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Current Design-Build Practices for Transportation Projects

21. Major Lessons Learned

21.1 Select the Appropriate Project

Design-build is not the appropriate project delivery system for all projects. For many projects, the traditional design-bid-build project delivery system is still the most appropriate method. Contracting agencies should consider the following questions: What are my goals? Considering cost, time and quality, is design-build the right choice for this project?

The Florida DOT's design-build final evaluation for July 1996 - June 2003 provides the following guidance for design-build project selection:

Design-build should be considered for following types of projects:

  1. Projects that demand an expedited schedule and can be completed earlier.
  2. Projects that require minimum right of way acquisition and utility relocation.
  3. Projects that can have a well defined scope for all parties (design & construction)
  4. Projects that have room for innovation in the design and/or construction effort.
  5. Projects with low risk of unforeseen conditions.
  6. Projects with low possibility for significant change during all phases of work.
  7. Projects with well-defined, non-complex environmental permitting requirements.

Examples of projects that may be good Design-Build contracting candidates:

  1. Major Bridges
  2. Minor Bridges
  3. ITS (computer signalized traffic)
  4. Intersection improvements (with known utilities)
  5. Buildings, office buildings, rest areas, welcome stations, pedestrian overpasses (minor bridge), etc.
  6. Interstate widening
  7. Rural Widening
  8. Fencing
  9. Landscaping
  10. Lighting
  11. Sidewalks
  12. Signing
  13. Signalization
  14. Guardrail

Examples of projects that may not be good Design-Build contracting candidates are listed below: Use of Design-Build contracting on these types of projects requires written approval by the State Roadway Design Engineer:

  1. Major bridge rehab/repair with significant unknowns
  2. Rehabilitation of movable bridges
  3. Urban construction/reconstruction with major utilities, major subsoil problems, major R/W requirements, complex environmental permitting requirements, or other major unknowns

Note: The above examples of inappropriate projects assume the risk is being transferred to the Design-Build firm. The risk to the Design-Build firm can be reduced by the owner agreeing to manage all or part of this risk.

21.2 Clearly Define the Scope of Work

One of the most important factors for the success of a design-build project is the ability of the contracting agency to adequately define the scope of work in the RFP document. Significant cost overruns may occur in situations where the scope was not clear and the contracting agency must modify the contract after award. It is critical that the owner and all of the proposers have a clear concept of the scope of work. The contracting agency's various functional requirements should be coordinated and clearly defined in the RFP (design criteria, maintenance and operational criteria).

21.3 Consider Risk Allocation

Depending on the project size, complexity and location, the contracting agency should carefully evaluate its proposed method of allocating risk for a given project. Risk is best delegated to the party that is in the best position to manage, control or mitigate a given risk. Closely related to the scope of work, risk allocation is also an important criteria in determining the success of design-build. For a short list of risk allocation factors to consider see (23 CFR 636.114).

21.4 Set Aside Traditional Relationships

In addition to project selection criteria, the contracting agency must also consider setting aside traditional business relationships. When developing the design criteria and RFP requirements, the agency must consider that it is no longer the designer of record. The contracting agency's function should be re-focused from strict specification compliance to verifying compliance with the terms the RFP document. The contracting agency must consider the contractual responsibilities of design-builder in meeting the design, construction and operational requirements.

21.5 Select the Best Design-Builder

Consider the following steps in selecting the best team for a given project:

a) use a two-phase selection process (phase one - the development of a short list based on qualifications; phase two - the selection of the design-builder based on the technical and price proposals).

b) define the RFP requirements that must be met as a condition of responsiveness; use criteria that differentiate the quality of the different proposers as rating / selection criteria.

c) clearly define the RFQ and RFP evaluation factors , their relative weights and how these criteria will be used in selecting the successful firm.

d) use both price and non-price factors for the selection criteria.

d) conduct a balanced review and evaluation of the price and technical proposals using contracting agency staff with the appropriate expertise, and if appropriate, consider the use of non-agency evaluators to balance the selection panel.

e) to the extent practical, use performance specifications that provide proposers with the opportunity to implement design, constructability and operational innovations. Ensure acknowledgement of key requirements. Note elements where variation is allowed, but clearly note where alternates are not acceptable.

f) pay stipends to responsive proposers to partially offset higher proposal preparation costs, thus encouraging competition.

21.6 Select the Agency's Best Design-Build Team

Recognizing that design-build projects are often fast-paced, schedule-driven projects, select the contracting agency's project manager and supporting team carefully. Since all project information and related decisions must be coordinated through the agency's project manager, this individual will have a key role in determining the success of the project.

21.7 Consider Warranties or Operational Requirements

In allocating risk and developing an appropriate scope of work, consider the cost effectiveness of warranties or operational requirements. With the appropriate contractual incentives, the proposers will need to consider life-cycle costs in their design and construction quality control plans.

Florida DOT Design-Build Lessons Learned (Jan 2005)

The most important lesson learned is that someone has to be in charge. This person, usually the Project Manager, must be responsible and accountable, with the ability to make decisions based on what is best for the project and owner.

If the Design-Build firm has the flexibility to modify the preliminary (30%) design and still meet the scope and requirements of the RFP without sacrificing safety and life cost of the final product, the Department receives an equal or better end result. Further, if these modifications result in no additional cost or increase in time, then this is a win-win situation for all parties involved. The Design-Build Firm must build what they propose in their Technical Proposal. They have the right to make adjustments if it involves their means and methods.

Everyone takes a more proactive role in the success of the project; from the Project Manager to the subcontractors. Because everyone has a stake in the success of the project, a sense of ownership prevails. Design- Build projects are more superior to any other method used, since there are less over runs in quantities, there are inspectors spending less time measuring and documenting quantities.

Reviews of some recent Design-Build projects indicate that an emphasis on the following issues may help ensure a successful Design-Build project:

  • Pick the right project for Design-Build. Projects must be well defined, with no right-of-way acquisition required and no outstanding environmental or permeability issues.
  • Pick the right team. The selection process must be carefully structured to select the best-qualified team.
  • Prepare a clear and concise request for proposal. The scope must cover all desired work requirements. A firm's technical proposal is a commitment (Book of Promises). If changes by the D-B firm are made (and it is not means/methods related), a contractual adjustment is warranted. Do not allow "flowery" and "non-descriptive" commitments in a proposal. The Department should clarify these issues during the Q and A to eliminate disagreements later on.
  • Allow for contingencies to cover unforeseen conditions.
  • Submit adequate component plans sets.
  • Allow adequate time for plan reviews.
  • Process all information and decisions through the FDOT Project Manager.
  • Recognize that communications is the key. Frequent project meetings with the FDOT Project Manager, contractor, designer, CEI and other interested parties are necessary.
  • Document all actions and decisions.
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Updated: 06/27/2017
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