Design-build bridging documents for complex projects (part three)

December 18, 2015

Robert Connors, PE, CCS
In the final part of this three-article look at bridging documents for complex design-build (D-B) projects, various best practices are explored. The first two articles looked at project definition[2] and risk allocation and procurement[3], respectively.

Project selection
It is important to carefully select projects appropriate for design-build. Projects should have permitting, environmental clearance, and right-of-way acquisition prior to award of the D-B contract. Projects requiring a high level of definition prior to award will benefit less from this construction delivery method, as the project becomes more of a design-bid-build type process.

Selected projects should have a team ready to quickly review design submissions and manage construction issues. Timely responses are critical; it is important to maintain good communication between owner and D-B team.

The bridging team must support innovative approaches and project changes by the design-build team as long as they meet or exceed the project goals and fixed criteria. Developing overly prescriptive design criteria stifles innovation. Communicating the performance approach to bridging and owner staff, and providing examples and training, can reduce this problem.

People with prior successful D-B experience and those comfortable with the design-build project roles and responsibilities are necessary to avoid problems. People resistant to this construction delivery method can cause serious delays and claims. Management oversight and open communications are necessary to identify and minimize these issues.

Front-end process
During (or before) bidding, the owner and the bridging team should make necessary land acquisitions, identify all impacted utilities, and obtain necessary permits. When there are unknown utilities, all available information should be shared with the proposing D-B teams.

When possible, subsurface utility explorations should be undertaken. Permits cannot always be obtained until final design is complete or must be requested by the contractor. When permits cannot be obtained prior to the contract’s awarding, the owner and bridging team should meet with permitting agencies and share all information learned in the meetings with the proposing D-B teams.

Bridging document quality control
While bridging documents provide an incomplete design, they must show something feasible and of good quality because the owner warrants the sufficiency of documents given to proposing D-B teams. Bridging projects should have project manuals and project-specific quality plans; they must follow all design procedures, quality documentation requirements, and owner quality requirements.

These projects often take a large effort over a fairly short period, so training to get all team members up to speed on the project quality procedures as the project is initiated is advised. Coordination reviews are best performed in person with the required disciplines in the same meeting. This author has also found page-turn reviews with the owner project leaders, while time-intensive, are very beneficial to the bridging documents and the project.

A look at Weymouth Fore River bridge replacement project in Massachusetts. Photo courtesy Robert Connors[4]
A look at Weymouth Fore River bridge replacement project in Massachusetts.
Photo courtesy Robert Connors

Design submittals
The designer in the successful D-B team becomes the designer of record, completing development of the bridging plans and specifications with levels of effort necessary to construct the project, and providing as-built drawings for retention by the owner. The design-build plans and specifications are submitted for review and approval by the owner. These tend to be more streamlined than design-bid-build documents because they do not contain bidding information and because they are supplemented by work plans, catalog cuts, and shop drawings. Agencies may receive, but should avoid, approving shop drawings. Division 01 General Requirement specifications modify the contract so they may be prepared as part of the bridging documents, but should not be allowed in design submittals.

Agencies often hire consultants to review design-build design submittals, but it is important to ensure these consultants have no conflicts of interest. In some cases, consultants can generate higher fees for themselves by objecting to unimportant and unnecessary design issues. This delays the project and costs all parties (except for them).

Terminology should be consistent across the bridging documents and with the contract/legal terminology to the furthest extent possible. A best practice is to make a list of terminology to be used on a project, and seek owner approval as early as possible. Once the terminology is approved, it should be circulated to all bridging team members, periodically reviewed and updated. All bridging documents must be checked to ensure consistent wording.

Writing style and organization
As always, the Project Resource Manual CSI Manual of Practice offers sage advice when it comes to writing style and organization. One should use a clear, concise, and consistent style, and eliminate unnecessary words. Bridging documents are prepared by a large group of professionals with varying styles. It is beneficial to prepare and distribute templates with guidance on writing style before embarking on document preparation.

Bridging documents should be organized using the owner’s standard table of contents. If the owner does not have a standard table of contents, MasterFormat and UniFormat are widely used effective tools for organizing the bridging document information.

Pay item list and item descriptions
Bids are mostly lump sum. Multiple lump sums can identify bid costs for various portions or phases of the project. Sometimes, unit prices are included to shift quantity risk. If multiple lump sums and/or unit prices are used, payment items must be defined. For unit prices, the method of measuring the units must be included.

‘Bidability’ of bridging documents
To be ‘bidable,’ the bridging documents must be technically correct and the baseline design must be able to be completed and constructed within the project duration. If the bridging documents are not bidable, the D-B proposers will not bid the project, or may put high-risk premiums on it, driving up the project cost to the owner.

As this three-part series has shown, bridging document preparation should focus on project definition, risk allocation, defining the procurement/selection process. Best practices should be followed. The bridging team must work closely with the owner to determine and convey the project objectives. It must be sufficiently flexible to incorporate project changes and bidder feedback, and to evaluate alternates. During the design-build phase, the bridging team must be ready to supplement owner personnel so timely and informed decisions can be made to facilitate the D-B process.

Robert Connors, PE, CCS, has more than 25 years of experience in engineering and management. He has a varied project portfolio that includes buildings, bridges, rail, wind turbines, and maintenance facilities. Connors specializes in procurement documents, project management, construction cost estimating, cost accounting, scheduling, claims analysis, finance, and contract administration. A certified construction specifier, he is also past treasurer of the Design-Build Institute of America’s (DBIA’s) New England Region. He can be reached at[5].

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