Expand 'design-build' to all NY infrastructure projects
By Thomas J. Spearing III
Poor road conditions and traffic congestion cost drivers about $6.3 billion statewide, or an average of $694 per driver, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers' report card on New York's infrastructure. Of the state's 17,000 bridges, most were built in the 20th century and over 50 percent are more than 75 years old. Nationwide, the average age of a bridge is 42 years. The typical New York City area commuter, who comprises about half of the state's population, wastes 53 hours per year in traffic congestion. Meanwhile, the region's population continues to grow.
Funding infrastructure improvements continues to be challenging, but a proven project delivery/procurement approach called design-build continues to be promising. First passed in New York in 2011 as part of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's tax and jobs creation bill, design-build has already saved the state money and reduces project completion time. Applying design-build to the new Tappan Zee Bridge is expected to trim project costs by $1.1 billion and accelerate completion 18 months earlier than originally scheduled.
Another example is the first phase of the statewide accelerated bridge program, which bundles bridges into design-build contracts by region and produced an estimated savings of 27 percent over traditional procurement, according to the New York City Citizens Budget Commission.
Design-build is an integrated approach that links project design firms and contractors or builders under one contract with a single point of responsibility, unifying design and construction from initial concept through completion. In today's environment, design-build represents a tremendous opportunity over the traditional "design-bid-build" project delivery process where design and construction are split - separate entities, separate contracts and separate work.
Combining designers and contractors at a project's onset enables projects to be delivered faster and more cost-effectively. Design-build's speed and cost savings are helping cash-strapped state agencies do more with less, and allow those agencies to get projects under contract faster to qualify for available federal funds.
Under current legislation, New York's Department of Transportation, Department of Environmental Conservation, New York Thruway Authority, Bridge Authority and the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation are authorized to use design-build in awarding contracts.
Combining designers and contractors ... enables projects to be delivered faster and more cost-effectively.
For New York, the problem is that the current legislation limits the use of design-build to these agencies, while in 41 states, it is applied much more broadly. When the New York Legislature expanded its use for two more years in 2015, it did not expand it to other agencies.
Making it available to all government agencies maximizes its effectiveness and savings to taxpayers.
In the 2016 session, the Legislature failed to allow its use by New York City agencies. This proposed expansion was supported by a wide range of constituents including New York City, private companies, think tanks, building trade organizations and labor unions.
New York City is preparing for an unprecedented building and rebuilding period over the next decade including the Gateway tunnel, new Penn Station, La Guardia Airport and the East River streetcar system in Brooklyn and Queens.
New York's citizens deserve a significant improvement in the infrastructure they use and rely upon every day.
Expanding design-build's availability to all agencies in the state must be a high priority for Albany in its 2017 session.