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Innovation in Vertical and Horizontal Construction: Lessons for the Transportation Industry

4. Conclusions and Recommendations

4.1 Conclusions

The presentations, discussions, and visits that took place during the three Scan meetings in New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles, together with the additional discussions among the Scan Team members have led to a number of observations that are summarized below.

There is a major distinction between the vertical construction industry and the horizontal construction industry, which is to a great extent related to the public sector-private sector divide. The key factors that affect the ability of the vertical construction industry and the horizontal construction industry to introduce innovation are the motivations and the regulations that typically drive and govern these two worlds, and they are fundamentally different.

The drivers for introducing innovative technologies, materials, systems and processes in the vertical construction industry are largely related to the profit motive. Also, the vertical construction industry has the flexibility inherent to the private sector, and is not subjected to special regulations regarding contracting and procurement, and risk taking may lead to significant rewards.

In the public horizontal construction industry, the typical motivation of the owner is to be a good custodian of the public funds. Heavy public and special interest group involvement in public projects, and multiple audits by state and federal agencies force the owners to be extra cautious and require high levels of documentation. Also, because public funds are being spent, the prevailing legal framework requires the decomposition of the project delivery process into design, bid, and build phases, and the awarding of the contract to the lowest bidder. Risk is avoided by both owners and contractors, and there is an absence of visible rewards.

A number of findings relate to this fundamental difference. Beyond this dichotomy, it was found that the great majority of recent technological innovations that have been adopted in the vertical construction arena have also been used, when appropriate, in the design and construction of highways. In other words, the perception that the horizontal construction industry is not moving fast and resists change is not justified when it comes to technological innovation.

The Scan Team identified 15 innovative ideas or concepts that the vertical construction industry has successfully implemented, and that have potential for application in highway construction. Three are in the area of information technology, one is about aesthetics, and another is about marketing and communications. The remaining ten innovative ideas that have potential benefits for the design and construction of highways are not about individual technologies but about the project delivery process, contracting, procurement, and associated issues. This may well be the most striking finding of the project.

The 15 innovative ideas identified by the Scan Team are summarized below, and were discussed earlier in the report.

  • Use of 3-D models
  • Use of 4-D models
  • Web-based project management systems
  • Aesthetics
  • Marketing and communications
  • Early contractor involvement
  • Innovation, risk, and reward
  • Process flexibility and opportunity for innovation
  • Ownership of process - roles and responsibilities
  • Project management and project delivery systems
  • Removing barriers to innovation
  • Streamlining
  • Procurement
  • Life-cycle considerations
  • Insurance

4.2 Recommendations

The concepts summarized above could be very beneficial in highway construction. Clearly, the vertical construction industry appears to have found ways to deliver projects efficiently. While these ideas have been successfully implemented in the vertical construction industry only a few of them had been considered to some extent for application in the design and construction of highways.

For each of these innovative and promising ideas to be widely adopted in highway construction, a champion will must be identified to spearhead the formulation of and monitor a pilot deployment designed to test the validity of the concept, and to identify the institutional changes that may be required. One of the tasks of such a champion would be to identify among the state transportation agencies a partner willing to participate in the proposed pilot deployment.

A steering committee should also be set up to coordinate and monitor the collection of pilot deployments, gather and assess data from them, and to disseminate findings. Based on the findings, the steering committee would make appropriate recommendations for widespread implementation.

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Updated: 11/26/2013
Federal Highway Administration | 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE | Washington, DC 20590 | 202-366-4000