Best practices and benefits of partnering with a PMC

Considerations for transit owners embarking on large capital programs


The delivery dilemma

Today’s large transit programs are being delivered in an increasingly complex environment. Owners of multiyear, multibillion-dollar transit programs shoulder tremendous expectations of on-time delivery under accelerated timelines, tight budgets, high expectations and stringent funding and regulatory requirements.

Most mega-transit projects rely, at least in part, on federal discretionary funding, primarily the Federal Transit Administration’s Capital Investment Grant program. However, many transit agencies pursue these investments on an infrequent basis and may not have the internal expertise necessary to follow the CIG’s program’s complex requirements, which change periodically. Likewise, FTA regional offices’ oversight of the federal environmental process can vary from region to region.

Understanding FTA expectations at the national and regional office levels is key to successfully securing CIG funding; indeed, expert knowledge of the breadth of all of the multimodal USDOT discretionary programs established under the Investment in Infrastructure and Jobs Act (IIJA) opens up a wide array of funding opportunities.  Further, local transit capital programs can span multiple neighborhoods and jurisdictions — each with a different set of needs and expectations. Constituents want significant input, greater social equity, transparency and minimal disruption during construction.

Adding to those complexities, owners may lack the workforce or in-house expertise necessary to deliver a large transit program. Further, they may not be interested in hiring permanent staff.

One solution to delivering bold, transformative programs in today’s complex environment is to partner with an experienced program management consultant. HNTB is serving — or has successfully served — as PMC on some of the nation’s largest, most complex transit initiatives, including:

BART’s Link21 transbay connection,Northern California

Brightline Passenger Rail System, Florida

Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority BART Silicon Valley Phase II Extension

Chicago Transit Authority Red Line Extension

Pace’s advanced arterial bus transit corridor pilot program, Chicago

M-1 RAIL’s QLINE Streetcar, Detroit

Metropolitan Council’s Bus Rapid Transit Gateway Corridor, St. Paul, Minnesota

Utah Transit Authority Capital Program Management

Metro’s VIA bus transit system, San Antonio, Texas

From those projects and programs, as well as others, HNTB has amassed a list of best practices for creating an optimal partnership. Below are four of them:

1. Understand the dynamics of the relationship.

A program management consultant works under a fee-for-future model, where the mission is to ensure the program’s success as well as the agency’s success in delivering future programs. In this arrangement, the owner/consultant relationship is elevated to a more sophisticated partnership, where the PMC serves on behalf of the owner’s best interests. In return, the program owner treats the PMC as an extension of staff. The result is a seamless one-team, one-mission atmosphere that enhances communication and decision-making.

2. Seek a multidisciplined team.

Instead of engaging in multiple contracts with multiple consultants, the owner engages a single, multidisciplined partner. To save the owner time and money, the PMC simply taps into its reserve of expertise and resources and engages specialists as needed and releases them when their roles are completed.

A multidisciplined PMC can:

Assist in defining and managing the program’s framework, scope, master schedule and budget

Perform all documentation, procurement and contract packaging

Identify the most effective, efficient delivery method

Serve as a repository for all program knowledge

Anticipate, prioritize and mitigate risk

Develop maintenance of traffic strategies to keep traffic moving, motorists safe and businesses open during construction

Offer training to transit agency staff to better prepare them for future program management functions

Ensure contractor performance with a set of robust project controls

Facilitate conflict resolution, reduce contractor claims and speed closeout

Advise on complex state and federal compliance issues

Position the program for success in FTA’s CIG program and other funding opportunities provided for by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act

Establish and maintain stakeholder and public outreach campaigns

Seek opportunities for the program to increase social justice, encourage transit-oriented development, provide training and create new jobs

Optimize the testing, commissioning and delivery plans of the expansion to facilitate a smooth transition into service

In short, the PMC partner is on-hand from inception through delivery, providing continuity, strategic counsel and stewardship to ensure the program achieves all the owner’s objectives and exceeds public expectations.

3. Ask the right questions.

Transit agencies may want to incorporate the following questions into their interviews and evaluations when retaining a PMC. The answers can offer valuable insights into the candidate firm’s character and capabilities.

What external relationships does the PMC have that can help smooth the program’s path to completion? Owners face an increasingly complex network of governmental entities and interest groups that must be navigated with great care. The desirable candidate will have extensive experience working with all levels of elected officials, municipalities, regulatory agencies, the FTA, the state department of transportation, local government agencies, etc. Further, the right PMC will know each stakeholder agency’s processes from start to finish and how to secure approvals as expediently as possible.

Does the PMC reflect the agency’s values? Partnering with an outside firm means working closely with its team day in and day out over several years until the program is successfully delivered. It’s a substantial commitment and one the agency wants to get right. In a successful partnership, the PMC’s overall thought processes, approaches and work ethic should align with those of the owner to increase compatibility and foster a collaborative, productive work environment.

Does the PMC have a history of success? Choosing a firm and team that have successfully delivered complex, challenging programs is key. A successful PMC will bring lessons learned and experience managing and mitigating complex risks. They will stress transparency, present solutions for minimizing inconvenience to the public and have a track record of successfully working with government agencies. Their priority will be to understand the needs and expectations of the agency and the public, so they can exceed them.

Does the candidate specialize in transit? An experienced PMC that focuses on serving the transit industry can help the owner meet guidelines for securing CIG and other FTA/U.S. Department of Transportation competitive funding. They also will bring decades of best practices, lessons learned and insights to the table to benefit the program financially, politically and logistically.

Has the PMC learned from past mistakes? An open, transparent PMC will discuss how lessons learned from previous projects have improved its process and the program’s opportunities for successful delivery.

Is the candidate a skilled listener? Listening is one of the most important qualities a PMC can possess. Understanding what is important to the owner and the public is critical because it helps the PMC deliver a program that exceeds expectations.

How does the firm approach Disadvantaged Business Enterprises and social justice? A desirable PMC not only proactively partners with and mentors small and minority business enterprises on the program, but the firm also embraces social justice and equity internally to strengthen its community and affect generational change.

How does the candidate firm define mobilization? Often, owners see gradual ramp-ups of their programs because program management consultants view mobilization in the wrong light. Mobilization is not the start of a program. It is a continuation of the PMC’s work, the day when it finally activates the program team, resources and plan it has spent months developing. A fast, effective ramp-up is a good indication the PMC has taken ownership of its role.

4. Bring the PMC in early.

Retaining a PMC during the early stages of a program provides the greatest opportunity for an agency to leverage the PMC’s experience and resources and mitigate risks early. When the owner hires the PMC too late in the program’s life cycle, the agency may find that it must backtrack and redo tasks, which eats into resources, schedule and budget.

Further, early selection and onboarding provide an opportunity for the owner and its new partner to establish trust, identify talent and resource gaps and lay a foundation for success together.

An investment in success

During a time when program environments are more complex than ever – and program scopes, schedules and budgets are more ambitious than ever, choosing the right PMC can yield a tremendous return on investment. Owners who employ these best practices will experience multiple benefits, key among them, a quality transit asset delivered within budget and on time.


Pranaya Shresta, PE

Senior Program Manager
HNTB Corporation

Shrestha has successfully completed major transit projects in Denver, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, Orlando and Seattle. He has more than 30 years of experience successfully managing the design, construction, integration and testing programs on major commuter and light rail projects. His knowledge includes multiple alternative delivery methods, including design-bid-build, design-build, construction manager/general contractor, design-build-operate-maintain and public-private partnership projects. Before joining HNTB, Shrestha served as senior program manager for Denver’s Regional Transportation District.

Contact him at

Sean Libberton

National Transit Practice Consultant
HNTB Corporation

Sean has 29 years of experience serving the transit industry, including more than 20 years at the Federal Transit Administration. He managed FTA’s Office of CIG Project Planning and Analysis and served as deputy associate administrator for the Office of Program Management. Most recently, Sean has been serving as a strategic adviser for several HNTB program management consultant teams. He has helped provide project development guidance and secure funding for rail projects, such as major transit capital investments

Contact him at