HNTB looks back on more than 20 years of experience to provide project owners with 11 strategies for delivering design-build projects successfully.
In this white paper:
- The benefits of design-build from a DOT’s perspective
- How owners can unknowingly sabotage their own projects
- Bundling smaller projects: an often overlooked application
When time is of the essence, UDOT chooses design-build
If it weren’t for design-build, Salt Lake City may never have hosted the 2002 Olympic Games. A 17-mile stretch of Interstate 15, the main route to every event, was scheduled for reconstruction beginning in 1997. Officials estimated the project would take 10 years, which would knock Salt Lake City out of contention. Motivated by the possibility of hosting the Olympics and by a public mandate to get in and out of the project as quickly as possible, the Utah State Legislature authorized design-build in 1996. In 1997, UDOT implemented the alternative delivery method on I-15 and completed the project in four years.
“Everything you hear about the benefits of design-build, the time savings, smoother delivery, fewer claims, the designer and contractor working as a team, it’s all true from my experience,” said UDOT Project Director Todd Jensen.
Jensen has spent the past 15 years working on Utah’s three largest design-build projects. His current endeavor, the I-15 CORE reconstruction, is a 24-mile beast of a project that adds two lanes in each direction and replaces 63 bridges.
“And, we are doing it in 35-and-a-half-months while maintaining lanes of traffic,” Jensen said. “That’s amazing. Once you get involved with design-build projects, it’s hard to go back.”
Jensen cites constructability as one of the biggest advantages of design-build, second only to speed. In design-build, designers work directly with the crews who will construct the project, so there is more upfront review of what the designers are proposing.
“You get the benefit of all that conversation and innovation at the start,” Jensen said. “The builder isn’t guessing at what he or she has been given. They know every detail.”
Other design-build benefits:
- The price of the program is established early in the process. With design-bid-build, owners don’t know the project’s final cost until after the ribbon cutting.
- The scheduled is fixed at the time of award because competing design-build teams are required to include schedules in their technical proposals. Owners value having solid timelines to announce so early in the project’s life cycle. It confirms their commitment. And, each time the project achieves a schedule milestone, it boosts the agency’s credibility.
- Innovation and streamlined processes often result in cost savings. After the first I-15 project, the design-build team presented UDOT with a check in compliance with the contract’s shared savings clause.
- Of course, the ultimate benefit is providing a facility in record time that increases both level of service and safety.
11 strategies for success
HNTB supports nationwide adoption of design-build because of the innovation it fosters and the time savings that result. The firm actively promotes increased use of design-build in states where it is fully authorized and full adoption in states that allow only partial use or do not authorize it.
In pursuit of that goal, HNTB has served or is serving on numerous design-build teams and as the program management consultant for the I-15 CORE project. Our firm has years of design-build experience. For those agencies launching their first design-build projects or looking to enhance existing programs, we offer 11 best practices:
- Flexibility is the key. Without it, you don’t have design-build. In design-build, owners provide performance-based criteria versus prescriptivebased criteria. Performance metrics specify level of service between point A and point B as opposed to prescriptive metrics that dictate a specific number of traffic lanes, interchanges and grade limits. “When owners adhere to the traditional prescriptive method in design-build, they essentially are sabotaging their own projects,” Jensen said. Prescriptive methods handcuff the interaction between the designer and the contractor and prohibit the owner from realizing the benefits of design-build. “Learning to let go is the biggest struggle a DOT will encounter,” Jensen said. “DOTs are so good at directing, and you really can’t direct in design-build.” The beauty of design-build is the synergy it creates between the designer and a contractor. They work collectively to creatively resolve issues and engineer the best infrastructure solution possible. Instead of impeding that collaboration, owners need to encourage it, giving the design-builder flexibility in how it approaches a project. Having said that, the agency still can maintain a level of approval authority to ensure ultimate control of the project remains in-house. But the day-to-day project details are no longer the DOT’s responsibility. Risk management is a prime example. In designbuild, the project risks are assigned to the party best suited to manage or mitigate them. “If you are going to turn over risks that your department would have traditionally assumed, you’ve got to let the design-builder make decisions on how to best manage them,” Jensen said. “Otherwise, the more you insert yourself into the design-build processes, the more you will be at risk for claims or change orders.” Despite the shift in day-to-day responsibilities, design-build still is a democratic process. It takes all three legs of the stool — the designer, the contractor and the owner — working together for this mechanism to perform correctly.
- Dedicate a team exclusively to the project. Time-critical, complex projects are why owners often choose design-build as the preferred delivery mechanism. So, it makes sense to assemble a team whose singular focused is to make the project happen.
- Empower team members to make decisions. Allowing the design-build team to seize opportunities when they arise and to keep problems from escalating to the owner level also are major project accelerators.
- Agree to make decisions in the best interest of the project, not in the best interest of the owner, contractor or other top-tier stakeholders.
- Partner with a strong program manager. A strong program manager can help fill the resource gaps, providing expertise in evaluating procurement strategies and developing contract documents.
- Collocate team members. Having the agency team, the designer and the contractor under the same roof, on the same floor will further enhance decision making, collaboration and innovation. What’s more, being able to communicate over cube walls versus driving from office to office can result in astronomical time savings. Another best practice, when applicable, is to have a representative from the sponsoring regulatory agency in the project office. Ideally, that person would be dedicated to the project to the point the project would fund his or her position.
- Hold a success management workshop. Here, a third party helps the owner and design-build project team, as well as other key stakeholders, define success, outline project goals and agree on values, such as schedule first, open and honest communication, working for the good of the project, etc. Holding this workshop early in the project’s life cycle can go a long way in generating consensus and avoiding conflicts down the road.
- Tailor project specifications to design-build. Design-bid-build specifications are not wholly transferrable to design-build. During its first design-build project, an agency will want to develop specifications, “copyright” them and carry them forward to the next project. Owners can’t necessarily Xerox those specifications for every design-build project, but they shouldn’t start over from scratch every time, either.
- Hold frequent over-the-shoulder reviews. Owners should meet with the project team frequently to review the design as it develops. Decisions made early in the design process have significant influence on the project’s trajectory. If, for some reason, the owner disagrees with one of those decisions, the issue needs to be addressed early before it becomes too costly to change.
- Establish a process for resolving critical issues. The nature of design-build is to identify and resolve issues early, so the project can progress on schedule and on budget.
- Don’t pigeonhole design-build as a mechanism for only delivering large, complex projects. Missouri’s Safe & Sound Bridge Improvement Program, an aggressive endeavor to repair or rebuild 802 deficient bridges, used design-build to deliver 554 of the new spans under one contract. The design-build team then determined the most efficient implementation approach, as well as how to capitalize on economies of scale and repetition. The team not only reduced the project price, but also allowed Missouri’s DOT to minimize public inconvenience by accelerating construction and limiting bridge closures to just 45 days, on average. The design-build program began in 2009 and is on track to finish by the end of 2012, a year earlier than expected. UDOT used design-build to deliver four, timesensitive road projects — ranging from $30 million to $200 million. The DOT established one set of project documents and then replicated them for all four projects. “You have to look at your goals for the project. If timing and accelerated delivery are important, design-build is, in my opinion, the quickest way to deliver something,” Jensen said. “UDOT doesn’t deliver everything by design-build. But when we have a certain amount of funding that has to be spent in a certain amount of time, and we want to encourage innovation and flexibility, we go design-build.”
For more information about design-build project delivery, consult the following:
Todd Jensen, SE, Utah Department of Transportation
I-15 Corridor Expansion (I-15 CORE)
(801) 341-6407; firstname.lastname@example.org
David Downs, PE, HNTB Corporation
Vice President and National Program Delivery Consultant
(303) 542-2255; email@example.com
Sia Kusha, PE, FACEC, HNTB Corporation
Vice President, HNTB Design Build
(813) 498-5125; firstname.lastname@example.org
John Friel, HNTB Corporation
Director, HNTB Design Build
(517) 333-3330; email@example.com