Not every Washington State Dept. of Transportation mega-project has gone exactly as everyone would want it to. From design flaws—here’s looking at you, State Route 520 floating bridge—to an ample amount of cost overruns, Washington wants to look at a way to cut down on unexpected hiccups. At least as much as possible in these giant transportation projects.
A recent independent review of the department’s management of its largest projects suggested the quick-fix additions—which were undertaken by Secretary of Transportation Lynn Peterson—of a new chief engineer with mega-project experience, a deputy chief engineer position for additional oversight and a quality assurance manager to ensure protocols are followed across the agency. New positions breed more oversight, increased accountability and meaningful communication, at least that is the hope.
But the report also recommended Washington explores a new contracting tactic, one already in use in various states. As explained by a WSDOT spokesperson: “The report recommends WSDOT consider the general contractor/construction management delivery approach, which other state DOTs are using successfully to encourage innovation, accelerate delivery, decrease traffic impacts and establish fair price for taxpayers and the contractor.”
In this method, the construction manager can get input during the design phase in regard to scheduling, pricing, phasing and more. And before design wraps, the owner and construction manager can negotiate a “guaranteed maximum price” for the construction of the project based on the defined scope and schedule, according to information from the Federal Highway Administration.
In response to the recommendations, the state will now develop a “more robust analysis of how the agency contracts for work and how risk is shared with contractors.”
To fully embrace the general contractor/construction management delivery approach legislative action would be needed. To start down that path, the report recommends creating a “limited number” of public/private partnerships to more fully evaluate the effectiveness of the strategy.
Ron Paananen of CH2M Hill and John Njord of Tom Warne & Associates conducted the full report, which can be viewed here.
Tim Newcomb is Engineering News-Record’s Pacific Northwest contributor. He also writes for TIME, Popular Mechanics, Sports Illustrated and more. You can follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb or visit his website here.