An enormous, gated battlement now stands guard on the eastern side of New Orleans. It protects the city's most vulnerable flank from the storm surge of hurricanes. Less than a year old, the barrier already has repelled one invader, Hurricane Isaac, whose raging seas assaulted it last August with a height of about 15 feet, comparable to the effects of Hurricane Katrina, which sacked the city in 2005.
The methodology used to construct the wall that forms the backbone of the barrier was based on a highly detailed and imaginative plan that drew on the creativity and experience of Wayne E. Jones, a project manager at Traylor Bros. Inc. Traylor was the lead company in Traylor-Massman-Weeks LLC, the joint venture selected by prime contractor Shaw Environmental & Infrastructure to build the wall. After TMW won the award, "Mr. Jones," as he is universally known on his jobsites, carried on as lead project manager through an extraordinary project to execute the plan and deliver the wall ahead of schedule, on budget and in time to resist Hurricane Isaac's forces.
For his creativity in planning, skills in execution and leadership of a complex team whose work required precision interfacing with other subcontractors on the Inner Harbor Navigation Channel (IHNC) Storm Surge Barrier in New Orleans, Engineering News-Record has chosen Jones as ENR's Award of Excellence winner for 2013. The monumental, 10,000-ft-long, 26-ft-tall surge barrier built across Lake Borgne was in the crosshairs of Hurricane Isaac, and the city's life depended on the performance of what locals are calling "The Great Wall of New Orleans."
A Keystone Defense
New Orleans is now encircled by newly hardened floodwalls, pump stations, levees and gates. They all defended against Isaac. Lake Borgne is just an open bay facing the Gulf of Mexico, acting as a natural funnel to concentrate an attacking surge and drive it into the city. It has often been called the Achilles' heel of New Orleans.
"My responsibility was to oversee the execution of the construction of the hurricane storm-damage risk-reduction system around the city, and one of the key components was the Lake Borgne surge barrier," says Col. Robert Sinkler, commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Hurricane Protection Office from May 2009 through fall 2012. The HPO managed the construction of the $1-billion barrier, which became the largest design-build job in Corps history. Sinkler led the HPO through almost the whole period of the barrier's construction phase.
"The entire project was enormous. It was a 130-mile wall around the city built on some of the worst soil conditions on the planet. The two-mile Lake Borgne Surge Barrier was in some of the most complex soil conditions that we had," says Sinkler. "Constructing it was like building a huge construction project on Jell-O."
"It was extremely complex … all built on the water," Sinkler continues. "We started in the middle of Lake Borgne and worked toward the shores. It was a tremendous logistical challenge just to get the components on site and delivered as planned."
The Corps chose the Shaw Group—since acquired by CB&I—to develop its competition-winning design for the surge barrier, select subcontractors and manage construction.
The backbone of the barrier was to be a wall assembled from thousands of massive components systematically driven, braced and linked into a monolith. Charlie Hess was Shaw's program manager. "We had a vision of how this wall could be assembled of these pieces," Hess says, adding that Shaw did not know how a contractor would actually go about building it. The answer came in response to a bid invitation, issued in October 2008. TMW's winning response, delivered eight weeks later, included many innovative solutions to construction challenges, based largely on Jones' ideas.
"The Shaw Group had many talented partners and individual contributors to this world-class project, but none was more supportive and instrumental than Wayne Jones," says Hess. "Mr. Jones' quiet but firm leadership quickly added value to the overall execution. Wayne was instrumental in leading the TMW team to exceptional performance. Most importantly, he had a clear vision of construction techniques that were of inestimable value."
"Wayne has spent his whole career in the construction industry trying to solve problems that no one else could solve," says Chris Traylor, co-president of Traylor Bros. "He excels on difficult challenges." As on all his projects, Jones' approach on the wall project was to start with a high-level view to form ideas for possible solutions, then surround himself with experts to work the ideas out in great detail, says Traylor.
"Wayne had conceptualized how he was going to do that job right from the beginning," adds Dave Geddy, Traylor's IHNC project superintendent. "It was totally his baby."
Jones' formal engineering training consists of a drafting course in college and six months in U.S. Army Engineer School, Ft. Belvoir, Va. He emerged as a second lieutenant and then served as a reserve combat engineer until he retired as a Corps captain in 1989. However, his practical experience in construction dates from his childhood, when his father, a hard-driving, Depression era-raised, World War II veteran turned contractor, put him to work on projects, including assigning him to build, alone, a 15-ft by 20-ft brick workshop when he was 13 years old. "I was my father's indentured servant," Jones says. His father inspected the day's work each evening; if he thought it could be done better, he would knock it down and tell Jones to clean the bricks and do it again. He was not allowed to take a summer job until he finished building the shop.