|Part 2 - Why do Government Capital Projects Take So Long?
Without accounting for the unique scope, the optimum duration for a commuter rail design and construction project is 54 months (min), which allows for 12 months planning, 19 months designing and preparing a construction contract, 3 months pre-construction, and 20 months for construction. For the on-going storm recovery, the overall duration of a project involving a branch-line signal system is currently tracking at an estimated 61 months.
In Part 1, the durations for public contracts for design and construction projects was outlined and related to infrastructure projects from Super Storm Sandy along the US east coast in October 2012. In this part, other elements that affect the progress and duration of work on infrastructure projects will be presented and reviewed.
Work restrictions/conditions by the Owner drive the contact time available for the contractor to perform the work. As most noticeable in New York, Amtrak’s 2017 summer rehabilitation of Penn Station, on-going reconstruction of the Belt Parkway, rebuilding LaGuardia Airport, and real estate development by Brookfield and Related over LIRR tracks at Penn Station and Hudson Yard, the construction is executed while the Owners’ maintain near-full-service operations.
While political will may demand, may increase optimization, and may modify processes to expedite project work, there are government laws and regulations and Owner security and safety standards that impact the ability of consultants and contractors to make progress that is reasonably anticipated by citizens.
Most citizen’s commonly observe the new construction of a home, office tower, residential building, and industrial facility. For the majority of these projects, the contractor typically controls the entire work area and has little to no restrictions on performing work at the location. While local traffic and noise may have some impact on scheduling work, progress of work on infrastructure projects much different.
The construction of the New York’s Empire State Building in 14 months during the 1930s is often raised to compare performance of projects.
So why does it take so long?
A lot has changed since the 1930s, including regulatory and industry standards. In the 1960s and 1970s, the government implemented laws and regulations that impacted duration of design and construction projects, including:
• Requirements for state historical preservation of land and buildings
• Improvements in construction requirements, building codes and fire protection
• Improvements in means and method for construction and qualifications of contractors
• Regulations for protecting the environment and the health and safety of employees
Super Storm Sandy changed the construction environment forever including the scars from the property damage and plan for future rises in seal levels. As a result, new criteria for design of construction projects incorporated infrastructure features for avoiding or mitigating the damage from hurricane storm damage and the documented rise in seal levels. As a condition for government funding, Owner’s needed to design rebuild projects with elevations that would raise assets above forecasted flood levels. This required additional time for design to:
• Identify the assets critical to operations, which are usually characterized by high value, long lead time to delivery, and complex installation iinstallation process.
• Determine the design-to-elevation (feet-above-flood plain) based on region and government flood maps.
For infrastructure projects on existing transportation assets, such as railroads, subways, airports and highways, it is expected that work progress without significantly impacting the publics’ access and use of the infrastructure. Factors affecting duration and progress of design and construction work:
• Maintaining pre-construction service levels and plans. Impact – limit work periods to nights and weekends exclusive of added restrictions for expanded service during holidays and other community events such as religious observance, parades, marathons, and charity events
• Limiting contractors’ hours at work sites. Impact – reduces work periods to 5hrs productive contact time.
• Limiting areas for staging/storing materials, systems, construction equipment, and employee facilities and parking. Impact – reduces efficiency of planned work.
• Restricting access and traffic plans for delivery of materials and construction equipment. Impact – reduces efficiency of planned work.
• Accessing Owner resources for escorting and monitoring contractors’ work. Impact - reduces actual contractor workdays.
Many of these impacts are a function of Owner’s recognition of an obligation to maintain service levels for customer satisfaction on a system that is funding by tax payer monies and paid in-advance for tickets. It also acknowledges the responsibility of the Owner to be a good neighbor and environmental advocate for the property along and adjacent to its right-of-way.
There are also other factors from the Owner’s processes and the conditions for government funding such as:
• Owner approval cycles typically involve month meetings that require documentation for decisions 30 days in advance of meetings. Impact 30 – 60 days to schedule decisions on around 10 meetings annually.
• Government funding requires minimum bid period of 45 days. Impact 15-30 days more time than the standard bid period.
• Consideration to obtain at least 2-3 bids/proposals. Impact 30 - 60 days to answer questions and extend bid/proposal due dates.
• Bid/proposal evaluations require well documented and structured process and negotiations. Impact 60 – 90 days to assure contract award team time for reviewing documents, interviewing contractors, and negotiating costs.
• Owner legal and risk reviews of contract documents and bids/proposals. Impact 30 - 60 days.
Many of these processes result from years of experience and Lessons Learned in the public domain where a very structured environment evolved to ensure transparent management, open opportunities, fair access to information, competition among bidders, and to provide the best value and cost efficiencies for procured design and construction contracts.