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

July 2005
Publication No. FHWA-IF-05-025
Submitted to:

  • Paul Domich, NIST
  • Ian Friedland, FHWA

Table of Contents


Innovation is the key that will make or break the U.S. highway industry, as it attempts to meet the anticipated demands and challenges inherent in providing a functional, efficient, and safe surface transportation system both in the short and long term. With an aging infrastructure, increasing traffic demand, and higher level of expectation by the traveling public, those of us involved in the delivery, management, and operation of our surface transportation infrastructure must rely more and more on innovations in technology, whether they are hard-side innovations (e.g., new rapid construction bridge systems or improved pavement mixes) or soft-side innovations (e.g., improved project management and finance approaches).

However, innovations by and of themselves, will not solve our transportation problems. Innovations must be adapted and adopted in order to suit the needs of a wide spectrum of transportation project personnel and institutional situations. The development, adaptation, and adoption of innovative approaches and technologies is in itself a complex process, and one worthy of study and assessment to see if the process can be made more efficient and effective. That, in essence, was the intent of the study conducted by the Civil Engineering Research Foundation (CERF) on behalf of the Federal Highway Administration's (FHWA) Office of Infrastructure, that is documented in this report.

With it's strong ties to the vertical (low and high-rise building) construction industries, CERF was able to open the doors and help FHWA examine how innovation occurs within the vertical construction industry. In addition, we were able to gather some very important and interesting innovative approaches which the vertical construction world uses to finance, manage, and deliver construction projects. Some of these ideas may be difficult to implement in public-sector construction; others may have direct applicability today. All of the ideas discussed in this report, however, have had a positive impact on the vertical construction world and are worth additional discussion and possible adoption as we try to innovate for the future in our delivery of a national surface transportation program to better serve the mobility needs of the nation.

King W. Gee
Associate Administrator for Infrastructure
Federal Highway Administration


The backdrop for the exchange of ideas which led to this study and report was the Corporate Advisory Board of CERF/ASCE where the pursuit of innovation in the design, construction, and maintenance industry is central to our mission. At the time, Dr. Charles Thornton, of Thornton-Tomasetti, was chairman of the Board and a key participant in the discussion leading to the concept of exchange between the vertical and horizontal construction sectors. The discussion started with the notion that the processes by which the vertical industry identifies and embraces innovation were likely quite different from the equivalent processes in the road and bridge industry, and that we should compare and contrast them to look for cross-over potential.

There was a certain presumption in this discussion that the most salient ideas with potential for transference would be found in processes for selection of construction means, methods, and materials. Our quest commenced with this premise.

In each of the city visits, when the discussions became focused in order to distill the lessons from the exchange, we found the dominant themes were construction delivery method choices and related procurement method choices; and capacity and skill of the project management team, including the owner component. Means, methods, and materials issues were consistently ranked second or below. In reflecting on this as a group the conclusion was that the team members saw higher return on investment in improving the choices for procurement and delivery methods (negotiated, best value, design-build, etc.) and in improving project management.

The last word (in this preface, at least) should go to Charles DeBenedittis, Senior Vice President with Tishman-Speyer, Inc., New York, and emeritus leader of the vertical industry owner/developer community. At the New York City meeting he was asked how the vertical industry team encourages innovation. His response was: "It's all in the way we get to the price for the construction - we put everyone on the team early in the design phase when change is least expensive, and we ask for all the ideas and solutions to be put on the table; we make sure the team understands our objectives for the project, and we keep talking and deciding.....talking and deciding.....until we all understand what is in the final scope and what is in the price."

Civil Engineering Research Foundation

Executive Summary

It is a common perception in the highway construction industry that new ideas and technologies are rather slow to be adopted and widely used. Meanwhile, skyscrapers get taller, and buildings significantly larger and more complex - leading to the appearance that the vertical construction industry innovates and adopts new practices much more rapidly in order to achieve these major advances.

In order to look at the methods used by the vertical construction industry to innovate and adopt new ideas, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) initiated a domestic technology scan focused on vertical construction practices. The scan project was modeled after the very successful international technology scanning program jointly sponsored by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) and the FHWA. The project was facilitated by the Civil Engineering Research Foundation (CERF) through a series of meetings, visits, and discussions with leaders of the vertical construction world. The objective of this Vertical Construction Scan project was to identify and understand the methods by which innovative technologies, processes, and methods come about and are implemented in the vertical construction arena.

A Steering Committee comprised of senior professionals thoroughly familiar with the horizontal and vertical construction industries and with experience in both the public and private sectors provided direction and guidance to the project. A Scan Team, representing AASHTO, State transportation agencies, the National Association of County Engineers (NACE), industry, and FHWA was assembled. Four members of the Scan Team were selected for their involvement in AASHTO technical committees (Design, Bridges, Construction, and the Technology Implementation Group). The Team was supported by a representative of the Prestressed/Precast Concrete Institute and the CEO of a leading building structural design firm.

CERF planned, organized and conducted three two-day scan trips to New York City (July 8-9, 2004), Chicago (August 5-6, 2004), and Los Angeles (September 22-23, 2004). The Scan Team met and had in-depth discussions with key executives, decision-makers, and managers associated with a number of internationally-known vertical construction companies and organizations, and was given access to a number of unique, cutting-edge projects and facilities.

The discussions clearly showed that 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 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. The vertical construction industry also has the flexibility typically inherent to the private sector, and is not subjected to regulations regarding contracting and procurement as is commonly found in public sector construction. In addition, the vertical construction industry is not averse to risk taking, which may lead to significant rewards (profits).

In the primarily public horizontal construction industry, the typical motivation of the owner is to be a good custodian of the public funds. Because public funds are being spent, the prevailing legal framework requires the decomposition of the project delivery process into three phases - design, bid, and build - and contract award to the lowest bidder. Risk is typically avoided by both owners and contractors, and there is often an absence of visible rewards.

A number of findings of the Scan Team relate to this fundamental difference. However, it was found that the great majority of recent innovations that have been adopted in the vertical construction arena have also been used, in limited instances, 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 horizontal construction. Three are in the area of information technology, one concerns aesthetics, and another deals with 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 including contracting, procurement, and associated issues.

The 15 innovative ideas identified by the Scan Team are summarized below.

Use of 3-D Modeling - 3-D modeling software can be used to more accurately model and detail construction projects. A 3-D model defines and communicates the architect's design vision to the various stakeholders and is a unique digital document that can be used for all phases of design, procurement, construction, and operation. A major benefit of using 3-D digital representations of projects is the ability to communicate graphical project information to all. A 3-D model can be used for design, analysis, and fabrication, and can help detect conflicts, interferences, and incompatibilities at an early stage, achieve improved tolerances and quality, and reduce change orders and rework. They serve all stakeholders involved throughout the life of a project and facilitate cooperation among them.

Use of 4-D Models - The 4-D computer modeling process integrates 3-D modeling with time. The 4-D software generates a sequence of configurations of the project representing its status through time, as determined from the schedule and the 3-D model, thus creating an animation of the construction process. 4-D modeling allows communicating actual construction sequences and can help detect constructability problems, interferences among trades or subcontractors, and interference between moving equipment and on-going activities. Anticipating and addressing such problems contributes to safety on the construction site, and enhances coordination among subcontractors and between the owner's operations and construction.

Web-based Project Management Systems - Web-based project management systems use project collaboration software to provide access for all parties (design consultants, contractors, subcontractors, managers, and others) on a large construction project to a secure, project-specific website or collaboration space in order to conduct all daily project management and administrative activities. The main benefits of such systems are increased productivity, reduced cycle time, and elimination of multiple iterations of the work process for project management, RFI processing, and invoice submittal, processing, and payment operations by allowing the members of a geographically distributed group to interact as if they were co-located. The use of web-based communications provides immediate access to accurate and complete project status.

Aesthetics - Aesthetic enhancement of projects increases their attractiveness and desirability, can serve to establish the identity of a district or city, and represent a statement of its spirit. Furthermore, much of the aesthetics features of most projects can be enjoyed by the general public, and aesthetics thus contributes to the quality of life.

Marketing and Communications - The success of many projects depends on funding and public support, which in turn often depends on how communication with the public, elected officials, decision makers, and the media is handled. Successful communication techniques stress the need for establishing and maintaining credibility, communicating the value of the project, ensuring that media coverage is more help than hindrance, avoiding mission expansion, and building a sense of pride and ownership.

Early Contractor Involvement - A contractor brought on the project team early in the process can assist in suggesting and evaluating design, finish, and construction process alternatives, and in reviewing the design for constructability and completeness. The project also benefits from the contractor's knowledge of current and projected market and pricing conditions, including labor, material, and equipment availability.

Innovation, Risk, and Reward - For the risk of introducing an innovation to be taken, it is necessary that a potential reward, of sufficient value, exist.

Process Flexibility and Opportunity for Innovation - For innovation to be considered, it is necessary that the contracting and procurement rules provide sufficient flexibility.

Ownership of Process - Roles and Responsibilities - With alternative project delivery systems such as Design/Build and Construction Manager at Risk, project teams are typically formed early in the process to work together to meet project goals. All the members of the project team have the opportunity throughout the life of the project to provide input, suggest improvements, introduce innovations, and contribute to the solution of unanticipated problems. Each team member has a stake in the successful completion of the project. These factors lead to the creation of a sense of commitment to, and pride in the project, of accomplishment, and of ownership of the process.

Project Management and Project Delivery Systems - Project delivery systems such as Design/Build and Construction Manager at Risk typically use the concept of a project management team in charge of a project from beginning to end, which enhances cooperation among the project team members and tends to foster innovation, cost effective solutions, and speedy project delivery. This provides better management continuity and knowledge of the project, including decisions and commitments. Such teams often use the most advanced project management techniques and risk management concepts to benefit the project.

Removing Barriers to Innovation - Barriers to innovation are numerous. They include the distrust that may exist between the contractor and owner's representative, concerns for the safety of the public and for potential liability, the lengthy process of proving the safety of a proposed innovation, resistance to change, and the fear of taking risks. To foster innovation, a change is required in the prevailing attitude of risk avoidance.

Streamlining - Streamlining in the areas of construction-ready design documents, commissioning, and all-inclusive insurance policies may lead to substantial cost and schedule reductions, and quality enhancements.

Procurement Methods - Design/Build and other alternate project delivery systems can deliver compelling and substantial benefits.

Life-cycle Considerations - The durability and long-term viability of building projects is extremely important to owners. For widespread acceptance of life-cycle cost innovations, it is imperative to establish a sound economic rationale for decision-making, and to define and place realistic costs on indirect, but very real, costs such as user delays, traffic interruption, accidents on detours, and the like.

Insurance- Insurance coverage and loss control activities are planned and pre-selected elements of risk mitigation. "Wrap up" insurance or an owner-controlled insurance program may provide cost savings, and remove a potential barrier to collaboration, especially during the planning and design phases.

For each of these innovative and promising ideas to be widely adopted in highway construction, a champion must be identified to spearhead the formulation and monitor a pilot deployment designed to test the validity of the concept, and 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 implementation.

A steering committee should be set up to coordinate and monitor the pilot implementations, gather data from them, summarize and disseminate the findings, and then make appropriate recommendations for widespread implementation.


The development of this report was facilitated by the Civil Engineering Research Foundation (CERF) under the sponsorship of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Office of Infrastructure. The work was conducted under a funding agreement through the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), Contract #50SBNB0C1018. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this report are those of CERF and do not necessarily reflect the views of the FHWA or NIST.

The Civil Engineering Research Foundation and its staff assigned to this project wish to thank the individuals and organizations that have made it possible for the three Scan trips and meetings to successfully take place. Their valuable contributions are gratefully acknowledged.

In New York City, Dr. Jeremy Isenberg, Ph.D., P.E., CEO of Weidlinger Associates, Inc., kindly provided the meeting space and actively contributed to the meeting's discussions. The help of his assistant, Ms. Helen Pelekanos, with the logistics of the meeting is very much appreciated. David Palmer, P.E. Principal of ARUP, led the Local Organizing Committee and assembled a roster of distinguished speakers. Ms. Nancy Hamilton (ARUP), Mr. John Reed (Bechtel Corp.), and Mr. Glen Hughes (New York Times Co.) assisted with the arrangements and conducted the field visits of the Jamaica Station, Air Train, JFK Airport Terminal 4, and New York Times Building mock-up visits.

In Chicago, Mr. William Baker, P.E., S.E. (Principal, SOM) kindly provided the meeting space, led the Local Organizing Committee, and assembled a roster of distinguished speakers. His colleague Mr. John Viise, S.E., P.E. (Structural Engineer) was extremely helpful in making arrangements for the meeting and for the field visit of Soldier Field and of the One South Dearborn building construction project. Mr. Joe Dolinar (Lohan Caprile Goettsch) guided the Soldier Field visit. Mr. Trey Maclin (SOM) provided effective support and assistance regarding the logistics of the meeting.

In Los Angeles, Mr. Ed McSpedon, P.E. (Vice-President, HNTB) led the Local Organizing Committee and assembled a roster of distinguished speakers. He was assisted by his colleague Mr.Tony Gonzales. Mr. Gerry Seelman (Vice-President, DMJM-Harris / AECOM) kindly provided the meeting space, and Ms. Maria Suarez (DMJM-Harris / AECOM) helped with the meeting logistics. Ms. Rebecca Woelke (Frank O. Gehry Partners) assisted with the arrangements for the site visit to the Frank Gehry Partners Studios and Ms. Lorraine Robles provided effective support and assistance regarding the logistics of the meeting. Jim Glymph (Frank O. Gehry Partners) conducted the visit to the Frank Gehry Partners Studios and arranged for meetings with and presentations by Mr. Malcolm Davies (Gehry Technologies) on their new software platform. Mr. Terry Dooley, (Morley Construction, retired) guided the field visit of the Los Angeles Cathedral, and Mr. Marc Kersey (Clark Construction) that of the Caltrans District 7 Headquarters.

CERF also wishes to thank the numerous speakers and participants who have contributed to meaningful and enlightening discussions:

Lunch speakers

  • Gil Garcetti, author of Iron: Erecting the Walt Disney Concert
  • Frank Lombardi, Port Authority New York and New Jersey
  • Henri Petroski, Duke University


  • William Baker, SOM
  • Frankee Banerjee, former Chief, Los Angeles Department of Transportation
  • Tim Buresh, Los Angeles Unified School District
  • Joe Burns, Thornton-Tomasetti
  • Jim Connell, Los Angeles Unified School District
  • William Cook, URS
  • James Dall, New York Dormitory Authority
  • Joe Dolinar, Lohan Caprile Goettsch
  • Charles DeBenedittis, Tishman-Speyer
  • Kristine Fallon, Kristine Fallon Associates, Inc
  • Nancy Hamilton, ARUP
  • Owen Hata, Nabih Youssef & Associates
  • Alice Hoffman, Hoffman Management Consultants
  • Jeremy Isenberg, Weidlinger Assoc., Inc.
  • Tom Kerwin, SOM
  • Jim Lammie, Parsons Brinckerhoff
  • Jon Magnusson, Magnusson-Klemencic
  • Matt McDole, E-470 and ASCE Transportation & Development Institute
  • Ed McSpedon, HNTB
  • Bill Moody, The John Buck Company
  • John Padoven, Bentley Systems
  • Dave Palmer, ARUP
  • Robert Parkridge, Smith-Emery
  • David Scott, ARUP
  • Gerry Seelman, AECOM DMJM+Harris
  • Mark Simonides, Turner Construction
  • Harry Walder, Walsh Construction
  • Ross Wimer, SOM
  • John Zils, SOM

Other Participants

  • Kevin Barnett, Turner Construction
  • Peter Bernstein, Turner Construction
  • Ron Burg, Concrete Technology Laboratories, Inc.
  • Tom Dooley, Morley Construction (retired)
  • Steve Moler, FHWA Resource Center, San Francisco
  • Michael Pfeiffer, ICC
  • David Shier, Walsh Construction
  • Tom Schlafly, AISC
  • Tom Verdi, Charles Pankow Builders

Ms. Suzanne Peterson (ASCE Conferences Department) and Ms. Pamela R. Smith (CERF) handled the many details that are the key to the success of meetings.

Last but not least, the guidance of the project Steering Committee under the leadership of Dr. Charles Thornton, Ph.D., P.E. (Thornton-Tomasetti), the sound advice of Ian Friedland, P.E. Technical Director, Bridge & Structures R&D at the FHWA Office of Infrastructure R&D, and the hard work of all the members of the Scan Team kept the project focused and on track. Their invaluable contributions are gratefully acknowledged.

Logo of the Federal Highway Administration. Logo of the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Logo of the Civil Engineering Research Foundation, CERF. Tag line is 'advanding the design and construction industry through innovation'
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