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Credit: Multnomah County

EDC Legacy: Advancing Effective Contracting Method Alternatives

For more than a decade, FHWA’s Every Day Counts (EDC) program has promoted proven but underused innovations that enhance roadway safety, improve project delivery, and reduce traffic congestion. Across the country, agencies attest to the value of adopting these new technologies and practices, along with a cultural change in how they deploy innovation. As the transportation community participates in EDC round six, Innovator is featuring articles that reflect on what the program has accomplished.

Traditionally, highway projects have been let by State departments of transportation (DOTs) and local agencies after the design is completed and awarded to the lowest responsive bidder, a contracting method known as design-bid-build (D-B-B). As part of Special Experimental Project No. 14 (SEP-14), FHWA has partnered with the State DOTs to explore contracting options that better deliver projects of an increasingly complex nature.

While D-B-B is still the prevalent method, several alternatives have proven more effective for design-construction collaboration, addressing risk, and incorporating innovation by involving contractors earlier in the process. The result as confirmed by FHWA research is better projects that deliver transportation benefits to the public faster and often for less cost.

This Colorado DOT U.S. 550–U.S. 160 Connection South project video includes a segment on why the agency chose to use D-B contracting.

Credit: Colorado DOT

Expanding the Alternatives

EDC has highlighted several alternative contracting methods (ACMs) that facilitate earlier contractor involvement. These methods have since become standard practices for most State DOTs.

EDC rounds one and two promoted the design-build (D-B) and construction manager/general contractor (CM/GC) ACMs. With D-B, an agency identifies the scope of work, solicits for and receives proposals, and selects a D-B team to assume the risk and responsibility for the design and construction phases. In CM/GC, the agency hires a contractor to act as a “constructability” consultant (CM) during the design phase. They work together, along with the agency’s Independent Cost Estimator, to establish a price and schedule for the construction portion of the contract where the contractor acts as the general contractor (GC). With this design-construction integration, early work packages allow the team to complete long lead time construction activities more efficiently.

EDC’s second round also included alternative technical concepts (ATCs), a procurement procedure that allows proposers to submit innovative ideas during bidding that improve on the contracting agency’s design or construction criteria. Agencies have used ATCs most effectively with D-B, and some have used them with D-B-B. Caltrans has estimated savings due to D-B ATCs of 9 percent over a 4-year program.

The Sellwood Bridge project in Multnomah County, OR, used CM/GC contracting to incorporate innovations such as slide-in bridge construction and 3D modeling. Watch the old Sellwood Bridge be replaced in this time-lapse video.

Credit: Multnomah County

Partnering for Success

EDC built networks between State and local agencies and other stakeholders that facilitated working together on these mutually beneficial initiatives. Peer exchanges and other activities allowed agencies already implementing ACMs to share lessons learned and effective strategies with those new to their use, increasing their chances of success. EDC also provided technical support through its deployment teams as well as funding opportunities for pilots and other deployment activities.

“Innovation deployment stories spread from State to State, creating momentum,” said John Haynes, FHWA Utah Division. “When States started telling others how they got through the first projects, those events created a groundswell. It opened people’s eyes a bit and helped bring the contractors on board. FHWA resources brought industry and agency-owners together in seeing ACMs as an effective way to partner on projects.”

The raised awareness and acceptance of ACMs by both agencies and industry accelerated adoption in many States. For CM/GC, when EDC-2 began there were 10 States with enabling legislation and now there are around 30.

“We’re also starting to see more contracts where agencies are using ATCs with D-B-B, and part of that is deciding which project is a good candidate,” said John Huyer, FHWA Office of Infrastructure. “FHWA recently worked out a programmatic agreement with the Missouri DOT (MoDOT) for promoting ATCs on D-B-B projects, and it’s now in MoDOT’s strategic plan. D-B-B ATC use is also branching off into other areas. For example, the Michigan DOT has used it for controlling and maintaining traffic.”

Looking Ahead

EDC supported implementation of contracting options that helped agencies to deliver an ever-increasing quantity of complex highway projects, and this has led to further exploration of new methods.

“EDC spawned a lot of innovative thinking about more effective project delivery methods and that has stimulated even greater utilization of other contracting and financing tools, such as progressive D-B, project bundling, public-private partnerships, and indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity,” said David Unkefer, FHWA Resource Center. “It is helping to create a more innovative culture in the highway industry, which traditionally has been slow to adopt new things. EDC has shown that agencies benefit from adopting a more structured approach to change instead of innovation being a one-off.”


Read an FHWA TechBrief on ACM performance in highway construction.

Visit FHWA’s Alternative Contracting Methods Library and SEP-14 – Alternative Contracting webpage for additional resources.

Recommended Citation: U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration - Washington, DC (2021) Innovator Newsletter, July/August 2021, Volume 15(85). https://doi.org/10.21949/1521363