Politics 'Design-build' contracts key to infrastructure success
Biden's electric vehicle plan includes expanding charging stations. Is it enough?
The infrastructure bill stalled in the House includes $7.5 billion to expand electric vehicle charging stations. Advocates say it's a good start.As automakers expand their lineup of electric cars, the funding for the charging stations would represent a historically large down payment on Biden's plan to aggressively reduce greenhouse gas levels by 2030. Transportation makes up 29% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, more than any other sector.
Now that congressional action on federal infrastructure legislation is in overtime, it's vital to consider an issue that has been largely ignored in the debate so far: As important as how much we spend is how we spend it. Both political parties should consider some recent lessons.
Remember the? It rerouted parts of a major highway from the heart of the city into a 1.5-mile tunnel. Construction began in 1991 and was supposed to take seven years and cost $2.8 billion. It actually took 16 years and cost over $15 billion. (The latest sticker-shock is a Boston Globe estimate of more than $24 billion, including interest.) The project was cost overruns, design flaws, delays, leaks, substandard materials, corruption and a fatal ceiling collapse.
Republicans can save trillions while approving infrastructure package
Pruning the jungle of red tape never works because the underlying premise is to avoid human judgment on the spot. The only solution is to replace the jungle with a simpler framework activated by human responsibility and accountability. But who will oversee those officials? That's why a trusted oversight body is essential. Philip K. Howard is a lawyer, author and chair of Common Good, a bipartisan reform coalition.
In that case, money wasn't the issue, performance was.
There's a better model for policymakers to follow: the replacement bridge for the Tappan Zee Bridge in New York - the largest single procurement in the state's history. It opened ahead of schedule, and the costs were approximately.
What was the difference between the Boston and New York experiences? New York was a "design-build" contract. Any final infrastructure financing plan that emerges from Washington ($3 trillion, $2 trillion or $1 trillion) should embody this highly efficient concept.
Design-build is a process in which a single bidder is responsible for both design and construction. The bidder must, during the design process, factor in time, complexity and the total cost of construction.
Senate passes $1 trillion infrastructure bill in strong bipartisan vote
The Senate passed a roughly $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill, a key victory for President Biden's domestic economic agenda.The final vote was 69 to 30, with 19 Republicans joining all 50 Democrats in voting for passage. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was among the Republicans who voted yes. Vice President Kamala Harris presided over the final vote, and said it was "a very good day" before entering the chamber.
Avoiding Boston's Big Dig fiasco was very much on the mind of one of us, Howard Milstein, when he was chairman of the New York State Thruway Authority and assumed responsibility for replacing the Tappan Zee. Without an incentive to meet deadlines and keep costs within estimates, even the best public infrastructure projects fall prey to spiraling costs and rolling deadlines.
Democrats and Republicans in the New York State Legislature joined together to pass legislation creating a "build and design" model for the bridge. That allowed the state to engage in an efficient and transparent plan. The Tappan Zee procurement was a model of collaboration.
The Thruway Authority didn't just issue a Request For Proposals (RFP) and wait for the bids to come in. They decided to draw on the knowledge and experience of the bidders themselves, who had been deeply involved in building bridges all over the world. During the 10-week period when the bids were prepared, they held separate weekly meetings with each of the four teams involved and asked them: If you were leading the process, how would you run it? What changes would you make in the RFP? What would you do differently?
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They ran each suggestion by competing bidders to develop consensus on what would work and (just as importantly) what wouldn't. When in-house engineers confirmed these conclusions, they made the changes. The usual finger-pointing that happens when things go wrong was minimized because the developers were fully accountable for delays and overruns.
To paraphrase Sinatra's "New York, New York," if we can make a bridge on-time and under-budget there, we can make it anywhere.
All state and local governments must follow public bidding and procurement laws for public-works projects. That means the feds set the rules. Because federal grants account for about, Congress and federal agencies determine the nature of the grants, oversee their implementation and hold administering agencies accountable for meeting performance standards. The federal government has enormous leverage to incorporate design-build as a requirement for federal aid.
The federal government can also lead by incorporating design-build into repairing and replacing the infrastructure it: the inland waterway system, roads and bridges on federal lands, the air traffic control system and federally owned dams and levees.
Here's what's next for the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill
The $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill the Senate passed goes to the House, where it faces new hurdles, including progressive Democrats.But progressive Democrats in the House, eager to make good on campaign promises ahead of the 2022 midterms, could pose a new set of hurdles to the bipartisan infrastructure plan.
Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, has said that there areon our nation's highway systems that are structurally deficient, some 230,000 that need repair and a long list of bridges that need to be replaced. Imagine the time and money savings if all those contracts were let with design-build requirements.
Neither the states nor the private sector can do it alone; the federal government needs to be the driver. But private-sector experience, with the entrepreneurial instincts that are so ingrained in the running of a business, can help guide the process in ways that complement highly talented government experts. Design-build would be a critical step in that process.
The debate over infrastructure cost and revenues is important. But if the orthodoxies of "too much" or "not enough" asphyxiate innovative, efficient and successful models such as design-build (particularly with historic investments), Big Digs will stretch from coast to coast.
Howard Milstein is chairman, president and CEO of New York Private Bank & Trust and its operating bank, Emigrant Bank, the country's largest privately-owned, family-run bank. He served as chairman of the New York State Thruway Authority until November 2014 and led the procurement process for the replacement of the Tappan Zee Bridge.
represented New York in the U.S. House of Representatives over eight terms and was chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee from 2011 to 2015. He is now the director of the Institute of Politics and Global Affairs at Cornell University. Follow him on Twitter .
Opinion: Why I'm not rejoicing over the bipartisan infrastructure bill .
Jeffrey Sachs writes that while the latest infrastructure bill will fund many necessary improvements, it falls far short of what is actually needed thanks to Republican opposition to raising taxes on corporations and wealthy individuals.The bipartisan infrastructure bill has now made its way through the US Senate. On Tuesday, 69 senators -- including 19 Republicans -- voted to pass the massive $1.2 trillion package. This kind of bipartisanship is heartening -- and will lead to important investments in roads, bridges, rail, broadband internet and the electric grid.