Brett Barnett, one of three segment managers for the I-405 Sepulveda Pass Improvements Project, has highway construction in his veins. Well, at least in his family tree.
Barnett has been building bridges and highways for 27 years, ever since he joined Caltrans out of college. How did he choose this line of work?
“I inherited it,” he says. “My father was in charge of construction for Division 8 [which covers Riverside and San Bernardino counties]. He retired in 1982. I started at District 8 while I was in college in 1983. I was one of three interns hired that year, and I’m sure the name recognition didn’t hurt.”
“I like to say I speak, read, and write Caltranian,” adds Barnett, the father of a 21-year-old son and a 20-year-old stepdaughter.
Barnett worked 13 years at Caltrans, concentrating mainly on structures, which is Caltranian for bridges. Since then, he has worked on both sides of the client/contractor equation, working for Caltrans and for companies that provide services to Caltrans. This is his first time managing a construction project for Metro.
Now his greatest task requires merging two groups of experts. One group knows how to build highways, he explains, but does not know how to build them using the design-build process. The other knows how to use the design-build method but not how to build highways.
“What’s interesting is not just the technical work but the people side,” Barnett says. “Because once you move into management . . . the technical part is pretty familiar. The most challenging part is the people. That’s what keeps it fun.”
Part of that fun will be guiding Caltrans in building a highway in a new way. “We all get used to doing business a certain way,” Barnett explains. “The Caltrans procedures have been developed over 100 years to follow a design-bid-build process,” Barnett says.
Instead, the I-405 project will begin construction while the designing process continues in other areas: design-build. The design-build method grew from an effort to construct projects faster and more economically.
In theory, because the contractor is designing and building the project, it grows familiar with requirements and challenges sooner. With fewer surprises, the contractor’s estimate includes less for unanticipated expenses. The owner of the project shares the risk with the contractor and shares the benefits of quicker completion.
“It is a very challenging project,” Barnett continues. “Any design-build project for a highway in California is challenging.” Barnett has a ready example of just how challenging highway building has become. He compares the size of his father’s paperback Caltrans Construction Manual from 1938 with the current manual. The current version weighs approximately six pounds in its three-ring binder and would make a superior door stop.
Part of the project’s complexity is its location.
“Not only are you building in Los Angeles, but you’re building in West Los Angeles,” Barnett explains. “You’re talking about a chunk of highway that has a 15-hour peak use period every day. Most of the rest of the country has a couple of hours in the morning and a couple of hours in the evening.” Barnett knows very well how congested the I‑405 has become. He drives it to work each day from his home in south Orange County.
Although the I-405 widening project is often described as adding a northbound carpool lane, Barnett points to other benefits, such as bringing all the lanes up to 12-foot-wide lane widths and adding shoulders on the median and the outside.
“With that added space, people are going to be much more comfortable driving together,” Barnett explains. “For one thing, drivers will have more margin for errors. The level of service will be better. It is absolutely the best we can do right now, given high construction costs.”
And if Barnett needs advice on managing such a complex project, he can ask his father, now 92.
Construction Relations Team:
Kasey Shuda - Manager, Construction Relations
Erika Estrada - Sunset Segment (Constitution Av to Sepulveda Bl)
Megan Nangle - Wilshire Segment (National Bl to Constitution Av)
Ron Macias - Mulholland Segment (Sepulveda B. to Ventura Bl)
Ned Racine - New Media
Yvette ZR Rapose - Director of Construction Relations
Metro Community Relations
6060 Center Dr., 2nd Flr.
Los Angeles, CA 90045-2952
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