Heavy Construction Chairholder Chris Harper paves the way for infrastructure renewal

Chris Harper, CM faculty memberChris Harper, associate professor in Colorado State University’s Department of Construction Management, is wrapping up his first year as Heavy Construction Chair. Established in 2008, the Heavy Construction Management Endowed Chair is a permanent faculty position created through donations by industry members.

Harper recognizes that heavy construction is a sector that will require extensive rehabilitation and replacement as the nation’s transportation infrastructure, electrical transmission, and water/wastewater systems continue to age beyond their life expectancies. He hopes to use the role to be a contributor and influencer in the field.

Harper is optimizing his appointment to engage in teaching, research, and service in heavy civil/construction management. “As the Heavy Construction Management Chair, I envision leveraging the position to enhance the department’s heavy construction curriculum, explore major transportation and heavy construction funding and grants, and continue to provide service to the heavy construction industry,” he said.

Teaching highlights

I-25 North expansion paving project with workers and heavy equipment
Site tour of I-25 North expansion paving project

During the 2022-2023 academic year, Harper successfully coordinated heavy civil job site visits for students in the Introduction to Construction Management course. Kraemer North America is the contractor for the I-25 North expansion project, a design-build project in Loveland and Fort Collins. About 15 students each semester attended each job site visit, where they investigated safety and quality management. The students recorded information and took pictures, which are then posted in a discussion board.

Students in hard hats on I-25 North expansion project site tour
Students in PPE on site tour of I-25 North expansion project

Two master’s students, advised by Harper and now graduated, developed and presented posters in January 2023 at the 102nd Transportation Research Board annual conference in Washington, D.C. The first poster explored the uses of un-crewed aircraft vehicles for heavy civil construction projects. The second covered research on the responsibilities and technical competencies for highway construction inspectors.

Enhancing heavy construction through research

Harper served as the lead investigator for two heavy construction management-related research projects completed in the past year. The National Cooperative Highway Research Program Project 23-05 is now published as NCHRP Report 1027 Guide to Recruiting, Developing, and Retaining Transportation Infrastructure Construction Inspectors. The report focuses on the development of the construction inspection workforce for transportation projects, which includes tools, recommendations, and strategies for recruitment, education, core competencies, training, certification, and retention.

Additionally, NCHRP Project 20-06/Topic 26-05: Legal Issues and Practices in Using Best Value Selection is currently in the process of being published. This report dives into the legal complications experienced by transportation agencies when procuring a contractor to design and construct a project using best value selection. The digest includes strategies to overcome legal issues and recommendations to eliminate or avoid legal issues altogether.

As a co-lead, Harper was part of a team awarded NCHRP Project 10-119: Guidance for Implementing Utility Investigations in Alignment with Project Delivery. Harper’s role will be to assist with data collection and developing project deliverables. This project will kick off in late summer 2023.

Harper has specific goals for the years ahead. He wants to develop a construction workforce center to support the development of construction and craft professionals in the heavy civil sector of the construction industry. To this end, he submitted a comprehensive proposal for the United States Department of Transportation’s University Transportation Center program.

Harper was invited to participate in a Tier 1 UTC proposal, teaming with the University of Kentucky and the Kentucky Transportation Center, the University of Memphis, the University of Louisville, and Texas Southern University. The proposal included three major research initiatives: Workforce Recruitment and Retention; Innovative Training, Workforce, and Professional Development; and Knowledge Management. Although the proposal wasn’t funded, the U.S. DOT UTC will re-release a Regional UTC competition later this year and Harper is in discussions with collaborators about how to strategize for a re-submission.

Service to the industry

In July 2022, Harper was invited by Kiewit Construction Company to attend a construction faculty open house at Kiewit’s new regional headquarters in Lone Tree, Colorado. Kiewit is one of the largest heavy construction contractors, eager for well-prepared graduates to join their team, so the discussions explored how to build a better heavy construction management curriculum for higher education students enrolled in construction-related disciplines.

Harper was also invited to speak at three conferences in the past academic year, all related to the heavy civil sector of construction. In August 2022, he presented on transportation construction inspection workforce development to the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials Committee on Construction Annual Meeting in Bellevue, Washington.

In October 2022, Harper addressed transportation construction inspectors at the 74th Annual Ohio Transportation and Engineering Conference, in Columbus, Ohio. Finally, in February 2023, he presented on the transportation construction inspection workforce to the asphalt industry at the 50th Annual Rocky Mountain Asphalt Conference and Equipment Show at the National Western Complex in Denver, Colorado.

Harper continues his engagement with Transportation Research Board and associated committees. He is a member of the AKC10 Standing Committee on Construction Management and the AKC10 Standing Committee on the Construction of Bridges and Structures. He also continues to serve as the committee research coordinator for AKC10.

“I am also a friend of several other TRB committees,” said Harper. “And I continue to be an affiliate member with the AASHTO Committee on Construction’s Safety, Environmental, and Workforce Development Committee, helping develop research need statements, and fostering new research ideas that I pass along to the AKC10 Committee within TRB for further discussions and development.”

Harper discussed his educational path, mentors, and connections to industry in an episode of the College of Health and Human Sciences research podcast, Health and Human Science Matters. Listen on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or Google Podcasts.

The Department of Construction Management is part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.