Alternative delivery, Design-Build, Transportation

Alternative delivery methods like design-build, progressive design-build and public-private partnerships are continuing to reshape how projects are brought to life in the A/E/C industry. Through their streamlined processes and increased opportunities for innovation and collaboration, these methods empower project owners to make the most of their capital infrastructure investments.

Alternative delivery is expected to account for over 47 percent of all construction spending across the U.S. by 2026.1 Despite their positives, many project owners are still hesitant to use these models. This discussion explores the advantages of alternative delivery, including scenarios where it can be beneficial in advancing projects.

When timing is critical
Alternative delivery procurement can dramatically streamline schedules. On average, design-build projects are delivered 102 percent faster than those undertaken through design-bid-build.2 Design-build eliminates the separate bidding phase that occurs in traditional design-bid-build procurement, enabling the project owner to hire a unified design-construction team through a single contract. While any fixed-price procurement type can be lengthy, progressive alternative delivery forms can significantly shorten procurement schedules by reducing the time required to generate and estimate bridging documents for a fixed-price bid.

Alternative delivery models break down silos between the designer and contractor, fostering innovation and collaboration during preconstruction design and development. This can enhance constructability and innovation while expediting the delivery schedule and reducing costs. Key efforts early in projects, from integrating stakeholder input with real-time construction planning to streamlining federal, state and local permitting processes, adds to efficiencies.

When risk is part of the equation
Risk transfer — present in any large, complex project — is an ever-evolving notion. To fully gauge risk, project owners must have a clear understanding of the delivery models that best fit a project’s characteristics, jurisdictional requirements and agency skillsets. As progressive design-build models advance, the design and construction industry must adapt and address the potential impacts of risk on projects, while also supporting the surety and professional liability markets as they evolve. Education is key to understanding this evolving landscape and the ramifications that affect agencies, their delivery partners and design-build teams.

The sequenced, collaborative nature of this “new wave” of progressive design-build models is beginning to influence North American markets, improving the private sector’s appetite for impactful projects. Over the years, we have built strong relationships with project owners. This experience helps us better understand their processes as they align with current alternative delivery forms, positioning us to mitigate risks that could impact project cost and schedule. Our demonstrated effectiveness — whether as part of the design and construction team or by providing owners with advisory services over the project lifecycle — enables owners to trust us to understand their issues and tailor solutions to meet their needs.

Applying all advantages
Not all alternative delivery must be progressive. The new Harry W. Nice/Thomas “Mac” Middleton Bridge — a design-build project — clearly illustrates the advantages of alternative delivery. The 1.9-mile bridge, which spans the Potomac River and connects Virginia and Maryland, was designed and permitted in just 11 months, with construction beginning four months early in 2020 and continuing on pace during the COVID-19 pandemic. AECOM’s designers worked with the construction joint venture,3 partnering with the Maryland State Highway Authority, to develop design phase refinements and final plans based on efficient, cost-effective, repetitive bridge span lengths that allowed for fast-track construction. Designed for a 100-year life span, the bridge opened to traffic on October 12, 2022 — almost three months ahead of schedule — exemplifying how conventional design-build also fosters success.

Adopting alternative delivery models offers owners numerous advantages, such as enhanced innovation and accelerated schedules, even for their most complex projects. Embracing these principles, while selecting the appropriate tool from the alternative delivery toolbox, will maximize owners’ capital investments and empower them to improve the quality of life for the communities they serve.

Delivered through design-build, the new Harry W. Nice/Thomas “Mac” Middleton Bridge was completed on a fast-track schedule. During design phase refinements and final plans, close collaboration between the design-build team and the Maryland State Highway Authority enabled the bridge to open three months ahead of schedule.

1 Trombitas, P., Beardall, E., & Whitmore, T. (2023). Mid-Cycle Update Report. Design-Build Institute of America. Retrieved February 13, 2023, from

2 Molenaar, K., & Bryan, F. (2018). Revisiting Project Delivery Performance: 1998-2018. Design-Build Institute of America. Retrieved February 13, 2024, from

3 AECOM was contracted to a Skanska, Corman Kokosing Construction Company, and McLean Contracting Company joint venture.

Originally published Feb 29, 2024

Author: Aaron Flautt