by Geoffrey Corey | May 15, 2015
Infrastructure Week kicked off this year with a serious focus on federal surface transportation funding. While financing infrastructure projects was the big topic at Infrastructure Week forums in Washington, D.C., there was also some discussion on the importance of project delivery, and DBIA continues to work to make sure Design-Build Done RightTM is encouraged in any transportation funding reauthorization.
The highlight of the event for many attendees was remarks by Vice President Joe Biden. He spoke with gusto and enthusiasm on the need for a long-term funding bill for U.S. infrastructure. Like many Americans, he understood the debate on how to pay for everything. “How to pay for it is a legitimate debate I’m willing to have,” he said. “But what I don’t understand, and what I’ve never seen before, in all my decades as a United States Senator, is this discussion of whether or not we even need to do this. Of course we need to do it!” We at DBIA agree that federal funding for our infrastructure is a must-pass bill.
Support for Design-Build
One of the most engaging parts of the program was a panel discussion featuring former Philadelphia Mayor and Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, HNTB Holdings President Paul Yarossi and Siemen’s President and CEO Eric Spiegel. They spoke about executive perspectives on infrastructure, so I asked them directly what they thought about design-build. HNTB, of course, is an industry partner member of DBIA, so Paul Yarossi’s enthusiastic support was no surprise. “Design-build is more and more becoming the delivery method of choice for surface transportation,” he said. He’s not kidding: transportation is the fastest growing design-build sector in the United States, with transportation design-build projects doubling in the past five years, both in quantity and value of projects.
Governor Ed Rendell hails from a state that doesn’t use a whole lot of design-build, but he seemed to voice support nonetheless. “Funding projects is important,” he said, “but we also have to look at the most cost-effective way to deliver infrastructure and design-build is one of them.” Attendees in the room speculated afterward that Governor Rendell would be a good candidate for the next Secretary of Transportation, so his support for design-build is certainly a good thing.
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx has become a regular at these events as he tries to rally the troops to support a multi-year funding bill. Shortly after Foxx was unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate to serve as head of the U.S. DOT nearly two years ago, DBIA wrote an open letter to the Secretary asking him to be an advocate for design-build. We wrote, “By vocally supporting design-build in transportation you can lead this nation into a future where transportation projects are finished early, not late; cost savings are regular, not rare; and oversight is simple, not complicated. You can make expedited project completion a high priority at the Department of Transportation, which would encourage the use of design-build for projects.”
In his remarks this week, he didn’t just talk about corporate tax reform, an infrastructure bank or high speed rail, he also talked about setting national goals for our infrastructure. “We need to get projects done faster,” he said, “with better outcomes, at a lower cost.” These are goals greater use of design-build project delivery will move us towards.
There was a lot of discussion about the possibility that Congress may extend transportation funding on a short-term basis, perhaps through December, in order to have more time to work out a comprehensive deal for a multi-year funding package. If so, that would be the 33rd time Congress has done so, and the costs of delays like that are all too familiar in the A/E/C world. An apt comparison was made by U.S. Chamber of Commerce Board Chair, Tamara Lundgren (right). She noted that passing short-term extensions was similar to a change-order on a project. While design-build projects have few to zero change orders, there is no one in the A/E/C industry who hasn’t worked through a change-order on a design-bid-build project and seen the devastating consequences of delayed completion dates, uncertainty and higher costs.
Congress must pass a multi-year surface transportation funding act, and begin to rebuild our country. DBIA will work to ensure that legislation will encourage greater use of design-build, as we did with the original MAP-21 back in 2012. Be sure to check back to www.DesignBuildDoneRight.com for updates as we approach the May 31st deadline for extending transportation funding.