Remove Legislative Obstacles to Harvey Recovery

The vital connection between America’s infrastructure and the well-being of our citizenry is never more apparent than in times of crisis. Our nation watched in horror as Hurricane Harvey left a path of destruction killing an estimated 50 people, displacing a million more and damaging up to $180 billion in property and infrastructure. Rebuilding communities will be an immense task; however, there are important lessons learned after Hurricanes Katrina, Irene and Sandy which Texas can also utilize to make its infrastructure better and stronger. Key among them is authorizing the use of design-build to help speed recovery and deliver innovative and cost-effective results, not only to rebuild communities for today but to also prepare for the future.

The state of Texas currently has limitations for the use of the design-build delivery system. Specifically, it can be used on only 3 state highway projects per year, and those projects must cost $150 million or more. Even more troubling are even greater restrictions at the local level where design-build is only authorized for municipalities with a population of 100,000. These are obstacles to Harvey recovery efforts which Texas communities simply cannot afford, particularly hard hit, small cities like Rockport and Port Aransas.

Fortunately, there is at least one thing that can be done immediately. The Texas Transportation Code allows the state department of transportation (DOT) to utilize design-build for emergency repairs to state highways utilizing design-build. This, of course, won’t help in the rebuilding of the remaining infrastructure – roads, water/water plants, buildings – that are not under the purview of the state DOT.

Design-build isn’t new and it’s not radical; however, it does require public owners (like cities, states and the federal government) to provide flexibility in the procurement process allowing designers and builders to collaborate earlier in the process, creating projects which allocate risks more efficiently and improving delivery time and budget. Given the enormity of the reconstruction challenges facing Texas, the state needs the ability to innovate while also maximizing project dollars and delivery times on vital post-Harvey projects. The need is immense and the response must be equal to that challenge. Design-build can deliver in Texas just as it has in so many other communities rebuilt after a disaster.

Design-build was integral to the state of Louisiana’s recovery effort after Katrina hit in 2007. Among the many vital post-Katrina design-build projects were the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers critical pump station repairs in St. Bernard parish, the Twin Spans’ Bridge repair over Lake Pontchartrain, and countless schools, roads and bridges. Following Hurricane Irene, which devastated parts of upstate New York, Governor Cuomo used emergency authority to authorize repairs using design-build, delivering many important infrastructure projects more efficiently and cost-effectively than using traditional methods.

Design-build was also critical to the recovery after Hurricane Sandy devastated New York and New Jersey. Not only did design-build speed the delivery of vital projects, the collaboration and innovation central to the process allowed project teams to innovate with an eye toward resiliency to better protect against future events. After Sandy, the Long Island Railroad used design-build to make needed drainage improvements including construction of a combination of deployable and permanent walls to defend against future flood surges. From Louisiana to New York and beyond, design-build innovation had allowed project teams to utilize advanced design techniques and materials rebuilding vital infrastructure to be even stronger than before.

The state of Texas will be challenged to marshal every resource available to ensure Harvey-ravaged communities can rebuild quickly, efficiently and with an eye to the future. Design-build can help the state achieve that goal, if Governor Abbott follows the lead of many other governors before him, by using his emergency executive authority to expand the use of design-build in the wake of a devastating tragedy.


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For more information about how to level the playing field for small communities recovering from Hurricane Harvey plus speed highway reconstruction by the Texas Department of Transportation, read DBIA’s brief: Removing Legislative Obstacles for Harvey Recovery