White Paper

5 Things to Consider When Undertaking a First-of-its-Kind Project

Doing something differently takes courage. Whether building a first-of-its-kind project or using a new project delivery method, you must leave your comfort zone as you navigate the unfamiliar territory ahead. It can help to lean on a consultant that understands the special challenges that come with these projects.


As the nation prepares to boost investment in public infrastructure, government agencies are considering not only how to spend their allotted funds but also how to maximize their impact and accelerate project completion. To meet these objectives, current industry trends lean toward new project delivery methods, such as increased use of design-build, program management and other collaborative methods of project delivery.

Previously considered pioneering alternatives to design-bid-build, these newer approaches have gone mainstream. Today, design-build accounts for nearly half of the nation’s nonresidential construction spending, according to the Design-Build Institute of America. Add to that the growing popularity of variations, such as progressive design-build, and it’s clear that alternative methods are achieving widespread adoption from agencies that have traditionally delivered their programs using other models. As the speed at which projects must be delivered advances and additional dollars flow into public infrastructure, new delivery models will likely emerge as candidates to solve challenges that owners face daily.

 

Read The White Paper

As the nation prepares to boost investment in public infrastructure, government agencies are considering not only how to spend their allotted funds but also how to maximize their impact and accelerate project completion. To meet these objectives, current industry trends lean toward new project delivery methods, such as increased use of design-build, program management and other collaborative methods of project delivery.

Previously considered pioneering alternatives to design-bid-build, these newer approaches have gone mainstream. Today, design-build accounts for nearly half of the nation’s nonresidential construction spending, according to the Design-Build Institute of America. Add to that the growing popularity of variations, such as progressive design-build, and it’s clear that alternative methods are achieving widespread adoption from agencies that have traditionally delivered their programs using other models. As the speed at which projects must be delivered advances and additional dollars flow into public infrastructure, new delivery models will likely emerge as candidates to solve challenges that owners face daily.

Still, collaborative project delivery methods continue to face hurdles in organizations and markets that are not structurally and organizationally prepared to execute them. That’s why getting a project delivery method’s inaugural use right is both challenging and vital. First-of-their-kind projects, in other words, need to be approached with full awareness that their outcome may shape perceptions about the chosen project delivery method for years to come.

Undertaking a new project delivery method warrants special consideration, especially when choosing a design and construction partner. In this paper, we discuss five factors to keep in mind:

  1. First-of-their-kind projects can involve a significant learning curve.

When undertaking these projects, you don’t always know what you don’t know. An experienced project delivery consultant should be able to anticipate knowledge gaps and fill them.

How the consultant fills those gaps matters. Be wary of a consultant that seems biased in favor of a particular approach. Impartial consultants that present information objectively will prove more valuable over the long term. They can help you understand the nuances of how one project delivery method differs from another and support your team in finding the design solutions that fit the needs of your project and work culture.

The time you and your staff invest in learning best practices for your chosen delivery method will be well spent. Such knowledge transfers can be targeted in ways that save time or avert costly and avoidable missteps.

  1. A consultant experienced in a variety of project delivery methods may prove more valuable than one that specializes in your project type.

You want your first experience with a collaborative project delivery method to be a positive one. Finding a partner that is experienced in multiple project delivery methods and understands how to achieve the greatest benefit from each should be a top priority. On first-of-their-kind projects, perhaps more than any other, a consultant’s project delivery experience can be leveraged to add value to whatever type of project you are constructing. A consultant that specializes in a particular project type, on the other hand, may rely on a formula considered tried-and-true but may — or may not — address your special needs.

One way to differentiate prospective partners is by observing their approach during the pre-bid process. Seek a firm that asks probing questions before advocating a particular process or solution. Also look for partners who think like owners, consultants and contractors. Owners appreciate it when others take the time to understand where they are coming from, see all sides of the project life cycle and develop solutions that are tailored to address their pain points.

  1. Expect some discomfort as you adjust to a new process.

Project owners who have never completed a collaborative delivery project have different expectations than those who have. When presented a new non-traditional design element, for example, reviewing engineers are accustomed to evaluating the entirety of the design together, considering the site grading and drainage, paving, bridges and other structures at each progressive stage of a design.

To expedite project delivery, however, these project elements are typically designed based on the collaborative delivery method’s construction sequence. Design packages with sequencing in mind provide the opportunity for early cost-benefit discussion and consideration of how to balance methods and approaches, ultimately leading to a higher degree of cost certainty.

In practical terms, that means engineers must review design for some components before others are completed. That introduces a certain degree of discomfort, particularly on a first-of-its-kind project. To gain a greater comfort level with collaborative delivery, first-timers might consider following a progressive design-build model or adding an optimization and refinement (O&R) period to a traditional design-build project. By allowing the owner and the project team time to collaborate before the final price is locked in, the O&R period supports value engineering and provides a safety net for catching any project requirements that might have been overlooked in early planning.

  1. Your legal department may also need reassurance.

Government bodies undertaking their first projects using a collaborative delivery approach sometimes receive pushback from the attorneys responsible for writing the contracts. The good news is much of the heavy lifting on these contracts has already been completed, saving you both time and money.

Working in collaboration with public sector agencies and industry partners from all sides of the table, the Design-Build Institute of America has developed contract documents that can be easily adapted and used for design-build, progressive design-build and other collaborative delivery approaches. A variety of options are available, enabling you to fill in the contract language that reflects your goals and expectations for the project. The Design-Build Institute of America also offers industry-specific versions for transportation, water, wastewater, and other public and private industry projects, each reflecting current industry standards and best practices. Introduced more than a decade ago, these contract documents have been tested in the marketplace and have a strong record of support among users who attest to their fairness and effectiveness.

  1. Your second application of a collaborative delivery method may not require as much of your time.

You may choose a collaborative delivery approach because your organization lacks the internal resources to implement a large program or inaugural initiative with in-house resources. Program management and progressive design-build may appeal because of the flexibility to allow you to have as much or as little involvement in decision-making as time and resources allow.

The additional time you spend on the front end of a project will almost certainly save you time and a headache on the back end. Other lessons learned can help further streamline future efforts.

The Bottom Line

For tangible results on these projects, an open mind and an open door to your project delivery consultant are key. An experienced consultant can successfully guide you through the process, tailoring it to your culture, educating staff and instilling confidence in the approach along the way.

Case Studies

30 Crossing: Arkansas’ First Transportation Design-Build Project

Challenge: To accelerate construction of improvements and expand capacity along a 3-mile stretch of Interstate 30 through Little Rock, the Arkansas Department of Transportation (ARDOT) broke with tradition and chose a design-build approach for the first time. The 30 Crossing project, which includes replacing a functionally obsolete bridge over the Arkansas River with two bridges supporting six lanes of through traffic and four collector-distributor lanes, is also the capstone project of the one of the largest highway improvement programs ever undertaken by ARDOT.

Solution: To define the project’s technical requirements and set expectations, ARDOT added a six-month O&R period to the design-build process. During this period, the design-build team of Kiewit-Massman Construction and lead designer Burns & McDonnell worked with ARDOT to define priorities and evaluate trade-offs to establish the 30 Crossing project scope that provided the maximum public benefit with existing available funding. The result is an initial focus on projects that improve the condition and operation of existing, high-traffic roadways. The remaining scope will be delivered under future projects as funding becomes available.

Results: After receiving the notice to proceed in early 2020, the team began design of the O&R-defined project scope. By summer 2020, construction was underway with the initial phase scheduled for completion in 2024. By directing initial funds to system preservation, ARDOT can minimize the future cost of maintaining or replacing failing highways and bridges while planning future capacity and safety improvements.

Kansas Turnpike Authority: Progressive Design-Build To Increase Vertical Clearances

Challenge: When low bridge clearances limit the height of the trucks that can travel a turnpike, utilization and revenue can suffer. That was the reality facing the Kansas Turnpike Authority (KTA), which maintains 236 miles of user fee supported roadway running from Kansas City to the Oklahoma border and places high priority on delivering a premium service. Built in the 1950s, the Kansas Turnpike was designed for a different global freight economy.

Solution: To accommodate and facilitate increased freight throughput on its system, KTA collaborated with Burns & McDonnell in 2016 to raise a number of high-priority bridges crossing the turnpike by up to 2 feet, providing a minimum clearance of 15 feet, 9 inches. Upgrades were to be completed without closing the turnpike to the traffic below. Using progressive design-build, the KTA worked closely with Burns & McDonnell to develop solutions that kept traffic open while also reducing construction time and cost.

Results: Since 2016, the design-build team has raised 40 bridges through four separate construction packages, with another 15 bridges in various stages of design and construction. Each bridge project has been completed without closing the turnpike mainline. The collaborative delivery approach resulted in a 40% reduction in cost and led to a 2019 Engineering Excellence Award from the Kansas chapter of the American Council of Engineering Companies.

Eisenhower Legacy Transportation Program: Program Management Consultant

Challenge: The Eisenhower Legacy Transportation Program, better known as IKE, is a 10-year program focused on making practical improvements to roads, bridges and public transit throughout the state of Kansas. By investing at least $8 million in each Kansas county, the Kansas Department of Transportation (KDOT) is seeking to modernize the state’s transportation infrastructure. Its challenge was to deliver a rolling list of projects on time, on budget and with transparency.

Solution: With its staff stretched thin, KDOT decided to retain a program management consultant to help deliver the expansion and modernization projects. It chose IKE Transportation Partners, a joint venture created by Burns & McDonnell and Garver that offered knowledge of KDOT culture and processes, relevant experience managing large programs for state DOTs, and proven project controls experience. It was the first time KDOT contracted a program management consultant.

Results: After devoting considerable time to defining a scope of work and program management game plan, KDOT produced a program management contract that reflected its expectations. The program managers today support the IKE program by self-performing right-of-way acquisitions and addressing environmental requirements, while managing the consultant teams it helps KDOT procure for individual project designs. Among other duties, the program manager also assists KDOT with claims evaluation.


Authors

Steven Beam, PE

Transportation Business Manager

Mike DeBacker, PE

Vice President and General Manager of the Transportation Group

Andrew Reid, PE, PTOE

Regional Transportation Manager