The need for a south freeway in Lincoln, Neb. had been identified more than five decades ago but the project lacked the funding to get past the conceptual stage.
Without the innovation, creativity, and sheer grit of the individuals involved, this asset to the state’s transportation network might have never been started.
The $350 million project constructed by the Nebraska Department of Transportation (NDOT) and Hawkins Construction Company connects U.S. highway 77 and Nebraska highway 2, and it serves the purpose of reducing freight traffic through Nebraska’s capital city.
The finished beltway includes five interchanges, 21 bridges, 41 box culverts, 63 lane miles of roadway, 835,000 square yards of concrete paving, and 8 million yards of excavation. Collectively, it makes up the largest single-contract project in NDOT history.
Before the extensive project began, the project team needed to overcome the initial funding challenge.
NDOT modified its standard bid-build unit price construction contract to allow teams to submit proposals using private, third-party financing. This approach allowed the department to comply with constitutionally obligated pay-as-you-go requirements while accelerating the construction timeline to three years instead of the standard eight to 10 years for projects of a similar scope.
The Hawkins team developed a novel build-financing structure whereby the company accepted construction and finance risk by issuing bonds on a nonrecourse basis to NDOT. The bonds are secured by deferred contract payment certificates issued by NDOT. In turn, Hawkins created a limited liability entity to sell the DCPCs to a bond trustee, who would collect $7.5 million from NDOT each quarter until the beltway is paid off.
Hawkins first had to successfully bring the bonds to market, which nearly did not happen.
The pandemic produced an onslaught of challenges that tested the team’s mind for innovation, and on the day of the planned bond sale in 2020, the market collapsed amid growing economic uncertainty. When the market opened for a single session a few days later, the team managed to successfully close a $237-million agreement.
The pandemic required creative solutions and workarounds to secure the workforce and materials for construction. Hawkins relied on a network of local subcontractors, suppliers, and fabricators, even before the shutdown ensued, and their work proved critical to success.
Partnering with local craftspeople, subcontractors, suppliers, and manufacturers provided the additional benefit of allowing the project to meet and exceed significant milestones with a minimum of supply-chain disruptions.
The team logged more than 300,000 hours of work on the project, and they overcame construction challenges with innovated solutions.
Substantial ground improvements were needed at the interchanges because of large embankments. These improvements included settlement periods, surcharges, over-excavation with stabilization rock, rigid inclusions, and deployment of a large instrumentation package for monitoring ground movements.
A concrete mix that reduced greenhouse gas emissions was another innovative approach.
Luke Ridder, a vice president at Hawkins, said the project's success was a result of teamwork and innovation.
“Winning a Roads & Bridges Top Ten Roads award for the Lincoln South Beltway project is truly a moment of pride for everyone at Hawkins Construction Company,” Ridder said. “This recognition underscores our unwavering commitment to excellence, innovation, and delivering top-tier infrastructure solutions. It's a reflection of the collective effort and dedication exhibited by the entire team throughout the project.”
The team’s dedication made the project more than pavement and steel, and provided a beltway that will provide benefits to traffic flow and the safety of commuters for decades to come. RB
Project Name: Lincoln South Beltway
Project Location: Lincoln, NE
Designer: Nebraska Department of Transportation, Benesch, and Schemmer
Contractors: Hawkins Construction Company
Length: 11 Miles
Completion Date: December 2023