Tearing Down the Road With Automated Project Management

March 1, 2000

Accurately estimating time and cost is important on any job, but when 300,000 car enthusiasts are headed straight for the section of roadway you’re working on, the deadline becomes critical. That was the situation facing Fox Contractors Corporation in Ft. Wayne, IN, two years ago when it began reconstructing a 10-mi. stretch of Interstate 69 between Indianapolis and the Michigan border.

The tiny town of Auburn, IN, is home to the world-famous Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum, which hosts a festival and antique car auction every Labor Day that attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors. In April 1999, Fox began work on a section of I-69 that included the off ramp leading to the museum. One of the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) requirements was that the work be completed, with all lanes open to traffic, in time for the event.

Fox knew it could beat the deadline, thanks to a software package that automates estimating and project management. The company uses Hard Dollar Estimating Office System (EOS, now called Hard Dollar Bid) to estimate jobs and the companion application Hard Dollar Project Execution System (PXS, now Hard Dollar Build) to develop schedules and manage projects. Both applications are produced by Hard Dollar (formerly Grantlun) Corporation of Tempe, AZ.

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Automating estimating and project management has paid off in several ways for the company, reports Jim Orr, project manager with Fox. Because the software tracks costs on each job, it’s more efficient than the simple database the company used to rely on when generating time and cost estimates or writing proposals. “We didn’t have this historical cost basis. We would start each estimate from scratch,” says Orr.

Better Than Intuition: Hard Data

Lime/chemical modification applications strengthened subsurface soils on the projects mainline and bridge across supersaturated areas.

Much of the I-69 project involved digging out long stretches of roadway, milling asphalt off the concrete, and hauling away the debris before overlaying the concrete. “At all the overpasses we had to provide clearance, so we dug out, on average, 1,500-foot stretches of road. We tore the existing roadbed out and totally reconstructed the road,” explains Orr. Using Hard Dollar to track labor and equipment hours, Fox made some improvements that weren’t intuitively obvious. “For so long we thought the ways we were doing things were gospel. Traditionally we’d take an excavator and load out dirt from a roadbed into the trucks.” After some calculations with Hard Dollar, says Orr, “We ended up removing the excavator and bringing in a loader and a dozer. We were removing one piece and replacing it with two, but our production rate skyrocketed.”

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In addition to the extra piece of equipment, the new method also required more trucks for hauling and therefore more labor. Orr says the company’s old mindset was “We’re spending more money to remove the same dirt,” but by carefully tracking labor hours and equipment expenses, Fox found that the increased operating costs were more than offset by the increased production rate. “It was money in our pockets.”

Tracking Progress and Payments

Two excavators, a grader, a vibratory roller, a dozer, and a tri-axle all work on a mainline full-depth reconstruction operation within a 150-ft. radius to make it all come together.

Fox also uses Hard Dollar as a work-progress log. “If we’re working on several different items in a given day, at the end of that day we enter all of our production,” describes Orr. “For example, if we set four manholes that day, we’ll put each one in individually: where they went, the date we put them in, and the person who did it.” Careful tracking has helped resolve discrepancies between actual work performed and INDOT progress payments. “Now we have a concrete record in storage to check the quantities that they’re paying us for. They have inspectors with all of our crews, but sometimes we have more crews than they have inspectors. As long as you’ve got a record of what you’ve done, it’s a lot easier to get paid for the work that you did as opposed to just going off memory.”

Having a historical record helps the company work more efficiently in the long term as well by comparing performance from one year to the next. “We don’t necessarily focus on our labor dollars or material costs because those are going to increase year to year with inflation. We focus on the amount of material we’re using, the overrun, and our production rates.”

The Gomaco 9500 fine-grades a mainline underpass replacement on I-69 in Auburn, IN.

“It helps out tremendously when we’re seeking financing for jobs,” Orr points out. “We can show our budgeted costs, which is what we generate in EOS, and PXS allows us to generate our as-built costs. Ninety-five percent of the time your as-build cost is higher than your budgeted cost, but there’s a direct correlation to the number of change orders that were produced on the job because of changes in conditions or additional quantities. When your financial institution says, ‘Hey, you budgeted five million dollars to do this job, and it cost you six million dollars,’ we have the means, by using Hard Dollar, to say, ‘Yes, but that five million dollars originally planned really only cost us four and a half million dollars. Another million and a half was due to change orders. So we actually underran our budget by half a million dollars.’ You can pinpoint exactly where your costs are.”

Good recordkeeping can also build credibility and help generate repeat business. Fox has worked on various INDOT projects during the past four years, reconstructing sections of I-69. Not all had deadlines as critical as the one that ran past Auburn, but Fox finished the job early in August, well before the tide of Labor Day visitors. “It was a fast-track job,” says Orr, “but the road was in bad shape. It was time. We’ve been redoing I-69 from Ft. Wayne to the Michigan line, and that was just part of the link to get there.”