‘Spaghetti Bowl’ job tight on time, space
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
“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
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
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
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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