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Skanska: Building transformational projects from I-4 Ultimate to Florida Advanced Manufacturing Research Center

Matt Gilbert, Jim Goyer, and Robert Utsey
Matt Gilbert, Jim Goyer, and Robert Utsey

When the subject of innovation comes up along Florida’s High Tech Corridor, and the construction firm Skanska is mentioned, most think of the futuristic Innovation, Science and Technology Building they constructed at Florida Polytechnic University. It was designed by world-renowned Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, who also designed the majestic and almost mystical World Trade Center Transportation Hub in New York known as “The Oculus,” which is also Skanska’s project.

The iconic central building of the new Florida Poly campus, which some have dubbed “the cathedral of learning” and “Star Fleet Academy,” actually moves. Ninety-four operable louver arms rise and lower via hydraulics every day, tracking the sun to provide shade for the 250-foot-long skylight on the structure’s spine. But for most Floridians, Skanska’s most far-reaching innovation is not just what they have and are building, like the I-4 Ultimate project. Instead it is the Public Private Partnership (P3 or PPP) delivery model that they have facilitated to move this type of vast and sophisticated infrastructure project forward at the speed of business, instead of the pace of bureaucracy.

FDOT (Florida Department of Transportation) chose a Skanska-led consortium, the I-4 Mobility Partners, to both design and deliver one of the most advanced and complex infrastructure projects in Florida. This ground-breaking $2.3 billion P3 included not only a design/ build contract, but financing, operations and maintenance responsibilities. Some experts estimate the project could have taken over 25 years to complete, but by FDOT taking the P3 approach, that time was reduced to six and a half years. This brings both convenience for commuters and economic development benefits to the region sooner rather than later.

Upgrading Infrastructure

“This project is set to improve the quality of life and the safety of residents while giving Central Florida a competitive edge when it comes to attracting new businesses and economic growth to the region. Overall, this is the largest and most complex infrastructure project underway in the state of Florida today.”

“The interstate, which was built in the 1960’s, needs to be updated to meet current industry standards and better accommodate the number of vehicles traveling on the road today,” Brookshire said. “I-4 Ultimate will help deliver needed improvements that will make the driving experience safer and smoother along I-4 and meet the needs of the community as population grows in the years ahead.”

For anyone who lives, works or plays in Central Florida, that is the essence of innovation. Beyond forward-thinking projects like Nemours Children’s Hospital or the Florida Advanced Manufacturing Research Center which is coming to Osceola County, redeveloping aging infrastructure represents one of the region’s most pressing needs.

“In addition to the age of these projects, population growth and relocation require that infrastructure be upgraded and expanded,” Senior Vice President of Operations Matthew (Matt) Gilbert said.

A public private partnership has been described as a contract between a public sector authority and a private party, in which the private party provides a public service or project and assumes substantial financial, technical and operational risk in the project. Thus, projects that would take decades to build can be executed in years.

“There is a huge need for infrastructure upgrades in the U.S.,” Senior Vice President of Business Development for Skanska Robert Utsey explained. He also serves as a board member in the Orlando Economic Development Commission. “We have simply neglected the maintenance of these assets, while expanding and adding new projects to keep up with demand resulting from population growth and economic development. The P3 procurement approach provides a market-driven solution to that. It enables us to renew these critical assets and meet the growth needs of communities.”

“You need corresponding infrastructure improvements to support a growing job market in the region. But current funding models are not able to keep pace. P3s bring the innovation of the private sector into the public procurement process and together, a more effective and efficient cost conscious solution is developed,” Utsey added.

Skanska’s Vice President of Florida Operations in its civil engineering group Jim Goyer pointed out another important benefit of the P3 approach. “When the operations and maintenance costs are brought into the equation and those experts are collaborating with the design and construction team, solutions surface. For instance, it might be proposed that we put a sloped embankment on an overpass because it is cheaper than a retaining wall. However, if the same group is responsible to mow that embankment for the next 40 years, that changes the equation. P3s are able to look for long-term solutions, not just, ‘what is the cheapest way to build today?’, while ignoring the fact that you’re adding tremendous costs to maintain.”

“It is more than just a financing solution. It is Skanska’s approach to solving really large complex challenges for communities by leveraging our experience, innovation and resources. For us, the more complex the assignment, the better we are able to deliver creative solutions.”

Taking the LEED

As people have become accustomed, if not expecting, to see LEED certification plaques on new buildings or remodeling projects, which indicate they meet a high standard of sustainability in design and energy use, Skanska is helping to move LEED certification into the civil engineering side of construction (roads, bridges, site preparation etc.) According to Goyer, the company was recently recognized by the EPA for two civil projects, the reconstruction of I-275 and the two-lane Choctawhatchee Bay Bridge, where they recycled over 98 percent of their waste. Goyer explained, “Twenty years ago the materials that were part of the demolition on a civil project would usually go into a landfill. Now, all the demolished materials are analyzed to see how we can repurpose them. If it can be used as fill, then we are not having to bring fill to the site. This means countless trucks which haul in the fill and an equally large number of trucks that carry the waste materials off are eliminated. With this approach, we not only reduce the impact on landfills, but we take all those trucks, their traffic impact and carbon waste off the roads.”

When this approach was first introduced, there were substantial costs to get started. Once those costs were amortized over time, Skanska determined it was not only the ‘right’ thing to do, but an economically viable approach they are now working to educate their clients and the general public on.

This cutting-edge approach reflects Skanska’s overall culture. Robert Utsey spoke of how the company cultivates leaders and teams to insure they understand their commitment to quality, cost effectiveness, environmental awareness and safety. “We look first for leadership in our people to ensure our methods and values are embodied throughout our organization.”
In a Skanska blog titled “Constructive Thinking”, Santiago Calatrava spoke about working with a company that was able to translate his imaginative and innovative design into functional spaces. “One of the main successes of this project is how my team and Skanska worked together to deliver a price-certain design and construction process for such a complex building,” he said. “Effective collaboration is the key to success. It shows that great things can be built. When working with Skanska on the Polytechnic project, we could not believe how easily they were able to attack the most complex components. And in the end, gave us better solutions. This is an exceptional project. And it was completed under budget.”

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