The US$1.27 Billion Middletown-Norwalk Project Broke Ground in the transmission industry, incorporating new management techniques and new technologies that helped the project finish approximately one year ahead of the initial schedule and under budget.

It was just over four years ago when Northeast Utilities (Berlin, Connecticut, U.S.) and its subsidiary Connecticut Light & Power (Hartford, Connecticut) embarked on an effort to upgrade the transmission system in one of the most power-constrained regions of the United States. Placed in service in late 2008, 69 miles (111 km) of the new 345-kV transmission line — 24 miles (39 km) of which is underground — now strengthens the transmission backbone in southwestern Connecticut to provide a secure source of reliable electricity for years to come.

NEW APPROACH

Early on, CL&P determined that management of this critical and complex project would require an innovative partnership. Engineering and construction firm Burns & McDonnell (Kansas City, Missouri, U.S.) was chosen for this relationship. While this close partnering arrangement was not new in the utility sector, it had not been used in the electrical transmission industry. A program management solution was implemented that combined use of internal resources at CL&P with the establishment of a Burns & McDonnell project office in Wallingford, Connecticut. That office opened in 2005 with five employees and was eventually staffed with 80 full-time employees dedicated to the M|N Project.

The program management approach gave CL&P flexibility and single-source accountability from design through construction. Implementation of this approach facilitated an aggressive schedule as planning and permitting efforts advanced simultaneously with design and construction.

With dedicated owner oversight, the program management approach consisted of an integrated team of project managers from both the contracted program manager and the owner. When changes to the project scope or other key factors arose, project managers from both teams worked together to quickly accommodate the task at hand. The program management contract was structured so that a portion of the program manager's compensation was dependent on the success of the project. This method provided motivation for the program manager to be flexible and work through issues with the owner.

The program management model provided authority for Burns & McDonnell as CL&P's agent over the entire project. The responsibilities of the Burns & McDonnell team included real estate acquisition, environmental planning/monitoring, design, procurement, community relations, safety, project and document controls, scheduling, construction management and quality assurance/quality control.

CRITICAL COMMUNICATIONS

The M|N route runs through a densely populated region, touching more than 7000 private property owners and businesses.

From the beginning, the owner and program manager anticipated communication would be a critical component. Although a project hotline and Web site were set up at the outset to capture public comments and questions, it quickly became apparent that a more robust communications system was needed, one that would efficiently and effectively link key members of the project team to react and respond to public concerns.

Project managers soon realized that project field staff would need quick and convenient access to data related to community issues in order to be prepared to respond in a timely manner if approached by a customer near the project.

In order to build the type of data dashboard needed to assist the project team on this large-scale project, more than 3 GB of data needed to be transferred over a Wi-Fi connection or air card. This just wasn't practical. Furthermore, a traditional dashboard provides the user with rows and columns of numbers. However, this is hardly useful for a staff member working in the field, who is contacting residents in person and often without prior notice.

Burns & McDonnell decided that the solution would have to connect the vast array of numerical data with a graphical interface that could be quickly interpreted by the user.

The result was OneTouchPM, a geographic information system solution designed by Burns & McDonnell that integrates design information with key project management software and merges all of that information into a 3-D virtual model of the project. The Google Earth proprietary method of streaming large amounts of geospatial data allows remote users to access information in near real time with little delay. The data collaboration tool provides information on environmental issues, permitting, community relations, design specifications and construction status. It integrates data from ArcGIS, PLS-CADD, MicroStation, AutoCAD, Primavera and Expedition with the Google Earth interface.

When implemented, the OneTouchPM system provided an immediate ability to prevent and resolve conflicts in the field, resulting in increased public satisfaction and reduced complaints. For example, a construction site manager moving into a new area checks the system before starting the workday. He is instantly aware that two neighboring residents have registered concerns about construction work that may harm trees on their properties. The site manager can address those concerns by talking to the property owners before beginning the work and then conveying critical information to the construction crew. The site manager logs the steps taken to address the residents' concerns and submits it to the community relations staff in the Wallingford office, so the information can be incorporated into the database and made available if the property owners call the hotline at a later date. Having a history of past issues and conversations readily accessible enables the community relations and field staff to work seamlessly with one another and stay informed at all times, which contributes to the success of the project.

Community relations professionals also benefit by having critical construction and engineering data in a geospatial dashboard. Customer requests that would take hours or days to fulfill under old systems are now typically handled within minutes and during the initial call. The real-time delivery of information eliminates frustration over communications delays.

RISK REDUCTION

Risk avoidance has proven to be a tangible return on investment for applying this technological tool. Inefficient management of a project with this scope and complexity could easily have resulted in cost overruns and delays. However, the advantages resulting from access to real-time data have greatly improved communications, as well as the project team's ability to quickly and efficiently address opposition concerns. There were many instances when this quick-response communications eliminated the risk of a delay or site shutdown. Because of the communications advantages, OneTouchPM also functions as a productivity tracking tool, giving project managers the ability to track contractor progress more accurately. Projections become more specific and verifiable.

The program management model enhances the risk management process used on all projects by creating a more direct focus on critical issues. Complex portions of the project were identified upfront. For example, wetland areas and rights-of-way limits were identified. This allowed the construction superintendents to identify the affected areas prior to construction, limiting any potential damage.

HOW IT WORKS

Because the data needed was already being collected, it was not necessary to hire additional staff members to operate OneTouchPM. Everyone continued to input data within the systems they were already using; however, the data was simply displayed in a composite form. Access to data is controlled by the systems that created it, ensuring that only appropriate users can view and update data.

In a typical scenario, a community relations representative will log a call from a resident that comes through the hotline. For example, say the resident has concerns about relocating farm animals on his property on the days when construction will be occurring in the area. The community relations representative flags the property in the system, providing a visual alert for any construction managers who move a crew into the area. Project superintendents are equipped with mobile office stands in their vehicles, enabling them to access data over a Wi-Fi card. Issues at any point on the line are identified on the property displayed in a virtual 3-D map of the route and transmission line. The red flag entered by the community relations representative alerts the construction supervisor to the property owner's concerns. If a superintendent sees the alert about farm animal relocation and knows he plans to be near that property later in the week, he would contact the community relations team, which would relay this information to the property owner.

One significant benefit of the OneTouchPM system is the reduction of errors in the field. Construction managers have all critical information at their fingertips in near real time. When additional information is gathered or issues are resolved, the staff involved inputs updates. All changes quickly become visible across the system.

The system also displays the status of real estate transactions: tracking property acquisitions, condemnations and property owners that have issues of concern. Color-coding areas of concern assists field crews to avoid entering properties with an incomplete status. The real estate information is tracked by specialists in that area.

CONSTRUCTION BENEFITS

In conventional project management models, monthly contractor reports have to be collected, plugged into a schedule and summarized. Construction managers often work with data that is 45 days old, or more.

Through OneTouchPM, daily construction updates are entered through the project management software package Contract Manager. Project managers identify work completed and other data, such as poles set and wires strung, and enter this information. The updates are uploaded and compared against the project schedule in Primavera P5 scheduling software. A process ensues which takes the data, compares it to the pole data in OneTouchPM and updates the system accordingly.

On the M|N Project, 22 milestones were identified for each transmission structure, which were grouped into five construction status categories and reflected via color-coding on the map. With a single glance, a project manager is able to see a broad view of the status of structures along a transmission segment and, if desired, drill-down to gather specific data for individual instances.

The process of managing 62 prime contractors and vendors on the M|N was improved by this enhancement of coordination and timing. Nightly progress updates were available for all to view the next morning, including everything from equipment deliveries to crew availability. With 800 people working, during peak periods, this system enabled the project team to eliminate delays due to delivery issues or other factors.

THE BIG PICTURE

In the end, program management project delivery, enhanced by OneTouchPM, drove the M|N to completion ahead of schedule and under budget. Northeast Utilities recently named Burns & McDonnell the program manager for the New England East-West Solution, which will upgrade transmission capacity in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut. This project will address the fundamental 345-kV system reliability needs and is scheduled to be complete in 2013.

OneTouchPM is now being expanded to include environmental and permitting uses for the New England East-West Solution project to enable precise routing and better route visualization by community members at open houses across the project area. It also has been implemented on other projects across the country, with additional features currently under development. For improved crew management, one utility is equipping trucks with GPS units and adding vehicle tracking. A new reporting module will allow view-based, real-time queries and reports to display on-screen for each individual user. Managers can quickly establish custom views and save them for repeat use without involving a programmer or administrator.

Open and easy communications facilitated by OneTouchPM provides a unique management tool for all project stakeholders. The real-time availability of critical information enables improved management and seamless transition of information related to real estate acquisition, community relations, construction status and other critical areas. Both the owner and program manager teams were able to capitalize on the accessibility of accurate data to stay steps ahead of developing issues on the M|N Project.

BUILDING THE SYSTEM

Development of OneTouchPM began by displaying project data with keyhole markup language (KML) files in Google Earth Pro. However, as OneTouchPM grew in value and usefulness, users demanded more detail and more current imagery. The imagery and terrain used in Google Earth Pro did not provide the precision necessary to make spatial decisions. So the application was upgraded to Google Earth Enterprise, which allows custom imagery and terrain to be served up with the same speed as Google Earth stock imagery. This also allowed the imagery to be accurate to within 6 inches (152 mm) of surveyed data.

Flexibility was a critical component in the design of OneTouchPM. Instead of developing a traditional GIS database and requiring existing systems to fit a certain structure, all data is translated directly into KML files from their source. This reduces the costs of maintaining another system. The translations enable the source data to remain in its native format, managed by the in-place systems used by stakeholders in project management, construction, real estate, environmental, community relations or other areas. By not asking users to change the way they currently operate, users immediately embraced the program.

To achieve this level of flexibility, OneTouchPM uses Feature Manipulation Engine software from Safe Software (Vancouver, Canada). The software translations bring together design and project data from 27 separate data sources into KML for display. The translation process, which reduces file sizes by up to 90%, is critical to streamlining the data to enable quick and efficient remote access to data, another key component in user acceptance.


Anne Bartosewicz (bartoab@nu.com) is a project director in the transmission organization for Northeast Utilities, where she is responsible for the Middletown-Norwalk and Glenbrook Cables Southwest Connecticut Reliability Projects. She has a BSChE degree from the University of Connecticut and an MBA from the University of Hartford.

J. Brett Williams (jbwilliams@burnsmcd.com), is a vice president at Burns & McDonnell and is the program manager for the M|N Project and the New England East-West Solution. He has worked on major-scale design-build and program management projects for the past 18 years. His expertise is in project scope development, design management and construction management from project inception through closeout. Williams has a BS degree in construction engineering technology from Pittsburg State University and a master's degree in construction science from the University of Oklahoma.

Wes Hardin (whardin@burnsmcd.com) is the OneTouchPM program manager for Burns & McDonnell. He has 20 years of combined experience as an electrical engineer in the power industry and as an information management expert, specializing in integrating and converting geospatial and facility data. Hardin has a BSEE degree from the University of Missouri-Columbia and an MBA from the University of Missouri-Kansas City.