The New Buzz Word at VDOT: Design-Build

by James A. Bacon

The Charlottesville Bypass isn’t the only big transportation project that Gov. Bob McDonnell intends to advance through the “design-build” method of project delivery. The governor has just announced that the Virginia Department of Transportation will use the approach for nine other projects.

The design-build procurement method streamlines project delivery by assigning responsibility for the design and construction of a project to a single entity. The design-build team constructs the project while design is still under way, greatly reducing the overall time necessary for completion. In theory, the approach will enable VDOT to award contracts quicker, speed construction and generate cost savings compared to traditional methods, in which VDOT designed projects before putting them out to bid.

“By using design-build to speed our nearly $4 billion transportation investment to construction,” McDonnell said in a press release issued this morning, “Virginians will be able to experience transportation relief faster and we will create transportation industry jobs during this difficult economy.”

The switch from a “design-bid-build” process to a “design-build” method will represent a major change in the way VDOT does business. The move reflects the belief of Transportation Secretary Sean T. Connaughton that VDOT has over-engineered many projects in the past, making road-building projects more costly than necessary. Design-build incentivizes private-sector bidders to use their creativity to reduce the cost of projects and win the bids.

Smart Growth critics are leery of the design-build approach, however, on the grounds that it will limit public input and make VDOT even less responsive to citizens than it already is. The $245 million Charlottesville Bypass will be an important test case in how the process works. The McDonnell administration is counting on the private-sector bidders to find ways to bring down the cost of the project, which central office engineers had warned could run way over budget. Foes fear that public input will be ignored.

In addition to the 6.2-mile Charlottesville Bypass on U.S. 29 just north of Charlottesville, the governor announced that the following design-build projects have been or will be issued before December 2011:

  • Interstate 581/Valley View Interchange Phase II: estimated cost of $63.9 million.
  • Interstate 66 Active Traffic Management: estimated cost of $33.8 million.
  • Interstate 64 Exit 91 Interchange Improvements: estimated cost of $43.7 million.
  • Interstate 64 Zion Crossroads Interchange Improvement: Estimated cost of $8.8 million.

These projects are scheduled for 2012:

  • Interstate 66 Widening to Route 15: estimated cost of $78.1 million.
  • Interstate 64 Widening and Improvements to Route 623 Interchange: estimated cost of $35.8 million.
  • Interstate 395 HOV Ramp at Seminary Road: estimated cost of $80 million.
  • Virginia Capital Trail Charles City County and New Market Heights Trail: estimated cost of $11.9 million.
  • Route 5 Virginia Capital Trail Varina Phase: estimated cost of $9.5 million.


Morgan Butler with the Southern Environmental Law Center has just issued a response: “It’s commendable that the Governor wants to save the state money, but using the design-build approach for complex projects like the 29 bypass puts the public at risk because it commits the state to a project before a design is complete and we know its full impacts. The 29 bypass is by far the largest and most complex proposal the Governor identified in his press release. If he truly wants to save taxpayers money, he should scrap the bypass and work with this community on real solutions to Route 29 traffic.”

Share this article


(comments below)


(comments below)


One response to “The New Buzz Word at VDOT: Design-Build”

  1. design-build typically does not include decisions about the path/location of the road or it’s interchanges.

    FHWA is requiring NEPA last I heard. This will force VDOT to engage the public with the location and configuration of the road.

    the contractor, in fact will have to know these specifics in order to give an accurate bid.

    For instance, they must know things like terrain which dictates how much dirt to move, streams.. for culverts…. soil conditions, and utilities relocation – a big issue with roads going through developed areas. We’re talking about phone, electric, and water/sewer… etc.

    without this info contractors would be bidding on something with unknowns that may be very costly ……

Leave a Reply