The light rail system in downtown Phoenix, AZ, includes a 20-mile starter line that will feature electric-powered light rail cars traveling at the posted speed limit for the road. The rail, overhead power lines and stations will all be carved out of the existing infrastructure.
This initial 20-mile line is broken up into five segments. Archer Western Contractors was awarded and completed Line Section 3.
Archer Western Contractors is a subsidiary of The Walsh Group, a firm currently ranked among the nation?s top 20 contractors. The company takes pride in the fact that, since it was established in 1983, it has never failed to complete a contract. The company has invested over $300 million in capital equipment and regularly employs over 1,000 engineers and skilled tradesmen.
Although it was no stranger to projects of this magnitude, this was the largest project ever handled by Archer Western?s Phoenix office, which had traditionally worked on waste water facilities.
?Our notice to proceed was May 16, 2005,? says Bob Fouty, project manager. ?The original bid contract was a little south of $95 million. With change orders, I think we are now at $102 million. We set a goal at the outset of the project to have all of the track down by November of 2007, and all of the station foundations complete.? This goal was accomplished.
Sizing up the site
The project presented a number of unique challenges.
?Although this is essentially a light rail project, we had to reconstruct virtually all of the underground utilities,? Fouty notes. ?[This included] sanitary, water, storm and electrical, new traffic signal features, new street lights, a lot of third-party utility relocations - Southwest gas, fiber-optic companies. Probably 60% of this job you don?t even see. It is all underground. We do all of the utility work ourselves, except for the third-party utilities.?
The shear size and uncertainties proved daunting. ?The as-built information, especially in the older parts of town, was virtually nonexistent,? Fouty recalls. ?If it ever did exist, it is long since gone. We found basements of buildings that had been torn down 40 or 50 years ago. They only tore down everything from the street level up; all of the subterranean features were still there. We found old coal chutes, tunnels, all kinds of things.?
Bidding a job with this many variables is difficult. ?That?s what experience is about,? says Fouty. ?It has been a very good partnership between ourselves, Valley Metro Rail and the City of Phoenix. The owner has been very good about recognizing those as unforeseen conditions. We have dealt with that fairly and equitably. You find an underground tunnel where you didn?t expect one and everything you have to construct over it now has to change.?
Archer Western also had to contend with crowded conditions. ?A lot of the work is intricate,? says Fouty. ?It is tight quarters and working around a lot of features, working up against existing buildings or canopies and overhanging traffic signal features.?
Fortunately, the contractor has plenty of equipment to choose from. ?We are an equipment intensive company,? says Fouty. ?We had a pretty big fleet of equipment here. We probably had 20 rubber-tired [backhoes] and four wheeled excavators. At peak, we had three track excavators.
?Because we are working in a lot of vehicle and pedestrian traffic, the equipment is a little smaller than normal,? he continues. ?We have to be able to get around the city streets. Virtually everything we have is on rubber tires. We have nine miles of city right-of-way. Just getting equipment from one location to another - if it?s not on rubber - is problematic.?
The multi-faceted project required crews to simultaneously perform several different tasks. ?At one point, we had every part of the right-of-way open,? says Fouty. ?Some of it was under utility relocation, some of it was under-track installation and some of it was paving curb and
gutter and sidewalk.