Welcome to Nashville, Tennessee! As you may know, this week is Infrastructure Week. Although traveling is not an option for a large majority of us right now, in our Virtual Travel Series, we are “taking a trip” across the US to learn more about innovators and changemakers that make our transportation systems a reality. Whether it’s roads or rail systems, you’ll get a glimpse of what it takes to build some of our nation’s most important transportation projects.
On our second stop in our journey, we meet Jamie Waller, Assistant Director at the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT). TDOT is a multimodal agency with statewide responsibilities in roadways, aviation, public transit, waterways, and railroads. The mission of TDOT is to provide a safe and reliable transportation system for people, goods, and services that supports economic prosperity in Tennessee. Like many other DOTs, TDOT leverages an innovative suite of technology to deliver projects safer, faster, and more collaboratively. In her role, Jamie oversees some of the most cutting-edge e-construction projects and initiatives the agency is working on. Below, she shares more about the projects she’s working on, what makes transportation projects unique, and how COVID has pushed her team to embrace even more digital processes.
Tell us about your role at TDOT. What’s your day to day like?
At TDOT, I am an Assistant Director in Headquarters Construction Division covering our Region 3 area which is Middle Tennessee including Nashville. My day to day operations include mainly contract administration, but I also oversee e-construction activities/initiatives and constructability reviews. I spend most of my time reviewing sets of plans that are to be included in upcoming lettings and reviewing change orders for current projects.
My role requires me to collaborate with a wide variety of people within TDOT each day so there are many discussions held about projects. I usually feel that my days are planned out with what I am going to be working on but things can change quickly. If an issue arises, that will take my focus for the entire day.
Tell us more about your work on one of the projects you’re working on. Why has this been an exciting project to work on?
I have been working on developing a contract for a bridge repair project not far from downtown Nashville. This bridge repair project will be just a mile or so outside of our downtown loop on I-65. This repair has been challenging due to the nature of the repair which will require a complete closure of I-65 and the street below Wedgewood Avenue for multiple weekends. You can imagine all of the community relation’s support with the media and public that have to be relayed well in advance of such a closure. We have to take into account all aspects of such closures including big city events like the Tennessee Titans’ home schedule, rescheduled Rock ‘n’ Roll marathon, etc.
Can you share how you use technology on this project? How has it helped enable your team to be successful?
TDOT, like many DOTs, uses technology for an array of things to develop their contracts. With my role in developing the contracts and being the last line of quality control before it hits the contractors, we use AASHTOWare Project and Bid Express to develop our contracts for lettings. We then place them all into PlanGrid so that our contractors and construction inspectors can view the projects and make comments as needed. Our designers can push revisions quickly out to the field with PlanGrid and keep track of the as-builts.
Technology has essentially provided quicker communication overall. Gone are the days of having to wait on the snail mail or that piece of paper before proceeding with a task.
What makes working on transportation projects unique?
Transportation projects are unique because they are linear projects that affect traffic and commerce. Many of these projects have a long duration with many phases. We have to maintain transportation while, at the same time, make transportation better.
Safety is also a major priority in the Department. We are not only placing our TDOT inspectors in the roadway, but we also have contractors in the field and need to consider the motoring public’s safety.
How we phase traffic control in a project could mean someone’s life.
Transportation projects are also exciting to be a part of. I do enjoy seeing our city and state evolve through transportation. Better transportation means growth for cities and communities in which everyone who works for TDOT has a hand in it.
What has your experience been like working on infrastructure projects during COVID?
My experience with TDOT in the last five months during this pandemic has been positive. When walking into our buildings, we have our temperature checked, mask on, and run through a questionnaire. I think most people are used to this process now and account for that as far as time goes.
This pandemic has also given TDOT the little boost needed to make many of our processes more digital.
We have changed the way we are taking tickets from material suppliers on site. We have imposed contactless ticketing protocols or e-ticketing options for the contractors. Some of our processing for administering a project such as prequalifying a contractor is becoming an electronic process, too.
What is one essential thing that you would take with you on a road trip?
If I was on a personal road trip then I would have to have my GoPro. I love taking photos and videos and capturing the memories.
What’s one place you cannot wait to travel to once things get back to some normalcy?
I can’t wait to travel to San Francisco once normalcy returns and hit some major league ballparks, Golden Gate bridge, and that Pacific Ocean!