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Return to: 1999 Feature Stories


Oct. 25, 1999: Public Works.com


The Transportation Corridor Agencies (TCA) has become one of Orange County, California's greatest success stories. TCA implemented the concept of design/build construction and used a consortium of private firms to oversee the design/build portion of the various toll roads.

This resulted in completing the San Joaquin Hills Transportation Corridor (State Route 73) under budget and three months ahead of schedule. But when the 15-mile tollway opened in November 1996, the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) realized that they would be unable to maintain the toll facility without hiring additional staff. Caltrans was unable do this because the former governor was advocating increased state privatization for freeway maintenance and a hiring freeze for state workers was in place.

The solution was a maintenance program that created a unique county/state partnership that began in December 1996 and concluded in July 1999 (Caltrans has now resumed responsibility for the County-maintained segment of the tollway after receiving additional resources from the local Caltrans district office).

Caltrans elected to contract with the Orange County's Public Facilities and Resources Department (PFRD) to maintain the 7.8-mile northern segment of the tollway. This portion encompasses the centerline of Laguna Canyon Road northerly to the centerline of Jamboree Road in the City of Irvine.

The County was well prepared for the task. PFRD is responsible for maintaining approximately 1,700 lane miles of roadway, 350 miles of improved regional flood control facilities, 419 miles of roads in the unincorporated County, and 497 additional miles of roads for the Cities of Dana Point, Laguna Hills, Lake Forest and Mission Viejo.

PFRD has a well-developed and successful management system for work identification, planning, organizing, scheduling and controlling maintenance. Over 150 employees provide all types of maintenance functions including concrete repairs, sign maintenance, striping and stenciling, riprap installation, and debris removal.

PFRD was one of the first agencies to use an automated microcomputer based Maintenance Management System (MMS) in the United States. In operation since 1982, the MMS has served as a model for other agencies around the country and overseas. The MMS, along with the County's expertise in roadway maintenance and infrastructure planning have proven highly successful and have been utilized to establish a continuous improvement process. The system is used to plan, organize, direct and improve maintenance.

In addition, the County had maintained the area surrounding the tollway and had experience in handling roadway maintenance projects for nearby municipalities, including the Cities of Lake Forest, Laguna Hills, Dana Point and Mission Viejo. The County, in addition to maintaining the County's roadway system provides contract service to all four cities for roadway maintenance since their incorporation over seven years ago.

The City of Lake Forest, for example, even went out for bids in 1997 and still retained the County to deliver cost-effective, key infrastructure services as the County was more than $500,000 less than the nearest competitor. The County could also readily tackle more complicated and labor intensive maintenance projects along the tollway because it already owned the expensive equipment necessary for these projects and the associated large workloads.

The first contract encompassed a comprehensive maintenance program for the northern portion of the tollway. The maximum annual authorized expenditure was set at $500,000. The County provided both routine and emergency maintenance services. Routine activities included the following: scheduling, contract inspection, weed control, street sweeping, traffic signal maintenance, irrigation repair/supervision, graffiti removal, guard rail repair, sign installation/repair, sign fabrication, fence repair, gate repair, and mowing. Total man-hours for routine activities during the 30-month period were 8,312.

The County provided an area inspector to process work orders for needed repairs. The MMS was utilized to both plan and schedule maintenance. It generated work orders for requested services and tracked costs associated with the work performed.

The biggest response challenge the County faced was during the winter of 1997-1998 when Southern California was hit hard by 'El Nino' - a weather pattern that often brings on torrential rains. The area was deluged with the heaviest rainfall in a generation, and the northern segment of the tollway proved especially challenging to maintain.

Severe erosion from the heavy rains caused a number of slopes to wash away. Right-of-way fencing was heavily damaged. The County used K-rails to control storm water runoff and laid down thousands of sandbags. The frequent storms necessitated increasing the authorized expenditures from $500,000 to $800,000 to cover the costs of slide removal and erosion repairs. The additional funds were also used to retain outside contractors to assist the County.

Total hours dedicated to storm-related activities (much of which was incurred during the El Nino winter) was 7,082. Tasks included the following: contracts for gabion, erosion/slope, V-ditch and wildlife fencing repairs; engineering/contract administration, CFS (compost filtering system) basin repair, bird cage fabrication/repair, storm inspection, storm response/debris removal, wash-out repair, blade work, tractor/loader work, and cleaning/flushing drains.

The County was able in over two and half years, to maintain its portion of the tollway at an average cost of less than $5,000 per lane mile in one of the most expensive areas in the state (and nation). This is about 17 percent less per lane mile ($5,850) than the average national lane mile cost for state roadways. In fact, state roads in California have lane costs over $10,000 per lane mile. The County was able to keep expenditures low because of several factors. These include:

Establishment of strong communication with those inspecting and handling service requests (Caltrans, Highway Patrol, and sheriff's department) in addition to county staff.

Having a complete automated system to prepare the annual plan with specific activity guidelines. The systems also include a scheduling and work order system as well as a continuous process to improve and control maintenance.

Utilize the best combination of contract and County resources to perform the work. The County uses contract maintenance for asphalt repair and County forces for signs, legends, concrete and vegetation control.

Use of best management practices for each activity performed with both desired productivity and unit cost. Supervisors are held accountable to meet these standards and must evaluate their actual work to these practices.

Staging and scheduling work in the general area. The County was also responsible for maintaining the adjacent road and flood facilities along the tollway and achieved considerable economies of scale by using work crews to handle both tollway and nearby tasks simultaneously.

This unique County/state partnership has proved to be a 'win-win' situation for Orange County and Caltrans. The reasons are four-fold: a mutual partnership between local and state government was created; it was an efficient use of public funds; it demonstrated how government agencies can work together; and the program served as a model for utilizing local government resources.

William G. Teale, area superintendent for Caltrans, summed it succinctly:

"We can look back over the term of the contract and point with pride to the many issues we addressed and overcame...my crews will commence maintaining this area and we will be left with the challenge of maintaining it to the standards established by the County. I'm hopeful that we are up to the task!"

The County has performed toll road maintenance for a major roadway in the densest county in the state at a very efficient cost. The County, using management and technology coupled with competent staffs that are accountable, demonstrated how local government could successfully partner on maintenance projects with a large state highway agency.

Return to: 1999 Feature Stories