Highway expansion requires collaborative project management

August 2009 » Web Exclusive
Cynthia Willman

With thriving manufacturing, commerce, and hospitality industries, Queretaro City, the capital of the state of Queretaro, is one of the most rapidly growing municipalities in Mexico. The neighboring city of Irapuato, 67 miles west of Queretaro, has about 500,000 residents, many of whom commute to Queretaro daily. This growth and the attendant traffic congestion led the Mexican government to initiate a project to improve and enlarge the existing highway between the two cities.

Project
Highway expansion, Queretaro City, Mexico

Participants
ICA (design-build-operate contractor)
DIRAC (design subcontractor)

Product application
Project Insight software provides efficient management of a 57-mile-long highway expansion project.

Effective project management software allowed DIRAC and project participants efficiently to control design and construction on a 57-mile-long highway expansion project in Mexico.

ICA, one of Mexico’s leading construction companies, was awarded the contract to design, finance, build, operate, and maintain the highway. Engineering consulting firm DIRAC was subcontracted to complete the design portion of the project for ICA.

Founded in 1956, DIRAC is a leading architectural engineering firm in Mexico specializing in infrastructure projects. The firm works with a large portfolio of clients, most often on infrastructure projects throughout Mexico. Its client list includes ICA, the Mexican Power and Water Commissions, PEMEX, and the Mexican Communications Secretariat.

During the last 10 years, infrastructure projects that were traditionally performed only by government agencies have been opened up to private companies. As large construction companies have been granted concessions to perform the design, construction, and operation of some infrastructure projects, DIRAC is often contracted to perform technical studies and on-site revision of quality control materials.

As CEO, Mario Salazar is ultimately responsible for the success of DIRAC’s projects, whether large ones such as infrastructure projects, or smaller ones involving commercial buildings and resort hotels. At any given time, DIRAC is performing 20 to 40 projects.

With so many projects in motion simultaneously, efficiency is important. DIRAC’s project managers had traditionally used Microsoft Project and were required to use Primavera as part of contractual obligations on certain projects. Managers needed a way to give their clients appropriate access to certain types of information on their projects, such as basic status and progress reports, but the tools they used were not that simple for clients to learn, and access controls were not as sophisticated as they would have liked. As a result, clients were forced to wait for weekly or monthly reports to receive updates about the status of work on their projects.

In addition, project managers found it difficult to perform accurate resource allocation across all of their projects. With efficient use of resources a major contributing factor to profitability, DIRAC recognized the need to have accurate, cross-project resource tracking.

The Queretaro City-to-Irapuato highway expansion included design and construction of six main bridges, eight overpasses, six underpasses, and one railroad overpass.

Search for a project-management solution
The scope of the overall highway-expansion project included improvement and expansion of 57 miles of existing highway from two to four lanes. DIRAC was specifically contracted to design the following:

  • six main bridges;
  • eight new overpasses;
  • six new underpasses;
  • one new railroad overpass;
  • several new elevated walkways;
  • a 1.5-mile main boulevard along the highway;
  • nine new bus stops; and
  • signaling, drainage, and main intersections lighting.

Throughout the design process, close interaction was needed between the Communications Secretariat, ICA, and DIRAC. Participation of teams of architects, geotechnical engineers, structural engineers, hydraulic engineers, electrical engineers, and cost engineers was required. To handle a project of this size and to help manage the ongoing project load, DIRAC launched a search for a project management solution that would provide the following:

  • offer a user-friendly, web-based interface;
  • make it possible to give clients secure information on project progress at any time of their choice; and
  • enable up-to-the-minute resource allocation across all of their projects.

After a period of evaluation that included the use of an evaluation version, DIRAC chose Project Insight, a web-based project management software from Irvine, Calif.-based Metafuse, Inc. DIRAC signed up with Project Insight and rapidly began using it, finding the ease of adaptation quite helpful as users of other software began coming on board.

The company quickly saw benefits from its use of Project Insight. “The highway-expansion project was entirely managed using Project Insight, which was very good for us, because this was a 60-mile highway with a lot of bridges and interfaces with the client in terms of the right-of-way and all of the peripheral works,” said Salazar. “The client was able to see what the status of the design was at any time, and we were able to make the communication with the client more efficient, not only in terms of the progress of the design, but also the flow of the information documents, drawings, meeting minutes, and things like that.

“For the first time, our client was able to view the progress at any time,” said Salazar. “It wasn’t like he had to wait for a weekly report or a monthly report in order to see where things were. He could come to the web and see what the progress was and see the minutes of the meetings. The management level, especially, was more involved through having access to the information, and that was a very good benefit because, in general, all the project-management systems show progress, but in this case the aid to communication was very good, as well.”

Successful project elevates DIRAC profile
Currently in Mexico, engineers are in short supply because many infrastructure projects are in progress. “Some of the projects we’re invited to participate in we’ve declined because of our current workload and the lack of resources,” Salazar said, “We have a very good reputation for fulfilling our commitments in terms of time and quality, and we don’t want to lose that. Since resources are scarce now, the ability to manage resources and see project progress and find out when people will be available to undertake different responsibilities has been very helpful to us.”

DIRAC completed the design work by mid-April 2007 after a period of 40 calendar weeks. The design works required a total of 72,125 engineering hours and, as a result, 2,426 detailed design drawings were issued and used for the construction, which ICA began at the end of 2007. Construction is expected to be completed by the end of 2009.

“Project Insight made this project more efficient for us in terms of project control, progress, and resource allocation, which saved us time and money,” Salazar said. “The ability we now have to be up-to-date with technology and to consume less paper is very, very good. And finally, the ability to schedule and manage different projects concurrently helps us because, before, each project had a specific tool or schedule, whereas in Project Insight, we have the ability to control all the projects at once.”

Cynthia Willman has more than 20 years of experience in the high-technology field, including five years in application development, documentation, and technical support for a software-development tools company. She writes for clients including Metafuse, Oracle, BroadVision, LivePix, Citrix, Logitech, Symantec, Xdrive Technologies, Hitachi Data Systems, and Uniloc USA.


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