need for more capacity on U.S. 290, to serve the rapidly growing northwest Houston region, which also serves as a hurricane evacuation route. The stretch of road historically ranked among Texas Department of Transportation’s (TxDOT) most congested, despite two to three lanes of traffic in each direction and a reversible high-occupancy vehicle lane.
By its completion in 2020, the $2.5 billion, 38-mile U.S. 290 Corridor had become a major regional achievement and was recognized by the Texas Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers with the Outstanding Civil Engineering Achievement Award.
The US 290 reconstruction enhanced safety, improved mobility, and reduced congestion along the Corridor. Innovative improvements included new connector ramps that eliminated weaving movements, provided direct access between I-610, I-10 and US 290 and significantly improved travel times and congestion ratings at the interchange. Additionally, for the first time in the Houston area, TxDOT incorporated two-lane collector-distributor ramps, which allowed entering and exiting motorists to merge without disrupting other traffic. The project also extended the existing HOV system by ten miles and improved connectivity from the US 290 HOV lane to I-610.
TxDOT’s selection of HNTB as program management consultant created a partnership that enabled the team to fast track these design-bid-build improvements by almost two decades.
Hamoon Bahrami, West Harris Area Engineer for TxDOT, says the U.S. 290 corridor project wouldn’t have been possible without the foundational collaboration between TxDOT and its project partners. The Program required cooperation and coordination between HNTB as Program Manager, eight design consultants, five TxDOT design teams and three general contractors. A TxDOT program manager and public involvement officer even co-located with the team in the public program office to facilitate uninterrupted and continuous communication throughout the program.
In order to accelerate the improvement, the U.S. 290 team mitigated changes in funding, agency partners and leadership roles throughout the project. Although US 290 was strategically segmented based on assumed funding availability, to promote competition and provide best value to TxDOT, there were challenges of scope – at one point, all 13 construction segments were under way at once.
There were countless lessons learned along the way. The biggest one? “Always have a Plan B through Z,” Bahrami says. “Construction, alone, totaled more than $1.1 billion, and several projects were let within a short timeframe. That required significant coordination and planning because things can and will change so quickly.”
To capitalize on available construction funding, some of the construction projects were let before right of way acquisition and utility relocations were complete. And in order to continue to advance construction, numerous meetings and collaborations with designers, contractors, and utility companies were held to coordinate strategies to work around constraints. These implementation strategies were further challenged during unprecedented weather phenomena such as floods, freezes and hurricanes when utility companies needed to reallocate their resources.
“TxDOT’s project managers, contractors and the entire team found innovative alternatives to work around constraints such as utilities,” he adds. “We never stopped work – we always found a way to keep moving forward.”
The original construction sequencing of the US 290 Corridor, as approved in 2010, included construction of the parallel Hempstead Corridor before US 290, and moving the existing US 290 HOV traffic to Hempstead. “Due to funding challenges, construction of the Hempstead Corridor was deferred,” says LeAnne Napolillo, HNTB’s vice president and program manager in Houston. “Per the commitment made in the US 290 final environmental impact statement that the US 290 HOV lane would remain operational, the deferral of the Hempstead Corridor construction presented a significant challenge to maintain HOV traffic on US 290, including direct connector ramps from the HOV in the center of US 290 to a transit center and two park and ride facilities immediately adjacent to the corridor.”
In response, the project team prepared an interim implementation plan to accommodate the HOV traffic while minimizing additional right of way impacts. The changes included a reconfiguration of 1.2 mile long bridge at the I-610 and US 290 interchange and partial reconstruction of an existing T-Ramp.
In each instance, HNTB’s understanding of the project and awareness of the critical path provided TxDOT options to move forward. “We’d assess the change, whether that be funding, partnership or other event, and how that impacted our decisions,” Napolillo says. “Then we’d figure out if and how the critical path changed and how we were going to mitigate that change.”
Each time the plan changed, TxDOT would meet with the public to explain the changes. Bahrami says that the US 290 program office, which opened in 2006 when HNTB was selected as program management consultant, “served a vital role to interface with the public on this large-scale, multi-year project, which included significant coordination with public stakeholders. On this project, it was critical.”
The partnership of TxDOT and HNTB as program manager provided an unparalleled level of consistency, as relational and historical knowledge was continued from one phase to the next. The partnership also provided the continuity needed on a multi-phased program that literally spanned decades.
TxDOT, the engineering and the contracting communities successfully partnered to overcome challenges of the accelerated schedule. The project was an unparalleled success, says TxDOT’s Bahrami, as we were able to advance the needed improvements within the original target budget, despite a host of unpredictable variables.
Bahrami, whose career literally evolved with the project, is immensely proud of the accomplishment. He joined the project as an inspector, then became assistant project manager and project manager before eventually progressing to the Area Engineer role.
“I am proud to have been part of a team that worked to overcome challenges to complete the project in a timely manner and with an emphasis on safety,” says Bahrami. “The US 290 Program reconstruction improved the quality of life for residents and commuters in northwest Houston, and the advancement of the US 290 Corridor improvements profoundly improved mobility in the growing greater Houston area.”
US 290 Program
- Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) – Said Haj-Khalil PE (TxDOT US 290 program manager)
- HNTB – LeAnne Napolillo PE (HNTB program manager)
- Williams Brothers Construction Company Inc
- Webber LLC
- OHL USA Inc
To learn more about the Texas OCEA Award and view previously awarded projects, click here.