Case Study

Maryland Transportation Authority Takes the New Nice-Middleton Bridge Into the Future

Maryland’s New Nice-Middleton Bridge wrapped up on budget and three months ahead of schedule – despite having started during the height of the pandemic. To make this happen, it required a coordinated effort of many moving parts, people and information.

About 18,000 vehicles drive to and from Maryland and Virginia across the Potomac River every single day. But the 82-year-old span had some problems. Traffic congestion. Narrow lanes. Steep grades.

To improve the capacity of the bridge and enhance safety for travelers, it was time for an upgrade.

The Maryland Transportation Authority (MDTA) Board voted unanimously to build a new, 4-lane bridge in 2016, and construction finally came to fruition in July 2020 – the peak of the pandemic – and wrapped up early in October 2022. How did the MDTA overcome pandemic-related challenges and oversee such a major project?

One key to the success of the project was the partnering environment created by MDTA that fostered an openness to technology.

With it, the MDTA supported a highly collaborative project environment between multiple levels of government and private partners – from the designbuild team to engineers to construction material testers.

  • Project Owner: Maryland Transportation Authority
  • Builder: Skanska, Corman & Mclean
  • Area Engineer: RK&K
  • Materials Tester: SaLUT

Here’s how the MDTA used technology to empower an efficient flow of data and communication across the entire project.

NO STRANGER TO INNOVATION

The MDTA was ahead of the game when it came to technology use. At the outset of the project, they deployed binni Concrete, an integrated ecosystem for construction teams to collaborate throughout the planning, tracking and reporting of concrete pours – in this case, 65,000 cubic yards of concrete.

“Controlling the quality of concrete as it’s batched to the truck, taken to the barge all the way out in the middle of the river, and placed into the structural element was critical. We were going to do all this by hand [with] handwritten truck logs and paper tickets,” said Lee Yowell, Director of Construction Management at engineering firm RK&K. “[binni] was paperless. It eliminated close contact between the driver and inspector for COVID reasons, and it took away handwritten truck logs.”

The MDTA approved the use of new technologies to break down data silos, streamline workflows, and give time back to project personnel to focus on value-added tasks.

As the Area Engineer for the New Nice-Middleton Bridge project, Lee represented the MDTA with a focus on safety, quality, environmental compliance, schedule and budget. To manage these various factors, he too was a big fan of technology. “I brought tools like PlanGrid to the project. We all used iPads onsite. We used drones for inspections of the large 150-foot column – cool stuff like that,” he said.

So, when another piece of technology was offered to further enhance important parts of the workflow, Lee jumped on the opportunity.

CONNECTING CONCRETE TESTING

Binni was instrumental in connecting all project partners to real-time pour information. But another part of the concrete process was still stuck in a silo: construction materials testing.

Testing – which was contracted out to SaLUT – was handled on manual machines with manual specimen identification and data recording processes.

In addition to breaking cylinders on the regular 7-, 14- and 28-day schedule by cast date, Jeffray Wang and his team at the onsite lab had to break field test cylinders on demand. That’s because as soon as concrete reaches a certain strength, the project can move to next steps. So, field technicians cast fresh cylinders in the field and bring them into the lab for early results – in hopes that they could move forward.

“We could test maybe 10 [cylinders] an hour,” said Jeffray. Between the required cast date testing and the ad hoc field test cylinders, his lab was busy. Plus, test results were captured on a clipboard and then had to be manually entered into binni to inform the rest of the project.

Binni co-founder and COO Wes Morrison is a big believer in knocking down silos and improving data transparency to help construction projects succeed. So, when he discovered ForneyVault in July 2022 – a machine-integrated construction materials testing platform – he knew he had to bring it to Lee at the New Nice-Middleton Bridge project.

“We quickly realized there were synergies between our two platforms that we could leverage, most importantly for our customers,” Wes said about the opportunity to integrate binni with ForneyVault. “[Lee] is a forward thinker in the use of technology in construction. So, once I showed him the value of the integration as a contractor, it was an easy sell.”

2 MAIN BENEFITS of the binni + ForneyVault Integration

  • Increase in productivity with automatic testing and alerts
  • Decrease in errors by eliminating manual data entry

IMPLEMENTING THE INTEGRATION

It was a relatively easy setup, too. The power of the integration started in Jeffray’s lab. The first order of business: upgrading his manual testing machines to automatic.

Luckily, SaLUT didn’t have to buy two brand new machines. Instead, they implemented a Forney RetroPak: an automatic control system that easily retrofits to most manual testing machines.

“Scott and Joel [at ForneyVault] installed the RetroPak for us,” said Jeffray. “We had 2 manual concrete machines. They connected them to the VFD and it took over the controls for the manual. It was pretty smooth.”

So, what did these automatic capabilities unlock for the project?

ForneyVault is a secure, private cloud database that stores concrete sample and specimen data in an unalterable format. Automatic machines aren’t required to use the binni + ForneyVault integration, but they do provide an added level of precision and time savings to the process, underpinning the benefits of the software integration.

“The automatic machines made testing much easier,” said Jeffray. “It was 1.5 to 2 times faster on just one machine. I’m careful and take my time, though, so I know it can be even more than that.”

The increased productivity and precision from automatic testing were immediately evident. But automating the physical testing was only half of the equation.

The ForneyVault platform connected the concrete testing workflow to binni… and the rest of the project.

Here’s an overview of how it works:

  • Concrete pours are captured in binni.
  • Cylinders are cast in the field and captured in binni.
  • A unique identifier is automatically created for each cylinder.
  • Each specimen’s unique identifier is associated with its pour and other wet concrete data and stored in ForneyVault.
  • At the testing machine, the operator can select the test specimen by its unique identifier.
  • ForneyVault preloads the machine with key specimen data points (like sample date, geometry, dimensions, type, expected strength and more).
  • The machine “knows” what it’s testing and can anticipate typical operator errors.
  • The machine automatically runs the test at the push of a button.
  • After the test, results automatically flow through ForneyVault to be immediately accessed in binni.

“This is the best part,” said Jeffray. “The results upload directly to binni. This saved us a lot of time, instead of having to pull up individual tabs and cylinder numbers.”

On the job site, Lee saw the benefits, too. Field technicians and inspectors were already using iPads with the binni Concrete app. With the integration, alerts from the lab flowed directly to them.

“When you do have a bad result of a cylinder, getting that immediate notification is extremely important. If you have concrete that fails in an element like the footing, you certainly don’t want to put the column on it until you know it’s okay,” he said. “ForneyVault took out the human element of sending an email to people [to tell them] we have a failure. It’s a powerful tool.”

THE FUTURE OF CONSTRUCTION

The MDTA’s innovative mindset made taking advantage of the new binni + ForneyVault integration an easy choice – and all parties could agree that it was a great one.

“The more we share with others in our industry, the better off we are all going to be,” Lee said. “Platforms like binni and ForneyVault are truly helping to make the construction industry come out of the dark ages.”

“Scott said, when he came to our lab, that construction is the least technologically advanced industry,” Jeffray agreed. “What binni and ForneyVault are doing is important. It makes our jobs a lot easier.”

“It’s about putting processes in place that help us build infrastructure that provides a quality of life for the people that live on this planet,” said Lee. “That’s what we do – that’s what construction and engineering is all about.”

Along with other technologies, the construction team used binni throughout the entire New Nice-Middleton Bridge project, realizing amazing efficiencies and deeper insights that no doubt contributed to the project’s accelerated timeline. While the team only scratched the surface of the advantages of the binni + ForneyVault integration, this isn’t the end of the story.

“I was recently notified of my next big project,” said Lee. “There’s no question that ForneyVault and binni are on my list of things to use.”

With engineering leaders like Lee at the helm of future concrete projects in the area, the innovative philosophy of the MDTA is certain to spread.

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