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Constructing a fair deal for contractors

6/29/2020 McCall Macomber

With the start of construction season comes a new challenge — ensuring fair pay for contractors.

Here to tackle this issue are Illinois Center for Transportation and Illinois Department of Transportation in their joint research project, “R27-189: Evaluation of Data Trends and Variability in Quality for Performance and Pay for Performance Programs” (vol. I and vol. II).

Imad L. Al-Qadi, ICT director and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Bliss Professor of Engineering, leads the effort with James Trepanier, IDOT’s hot-mix asphalt operations engineer.

The two bring together members of industry, departments of transportation and academia to study two payment methods for contractors in Illinois — quality control for performance and pay for performance.

The two methods determine how contractors are compensated after wrapping up projects, after which the pay is based on IDOT’s test results.

A contractor drills into an asphalt sample to measure its density — a major factor driving contractor pay disincentives.
A contractor drills into an asphalt sample to measure its density — a major factor driving contractor pay disincentives.

Al-Qadi and his team kicked off the project by collecting data from six IDOT districts and visiting 12 work sites and labs. They used data mining to identify potential sources of variability between results reported by IDOT districts and industry contractors.

The results?

“This research verified that PFP and QCP are equitable specifications that should continue to be used to ensure high-quality HMA (hot-mix asphalt) pavements are constructed to provide optimum performance and service life,” Trepanier said.

Through their efforts, Al-Qadi and his team were able to identify root sources of payment disputes and present a list of suggestions to improve sampling, equipment calibration and testing procedures.

They also hope to improve communication between IDOT and contractors and “harmonize” approaches used by both parties to increase pay incentives for contractors and to develop training methods.

“The state of Illinois is taking a giant step to ensure the performance of our pavements by communicating with the industry and trying to achieve the same targets together,” Al-Qadi said.

“The ultimate goal is for fewer pay disputes between both parties and for contractors to achieve full pay and possible incentives using robust scientific and engineering methods,” he said.

Illinoisans will notice an additional benefit — better-performing and more durable pavements.

“Any time the department (IDOT) is able to reduce risk to the contractor while achieving the same quality, the public will benefit through reduced costs associated with construction and maintenance of highway infrastructure,” said Kevin Burke, Executive Vice-President of Illinois Asphalt Pavement Association.

“By proactively identifying potential sources of error and communicating issues, the department and industry are able to partner together to provide high-performing, smooth and quiet asphalt pavements to the travelling public,” he added.