Department of Public Works – Guam Transportation

Only 30 miles long, the island of Guam is an unincorporated territory of the United States that is honeycombed with roads and bridges. Home to several U.S. military bases established after the Japanese occupation of the island during World War II ended, the 214-square-mile island is undergoing a massive upgrade of its road and bridge infrastructure to meet the needs of its growing population and an increased military presence.

The U.S. Marine Corps has proposed moving up to 8,600 Marines and their 9,000 dependents to the island from its military facilities at Okinawa, Japan, by 2015. This shift would increase Guam’s population by 20 percent. The island’s seven major military facilities currently occupy 29 percent of its land mass, and the transfer of the Marines could increase that figure to 40 percent.

It is against this backdrop and elections of a new governor and senators in its unicameral legislature in November 2010 that the island’s Department of Public Works (DPW) is overseeing the Guam Transportation Program. It involves widening and repaving many roads along with upgrading, reconstruction or replacement of many of the island’s bridges.

The 2030 Guam Transportation Plan calls for creation of a “Haul Road Network” of the routes most likely to be used by the military. Those routes then would be improved where needed to provide the traffic capacity and structural integrity necessary for military, civilian and cargo truck traffic.

“In terms of what we are doing now, a lot of it is just absorbing the current growth and development on Guam,” DPW Director Joanne Brown declares. “Marine Corps Drive – our most traveled road on Guam – was only a two-lane road. Now major parts of it consist of three lanes on each side to accommodate growth. The main roads don’t last forever, and they have to be rebuilt and resurfaced.”

Bridging the Gap

Refurbishment and in some cases replacement of bridges is being performed with a variety of methods. In some cases, temporary bridges can be constructed to handle traffic while the old bridge is demolished and the new one constructed. However, many bridges must be replaced one side of the road at a time, sometimes because additional easement for staging is unavailable.

Although much of northern Guam is relatively flat – it was formed by two coral reefs that fused at the center of the island – southern Guam is more mountainous from ancient volcanic activity. “You have those two varieties of terrain here as a result,” Brown points out. This influences road and bridge construction.

The cost of road construction work varies according to its complexity. “For one project on Route 3 up next to the military base they are looking at expanding, they will be spending $60 million on a 3-mile stretch of road to address utility issues and put the road in place to the design standard they would like to see,” Brown marvels.

The DPW mediates between the needs of the community and the military on projects that require it. For example, with the proposed roadwork on Route 3, the DPW is evaluating proposed design plans to accommodate a new base entrance and incorporate traffic access for an elementary school across the street. Presentations are made about such changes before they are designed to solicit community input.

Contractors Evaluated

Each road or bridge project is put out for bid and contractors are selected on that project’s criteria. Much of the funding for these projects is from the U.S. Federal Highway Administration (FHA) and the U.S. Department of Defense. In addition to the DPW’s inspection efforts, construction managers are hired to supervise the many road and bridge projects. “We’re not currently capable – with the significant increase in the amount of projects – of being able to do all that in the department in the short term,” Brown points out.

DPW’s success on its projects is tied closely to its partners, which include Hawaiian Rock Products and International Bridge Corporation.

Coming in with the new administration, Brown has been on the job for four-and–a-half months, and DPW Deputy Director Carl Dominguez has been on the job for four months. She intends to increase the department’s on-the-job oversight capabilities. “We see a need to strengthen those areas to make sure roads and bridges are being properly constructed to standard,” Brown asserts.

The new administration is setting requirements for a new level of consistency. “From my perspective, there should be consistency in the quality of work that we receive from the contractors,” Brown emphasizes. “I see things like safety issues not properly addressed on the job site or erosion control standards not being properly implemented. I’m concerned if our construction managers and inspectors are not catching these concerns and immediately requiring contractors to take corrective actions. On some of our projects that I have inspected over the past several months, those things have been an issue, and some very credible firms have been working for us.”

Improved Landfill

Three new bridges to a new landfill site on the south end of the island in Layon are being constructed simultaneously, and within only a few miles of each other. The current landfill developed after World War II in the center of the island is reaching its capacity, so a federal court order mandated construction of the new, modern landfill. The new bridges will be strong enough to handle the weight of refuse trucks.

A 60-year-old bridge built after World War II in the capital city of Hagatna will be totally reconstructed at the expense of the Department of Defense to address safe passage between Andersen Air Force Base and Naval Station. Occasionally discoveries are made in the course of construction. “Ancestral human remains were discovered at the Ylig Bridge adjacent to a coastal area and the proper archaeological preservation steps were taken to ensure that due respect is paid to our ancestral remains and artifacts and, at the same time, still move forward with the bridge construction,” Brown remembers.

In April 2010, an unexploded World War II bomb discovered at the Ylig Bridge site had to be removed and safely detonated. “We have exciting things here,” Brown notes. “There’s never a dull moment on Guam. In terms of Guam’s road activity, this is probably the largest number of projects happening simultaneously, and that will increase in the next year or two if things go as planned. This is unprecedented construction all at the same time for such a small island.”

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