Hawkins Construction Co. President, Mayer Brown Partner, and Two California Projects Receive National Public-Private Partnership Awards

Hawkins Construction Co. President Chris Hawkins, Mayer Brown Partner Mitch Holzrichter, the Sepulveda Transit Corridor in Los Angeles and University of California (UC) Merced have been recognized as models of excellence in innovative transportation leadership and finance, the American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) announced July 15.

The awards were presented during ARTBA’s 33rd Annual Public Private Partnerships (P3s) in Transportation Conference, held virtually July 15-16.

Trailblazer of the Year: Chris Hawkins, President, Hawkins Construction Co., Omaha, Neb. 

This award is given to an individual who has made outstanding contributions to, and advocacy for, the forward progress of P3s in the U.S. transportation industry.

From concept to construction, Hawkins has been a central player in Nebraska’s first ever P3. As the state struggled to accelerate construction of the Lincoln South Beltway, conventional wisdom dictated that speed be sacrificed and the highway built in phases, over a decade or more. Such an approach would have resulted in more traffic congestion, and increased costs because of the double-handling of massive earthwork in multiple contract packages.

Throughout the process, Hawkins analyzed multiple approaches, provided useful feedback to the Nebraska Department of Transportation, and assembled a team to provide answers. The critical players included underwriting, a financial advisor, underwriter’s counsel, and a conduit issuer to develop a model that would allow the simplest solution for NDOT.

Hawkins has put together a team that has already completed over 40 percent of the work in the first season of a 3-year project.

Emerging Leader: Mitch Holzrichter, Partner, Mayer Brown (Chicago)
This year’s recipient demonstrates contribution and advocacy to the forward progress of P3s, and outstanding promise for continuing service and leadership in the future.

Mayer Brown Chicago-based partner Mitch Holzrichter has significant transportation-related achievements stemming from his time in the public and private sectors. He began his legal career at Mayer Brown, where he spent more than six years working on innovative public-private partnership (P3) transportation deals. 

Previously, Holzrichter drafted P3 legislation for Illinois that became the 2011 Public-Private Partnerships for Transportation Act. He spent several years at Mayer Brown working on pioneering P3s, including the privatization of the first major U.S. airport and an innovative bridge/roadway in Indiana and Kentucky.

In 2015, Holzrichter joined Governor Bruce Rauner’s office as deputy general counsel and was promoted to deputy chief of staff for legislative affairs. He advised the governor on the proposed I-55 Managed Lane Project near Chicago, which would become the first toll road P3 in Illinois. He advocated for a resolution in the General Assembly to authorize procurement for the project and worked with Ilinois Department of Transportation and Illinois Tollway to achieve a regional tolling policy.

Holzrichter returned to Mayer Brown in January 2017.

Innovation of the Year: Sepulveda Transit Corridor, Los Angeles

This award spotlights an idea within a P3 project that demonstrates how the development and/or application of new, innovative, and unique management concepts help provide value for users.

The Sepulveda megaproject is a planned 10-mile fixed guideway through challenging geography. More than 400,000 people travel the I-405 freeway through the Sepulveda Pass daily to commute to work, school, and other destinations. The project’s goal is to connect the San Fernando Valley with the Los Angeles Westside and eventually Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) via a high-speed, high-capacity public transit line.

Sepulveda Transit Corridor Partners (STCP) is led by Bechtel Development Company, Meridiam Sepulveda and American Triple I (ATI) as Equity Members, and Bechtel Infrastructure as the Lead Construction Contractor and Lead Engineering Firm.

The project’s new “Office of Extraordinary Innovation” (OEI) includes the post of chief innovation officer, who reports directly to the CEO. This signals that the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) is going to thoughtfully develop and evaluate groundbreaking P3 projects.

In 2016, Metro established a new unsolicited proposal policy to invite innovative ideas for project delivery, and soon after received three unsolicited proposals for delivering the Sepulveda project. Metro worked within procurement regulations to understand the private sector proposers’ ideas and assured them that their ideas were being taken seriously.

After a thorough evaluation of these proposals, Metro solicited bids with the intent of choosing up to two firms as partners. Metro now is contracting with Skyrail and Bechtel partnerships on two separate proposals that are in competition for the prize of designing, building, financing, operating, and maintaining this project once it gets through the environmental process.

Community Impact of the Year: University of California (UC) Merced

This year’s recipient demonstrates economic, philanthropic, or humanitarian benefit to the public and an improved quality of life for the community and/or users of the asset.

Washington, D.C. -based Nossaman LLP is advising UC on a $1.3 billion P3 project that doubled the size of the Merced campus with the addition of new facilities, including student housing, classrooms, recreational facilities, and associated infrastructure. UC Merced is the most diverse university in the state system and is located in an underserved area of California with a large immigrant population. The project serves as a model for future higher education capital projects, both within the UC system and nationally. It was completed on schedule and on budget in June 2020 and was awarded LEED platinum status, making it the first public research university to be certified as carbon neutral.

The project is accommodating growth of the university system’s newest campus from the current 6,700 students to 10,000 students in 2020. Procured as an availability payment based P3, it adds approximately 790,000 assignable square feet of new facilities, including student housing, administrative and research space, classrooms and recreational centers and associated infrastructure.

Established in 1902, ARTBA brings together all facets of the transportation construction industry to responsibly advocate for infrastructure investment and policy that meet the nation’s need for safe and efficient travel. 

For more information visit ARTBA.org