Having led the Arizona DOT to build the Phoenix area freeway system six years ahead of schedule, Victor Mendez was innovating before it became a buzzword within the federal government.
Mendez, who became Federal Highway Administrator in 2009, says the need for innovation really hit him a couple years before while testifying before the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Commission as Arizona’s transportation director.
“It struck me that we what we really needed was less policy discussion and instead an innovation concept that brought real world solutions to solve real world challenges,” he said, reflecting on the weeks of talk without action.
His frustration led to Every Day Counts, which he pulled together as FHWA administrator in order to implement all the dry policy he had discussed for years.
Part of that effort includes the massive excavation of the $420 million Caldecott Tunnel Fourth Bore near Oakland, Calif. The project involves a 130-ton rock-crunching machine called a “road header.”
The tunnel, the largest funded by the 2010 Recovery Act, will add a critical fourth bore to the already existing three tunnels, which California officials say are inadequate for the traffic in the San Francisco Bay area, which includes about 160,000 drivers a day. The project is slated for completion in 2013.
As excited as Mendez was about the “road header,” his true love is bridges. And much of the Every Day Counts program he oversees involves building bridges more quickly and efficiently than ever before.
“Bridges are spectacular,” he said during a recent telephone interview while driving to Pittsburgh for an International Bridge Conference meeting. “Pittsburgh has a lot of beautiful bridges,” he added, noting the city is built on the confluence of the Ohio, Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers.
He marvels over the video of the Sam White Bridge construction in Utah last year in which two spans over I-15 were moved into place in only one night (see video above).
Seeing the fruit of his labor has been a long time coming for Mendez, who was elected president of both the Western Association of State Highway and Transportation officials and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials in 2006.
“They put the entire bridge in during one weekend,” Mendez said. “The quicker you can build a project, the less risk you are going to have for weather delays and for the contractor. They want to get in, stay in, and get out.”