As the US population continues to grow, the demand for improving the country’s vast network of aging infrastructure has risen as a topic of national significance. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) estimates that a $4.5 trillion investment will be required to meet basic national needs by 2025.
As one of the nation’s leading civils contractors, Balfour Beatty is uniquely positioned to respond to this watershed opportunity—especially in the Southeast market where the company has maintained a strong and growing pipeline of work for clients such the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) since 1999.
Initially, Balfour Beatty’s market focus in the Southeast centered on bridges. To strategically grow its footprint into new sectors such as roadways and meet the challenges of infrastructure partners with greater cost and schedule certainty, the team recognized a need to develop self-performance capabilities. Coupled with the team’s extensive market knowledge, this pivotal decision has successfully positioned Balfour Beatty as the builder of choice for more than 20 roadway projects in North Carolina valued at nearly $2 billion since 2010.
Navigating a New Business Model
In 2004, Balfour Beatty established a regional civils office in Wilmington, North Carolina. Over the next six years, the team successfully bid, won and constructed noteworthy bridges in the Southeast such as the $39.3 million Trent River Bascule Bridge in New Bern, North Carolina and $67 million Harry S. Truman Pkwy/Vernon River Bridge in Savannah, Georgia while subcontracting earthwork and related disciplines.
To build a more sustainable and diversified business model that included roadways, the team developed a two-fold strategy: investing in top industry talent including a roadway superintendent, forepersons and crews and acquiring a modern and specialized fleet of heavy earthwork equipment.
With these elements in place, the team was primed to officially pursue and bid roadway work. In 2010, the NCDOT awarded Balfour Beatty its first self-performing contract to widen and construct the $28 million Western Parkway in Jacksonville, North Carolina.
As the team honed self-performance techniques, some valuable lessons were learned along the way such as how to identify optimal borrow sources and the most efficient methods for hauling borrow to jobsites. Due to the low land elevation along the North Carolina coast, finding high-quality and reliable sources of borrow was a challenge the Southeast team did not initially anticipate as a new roadway builder.
“We learned to strategically locate borrow sources adjacent to the roadway alignment so we could use off-road dump trucks for a more efficient and cost-effective method for hauling borrow,” recalls Operations Manager Jay Boyd.
With these in-house capabilities, the team has been better positioned to estimate costs, minimize schedule delays and enhance operational efficiencies, creating not only more reliable project outcomes but also substantial cost savings.
“Having our own equipment, rather than renting or subcontracting earthwork, enables us to self-perform key scopes such as hauling and transporting borrow materials, providing clients with a 10%-20% cost savings,” explains Bill Heston, estimating manager.
To date, the team has established a fleet of equipment valued at $45 million, including large off-road dump trucks, excavators, bulldozers, rollers and graders.
As a result, Balfour Beatty can haul a greater percentage of off-road borrow sources than its competitors—a capability that has played a significant role in successfully winning and executing roadway and bridge work in the Southeast region to this day.
A Cut Above
Since 2010, the Southeast team has found much success on large roadway projects, increasing the region’s revenue growth by over 400 percent with an estimated value of $1.7 billion of work.
The team credits its success of becoming the go-to self-performing contractor in the Southeast to three key factors:
1) Developing a proactive strategy for identifying borrow sources
2) Building a fleet of equipment to successfully self-perform earthwork and related disciplines
3) Efficiently managing the lifecycle and schedule of a project
Balfour Beatty has leveraged these competitive advantages to successfully bid and win work on complex roads and bridges projects in the Southeast such as the $124 million Wilmington Bypass, $143 million Maysville Bypass, $167 million Havelock Bypass, $130 million design-build Fayetteville Outer Loop, $95 million Military Cutoff Road Extension, and $203 million design-build James City US 70 upgrades.
To build on these successes, the team recognizes the importance of continuous improvement and remains focused on identifying new and innovative project solutions in service to Balfour Beatty’s clients and partners.
“Had we remained complacent by only building bridges instead of increasing our earthwork capabilities, our revenue growth would be one-fourth of what it is today,” Bill Heston, estimating manager recalls.
It’s often said that the only constant in business is change. As markets change and technologies evolve, businesses must proactively adapt to thrive. And they must do so with the vision and leadership Balfour Beatty’s Southeast team demonstrated over a decade ago, investing in the right capabilities and resources to remain a cut above the competition.