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‘Spaghetti Bowl’ job tight on time, space

John Seelmeyer

Experience with freeway projects in

Nevada not to mention a calculated risk

or two in its bid won Frehner

Construction Co. the “Spaghetti Bowl” job

at Interstate 80 and Highway 395.

Now that the company is a month into

the $53 million job, it’s working hard to

demonstrate that its experience will prove

sufficient to turn a profit on the job despite

a tight schedule and cramped working

conditions.

“Experience helps you not do something

stupid in the bid,” Fred J. Courrier,

Frehner’s Reno area manager, said last week.

A critical decision in the preparation of

Frehner’s bid came when the company

decided to spend some money testing the

aggregate at a state-owned gravel pit east

of Reno. The state Department of

Transportation makes its pits available

to construction outfits working on state

highway jobs.

That can be a big advantage on a job

such as the Spaghetti Bowl project, which

will use about 400,000 tons of material.

The alternative buying gravel at commercial

rates from private pits would

add significantly to the cost.

Even so, the state’s data on its pit didn’t

clearly tell whether the material would be

suitable for the Spaghetti Bowl job.

Frehner’s own testing came back positive,

and the company had a leg up on its bid.

Another advantage of experience,

Courrier said, came as the company

already had good relationships with a

minority-owned firm that helped it meet

the state’s goals on the job.

But the big risks tight time, constrained

working conditions still remain

as Frehner takes on the biggest contract in

its history. How tight is the time? The

company has 600 working days (essentially,

three years) to rebuild much of the

roadway, widen existing bridges, build two

new bridges, build seven miles of sound

wall, and retrofit six bridges to meet earthquake

standards.

Like other highway jobs, it will shut

down during peak tourism promotions

such as Hot August Nights. And although

schedules typically are extended to allow

for bad weather, contractors and state

highway officials have been known to disagree

on how much of a grace period

should be granted.

Even though it’s not much time to get

the work done, three years is a long time

to be on the hook for the costs contained

in a bid.

Labor costs, for example, may be pressured

if the train trench through Reno gets

under way. Frehner foresaw that danger

and built some escalation into its costs. (At

its peak, the Spaghetti Bowl job will have

about 150 Frehner employees and subcontractors

on the site.)

How tight, meanwhile, are the working

conditions? The intersection is by far the

busiest in the region, and the Nevada

Department of Transportation wants to

keep delays to a minimum.

That means that much of the work

will be conducted at night, and it means

that access to the job site always will be

limited.

If the project were undertaken somewhere

without traffic, it probably could be

completed in about a third of the time, said

Tim Diekmann, Frehner’s project manager

on the job.

Diekmann, who just finished a similar

job for Frehner at Las Vegas, will supervise

crews that work predominately at night.

“Most people don’t want to work at

night,” he said.

At the same time, it’s sometimes difficult

to schedule suppliers who aren’t accustomed

to business hours that run into the

wee hours of the morning.

While night work reduces traffic congestion,

Diekmann noted that workers

need to be sensitive to nearby residents

who don’t want noise and light to disturb

their nightly rest. But the project manager’s

biggest concern, night or day, is the

threat presented by motorists zipping close

to his workers.

“Everybody out there has a family at

home,” he said. “Every time a driver

speeds through the zone, they’re putting

those people at risk.”

About Frehner Construction

Frehner Construction, based in

Las Vegas, has seen its northern

Nevada revenues grow four-fold

since its 1998 decision to become

a significant presence in the

region. Although the company

works throughout the intermountain

region and California, about

80 percent of its work is in

Nevada, and the Nevada

Department of Transportation is its

largest single customer. Among its

significant projects in the region

was the construction of structures

for the Carson City bypass.


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