Design-build Coming of Age as a State DOT Contracting Method

AASHTO Journal, 28 October 2011

DETROIT — The design-build form of contracting can reduce risk to transportation agencies, enable more creativity, and produce significant partnerships between the agency and the private sector, according to several chief executives of state departments of transportation. Speakers at a roundtable session at AASHTO’s Annual Meeting in Detroit earlier this month said the use of design-build is becoming a much more common practice now that most states have legislation enabling them to use the contracting process.John Njord, Utah Department of Transportation executive director, was an early proponent of design-build and first used it in conjunction with the reconstruction of Interstate 15 in Salt Lake City prior to the opening of the Olympic Games in 2002. Originally projected to take 10 years, the job was compressed to 4.5 years as a result of using design-build. Since then, Utah has completed 32 projects using the process.

Gregory Whirley, Virginia Department of Transportation commissioner of highways, said his state has been using design-build for projects since 2001. The state’s criteria for using design-build include those projects with a well-defined scope where the schedule can be expedited, the budget is established, a risk analysis has been completed, there has been a prequalification of design-build firms. competitive bidding process is used. and there has been a public finding that design-build is in the best interest of Virginia.

“The best use for VDOT is where specialty or innovative design is needed and we can use the creativity of the private sector,” Whirley said. “We still have some learning we need to do, both in the public and private side. We have formed a good relationship with the construction industry.” Whirley said his agency meets with a design-build committee made up of the contracting industry and others on a regular basis, “looking at procurement rules, how to shorten the process.”

Virginia has used design-build on 33 contracts since 2003 valued at $570 million: 25 active projects worth $482 million, 8 completed for $88 million, four active proposals, and nine projects that will soon hit the street.

“Montana still a lot of learning to do,” when it comes to design-build, according to Tim Reardon, Montana Department of Transportation director. Reardon said that Montana is a large state with a small contracting community. As a result, Montana brought in an advisory council that looked at the issue and proposed a pilot project that was ultimately approved by the state’s General Assembly.

Reardon said Montana has completed three projects using design-build and it is now planning to do six a year. “The process works extremely well for projects that are scheduled in advance such as rest areas. We found them to be beneficial to contractors and ultimately a benefit to the consumer.”

Virginia has become a mentor of sorts for other states interested in learning about the process. Mike Lewis, Rhode Island Department of Transportation director and AASHTO vice president, said his state consulted with Virginia on a process before developing Rhode Island’s first proposal. Ultimately Rhode Island began with a transit station parking garage. Lewis added, “Our view is: Get the best brains together and give us a product that works and can enable us to stretch our tax dollars.”

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