Andrew Ausel | August 27, 2015
With over 80 percent of New Orleans flooded and 1,572 people killed, Hurricane Katrina was undoubtedly one of the costliest tragedies ever experienced by the people of New Orleans. The aftermath of the disaster left the city and its community with problems abound, reeling for answers. And with so much to rebuild, the reconstruction of necessary infrastructure loomed largely on the minds of city and state leaders. In response, the city turned to an unheralded concept that could underlie and greatly enhance the rebuilding effort. Underlying the city’s impeccable recovery was a project delivery method called design-build.
While design-build was integral in post-Katrina recovery, something parallel to the importance of the cleanup was the construction done to prevent future catastrophic outcomes. When reflecting on lessons learned, Walter Baumy of ARCADIS put it best when he said, “leaders quickly realized that a more integrated approach to building resilience into the Louisiana coastline made more sense than many individual efforts.” Following the storm, many of the city’s flood control systems were destroyed or severely damaged. Design-build authority allowed architects, engineers, and contractors to begin rebuilding this critical infrastructure much faster than states without design-build authority could have. This authority not only rebuilt the city, it helped people rebuild their lives.
Design-build’s success has not quickly been forgotten either. When HB 159 approached a vote this year to extend design-build authority to the construction of ferries for service in the Louisiana State legislature, NOLA.com reported that “design-build supporters point out their method often saves time and money. Several projects in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina were expedited through design-build.” Whether it was the replacement of bridge spans, the widening of interstates or the rebuilding of several schools, the design-build method earned its reputation as a reliable and expedited delivery method.
States and localities nationwide would be wise to heed the lessons learned from Katrina, including the necessity of design-build in disaster response. While design-build is simply a delivery method and can only do so much to prevent disasters such as these, it should be accessible in the tool belt of every locality. Without design-build, the work described above would likely have been subject to more cumbersome contracting and ineffective delivery, two weaknesses New Orleans could not have afforded following such immense damage. And while the threats may be unique to varying geography, no matter what the condition, the enhanced collaboration and streamlined delivery that characterizes design-build only enhances one’s disaster response.