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Best way to move transportation projects.

Faced with a need to rebuild crumbling transportation infrastructure amidst serious funding challenges, owners are struggling to find new solutions to deliver large construction programs. With a new federal transportation bill approved, transportation projects should enjoy a significant growth period in 2006.

It is no secret that over the past decade, DOTs have been impacted by a political climate to "right size" government. This has been brought about by years of downsizing, often through early retirements, which has resulted in the loss of many of the most experienced DOT technical and management professionals. DOTs have thus been slow to keep up with construction and maintenance programs. This presents opportunities for consulting firms and clients alike to utilize construction management (CM), program management (PM), general engineering contracts (GEC), design-build (DB) and other public/private partnership arrangements to deliver badly needed infrastructure projects.

What is construction management?

Program management and construction management each have a wide variety of meanings--as many definitions as there are owners and consultants.

Most often program management is used to describe a variety of services provided to an owner on a very large program consisting of multiple projects. These services are generally provided during the planning and design phases, but may also be extended through the construction phase. The services provided may include program phasing, cost estimating, project controls, preliminary design, design procurement assistance, design review, preliminary design and more.

Construction management also may include services during the design phase, but it is focused on assisting the owner during the construction phase of a single project or an entire program of projects. Furthermore, CM can be either "CM at risk" or "CM for fee," also known as "professional CM." Most DOTs utilize "professional CM" services, upon which the remainder of this article will focus.

Depending on the owner's needs, CM services can vary from overall management assistance to detailed construction inspection. It can include services such as management assistance; condition assessment and asset inventory; constructability review and phasing; cost estimating; inspection services; materials testing; pay estimate and change order review/analysis; reporting/documentation; risk management; schedule review and analysis; shop drawing and submittal review; verification surveys; and close-out services. Why hire private firms?

The single most important reason to hire a consultant for CM is workload. As mentioned above, uncertain funding on both state and federal levels has not eliminated the need to complete significant transportation programs. Rather than staffing-up to deliver a larger program, it can be more efficient to utilize consultant firms to provide additional capacity as needed. The risk of staffing up and later ramping down or relocating staff is shifted to the consultant (although a portion of the costs are still borne by the owner in the form of direct or overhead costs passed on by the consultant).

Many DOTs are already understaffed due to mandatory hiring freezes and "early out" retirement programs. One avenue for DOTs to have access to experienced personnel is to hire consultants who have career construction experts on staff, some of whom are former senior DOT practitioners.

Hiring outside consultants also makes sense when a special expertise is required that may not be readily available within the downsized DOT organization. Examples would be large, seismic retrofit programs and special structures such as tunnels and cable-stay bridges. Consulting firms such as the HNTB Companies provide these services to many transportation agencies across the country and have experts who can be brought to bear on such projects. Even on more conventional projects, having access to expert construction personnel can bring a fresh look and new ideas.

The benefits of utilizing consultant CM firms are many. Performed with a clear contract, concise expectations on both sides and open communication, outsourcing CM allows DOTs to effectively manage their own scarce resources, leverage DOT key staff time while maintaining control and accountability, and expedite projects while managing risk.
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Author:Routon, Steven A.
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Date:Feb 15, 2006
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