Buoyed by the IIJA and under pressure to get megaprojects done in time for the 2028 Olympics, the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) is pursuing progressive design-build (PDB) and construction manager-general contractor (CM/GC) methods for the first time.

"A few contracts are pivoting to PDB," said Brad Owen, Metro executive officer for program management, noting the planned East San Fernando light rail project as an example. He added that the agency is considering how to implement training programs and "how to get industry to understand [PDB] is here."

That estimated $2-billion project will entail 6.7 miles, 11 stations and a public-private partnership for solar panels, said Monica Born, Metro deputy executive officer, adding that it will be advertised this spring. "We listened to the industry and we are trying [PDB]," she said.

Owen and Born were two of many Metro panelists who spoke at the Western Winter Workshop March 3-6 in Indian Wells, Calif., supported by the Construction Management Association of America. 

The Metro board approved used of CM/GC in late 2019 for the approximately $2-billion Link Union Station project. "CM/GC is not new, just new to the public sector," said Jeanet Owens, Metro executive officer for program management of regional rail. 

Transit agencies in Dallas, Portland and Seattle have utilized the method in recent years. 

Metro has been utilizing design-build on projects such as the $3.6-billion Purple Line extension to LA's West side, with a $410-million contract for tunnels and a $1.3-billion contract for stations, said Kimberly Ong, Metro executive officer of project engineering. 

Metro's move toward PDB and CM/GC comes as California moves away from highway capacity-building projects, notes Jim Beil, executive director of capital programs for the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA), which is currently widening 16 miles of Interstate 405 in a $1.2-billion design-build contract. Under the IIJA, any highway projects would have to mitigate vehicle miles traveled and costs to lower-income populations. Under state climate change goals, "we will see a big change on regional transportation plans," Beil said. "We may see more priced managed lanes. There will be new opportunities for efficiency projects such as connected roads and signal coordination.

"The policy constraints on new projects will required new cross-agency collaboration models," he added.

Using Technology Solutions

With geopolitical uncertainties such as the Russian-Ukraine war and COVID-19, as well as domestic issues such as the Teamsters strike in Washington state, labor and material costs are an ongoing issue. 

Peter Tateishi, CEO of the California chapter of Associated General Contractors of America, noted that labor costs per hour are rising significantly in the state, posing significant risk for projects. Moreover, while the chapter is not opposed to vaccinate mandates for the crafts, it is difficult to offer proof of 100% guaranteed compliance. 

Shortage of talent to keep craftworker crews filled requires a major change in general perceptions, Tateishi added, noting the narrative of "the greedy contractor, the butt-crack plumber, the lazy worker." In focus groups, two women said, "I'd rather my son go into the military than into construction," he recalled. "We have to change the narrative."

One way to do that is for construction companies to identify themselves as "technology companies building things," said Rose Hall, head of construction innovation for AXA XL North America, which provides insurance and risk management. The younger generations "do not want to plug and chug RFIs all day long," she said. "If they are encouraged to fail on a tech experiment, that's what will attract [them]."

She notes that not so long ago, companies questioned why they needed a risk management officer. "What is the ROI on risk management?" she recalled them asking. "Now they ask, what is the ROI on an innovation officer? This is the next evolution of risk management...someday a company's technology maturity level will start to play into how we look at risk."

The conference included numerous project controls-focused sessions with construction professionals from education, healthcare, tech providers and aviation.

In many cases, airport passenger levels are not quite back up to pre-pandemic levels, but capital plans are poised to move out of holding patterns. 

"We're still 20% down from pre-pandemic levels, but we feel there is promise ahead," said Cynthia Guidry, director of Long Beach Airport. The airport worked with its design-build contractor to re-sequence construction due to the drop in revenue, and had to defer payments from airport tenants.

Joan Zatopek, aviation planning and development manager for the Port of Oakland, noted that being part of a port authority helped the airport, since marine traffic did not decrease during the pandemic. "We had one project, a construction-management-at-risk where we agreed to a guaranteed maximum price, that got put on the shelf," she said. The contractor team now has to bid again for the job. "We need better collaboration, and to help each other out."

Kaveh Dabiran, west regional director of planning and development for United Airlines, said that better collaboration between airlines and airports did happen during the pandemic. "Now we don't sit in our respective corners...we went through a challenging time together."

The challenging time, including a dearth of resources ranging from craftspeople to management, is driving prioritization of certain projects, Dabiran added. For example, "We'll go after the substation or trench project" rather than the concessions improvement. "We have to tackle the non-sexy items out there," he said.