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In Focus: Design-Build Is Delivering Quality Projects Faster and More Cost-Effectively

Getting projects done on time and on budget has always been a priority for private and public owners; however, today’s difficult economic times have made these two challenges more important than ever.

November 2012
Even before the current recession, many owners had become disgruntled with the traditional design-bid-build (low-bid) project delivery method in which price is the only selection criterion. All too often, using this delivery method failed to deliver the quality or value — and change orders and claims often lead to added costs and delays.

The added costs and delays that plagued projects using the traditional design-bid-build method are often attributed to the lack of integration between the project designer and the contractor who performs these services separately. Instead the trend in both private and public procurement has been moving away from traditional delivery methods toward alternative project delivery methods like design-build.

Design-build is a method of project delivery in which one entity — the design-build team — works under a single contract with the project owner to provide design and construction services. There’s one entity, one contract, one unified flow of work, from initial concept through completion.

Design-build allows design and construction to work on parallel tracks. This streamlined process means construction projects are often completed 33 percent faster (sometimes even quicker) than traditional projects. This means that months or even years can be shaved off project completion times. This time-savings is particularly important when owners are trying to repair or replace infrastructure that is damaged or destroyed due to natural disasters, or they have a limited construction season. This integrated approach also allows for better planning during the procurement and construction phases of the project. This means the design-builders are often able to develop engineering and construction solutions that bring higher quality and innovation to a project, without sacrificing value. In fact, studies show that on design-build projects there is typically a 6–10 percent cost savings compared to traditional projects.

The design-build revolution began at the federal government in the early ‘90s. Since then, it has become the primary method for delivering federal projects. Today the Army, Navy, and departments of Justice and State use design-build on over 75 percent of their current projects.

The success of these projects sparked interest at the state and local level as well. In 1993 only one state, Virginia, had authorized the use of design-build. Today design-build is authorized in some fashion in all 50 states. The use of design-build projects has doubled over the last five years both in terms of the number of projects and the value of those projects and currently accounts for 40 percent of the construction market share.

The interest in design-build shows no signs of waning. The federal and state governments continue to expand their use of design-build. In the recent Federal Transportation Reauthorization bill, Congress recognized the benefits of alternative project delivery models by providing incentives and better tools for states to use alternative project delivery and financing methods. Even New York — one of the last states to authorize design-build — is moving ahead with the replacement of the Tappan Zee Bridge using design-build. And, almost half of the legislation passed in the last three years expanded design-build at the local level as well.

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