The National Academies

NCHRP 10-115 [Pending]

Guide on Progressive Design-Build for Transportation Projects

  Project Data
Funds: $300,000
Contract Time: 30 months
Staff Responsibility: Christopher T. McKenney
Comments: Contract pending at this time.


The most commonly used methodology for design-build (DB) contractor selection involves a best value process, with significant weight accorded to price, resulting in a fixed-price contract for design development and construction. Progressive design-build (PDB) is a recent variation that allows early contractor involvement with elements similar to a construction manager/general contractor (CM/GC) approach. Similar to the process used for CM/GC, pricing negotiation occurs for final design and construction in the preliminary design phase. But unlike CM/GC, PDB continues to transfer design liability and construction responsibilities to a DB team starting with the preliminary planning and design phase through to construction completion. 

PDB contracts include procedures for development of the design, schedule/phasing plan, and a price for final design and construction typically in the form of a guaranteed maximum price (GMP), targeted maximum price (TMP), or agreed lump sum. The development of the price is a key component of PDB as it allows owners to hire a progressive designer-builder without a total price commitment for final design and construction until reasonable design details are defined. 

Currently, state departments of transportation (DOTs) are utilizing variations in terminology, differing approaches in early progressive design-build team (PDBT)/state interactions, and varying contracting mechanisms due to the limited guidance available to implement PDB on their highway projects. To help state DOTs understand the benefits offered by PDB for transportation projects, research is needed to explore how PDB can be effectively implemented on highway projects.


The objective of this research is to develop a guide for state DOTs to effectively and efficiently use PDB delivery for transportation projects that includes assistance with project planning and selection, project implementation, procurement, pricing procedures, and contract administration.   

Accomplishment of the project objective will require at least the following tasks.


PHASE I Planning and Data Collection

Task 1. Conduct a literature review of relevant research and current state-of-practice related to PDB for transportation projects. The review shall include published and unpublished research conducted through the NCHRP; Federal Highway Administration (FHWA); state DOTs; and other national, international, state, and pooled-fund sponsored research. 

Task 2. Propose a methodical approach (e.g., surveys, targeted interviews, focus groups, and other appropriate methods and/or tools) to collect information from state DOTs, practitioners, and relevant stakeholders involved with PDB for transportation project planning.

At a minimum, the proposed approach shall collect and summarize information to characterize the current state-of-practice as well as future needs including the following main topics and subtasks: 

  • Project Planning
    • Determine the current industry definition of PDB as it relates to transportation construction and any identifiable subset definitions of PDB methods;
    • Define the fundamental characteristics needed for a project to qualify as a PDB;
    • Identify the significant differences and similarities of traditional DB, PDB, and CM/GC;
    • Identify the advantages and disadvantages of PDB; and
    • Identify the key implementation requirements to: (1) avoid conflicts between PDB and NEPA and (2) warrant compliance with current federal regulations (i.e., 23 CFR 635 or 636).

  • Project Implementation
    • Define the activities, elements, and skills needed to implement PDB;
    • Identify best supervisory practices for managing internal personnel assigned to administer PDB projects;
    • Identify proficiencies and disciplines (e.g., design, estimating, scheduling) to effectively utilize internal personnel in PDB project delivery;
    • Identify examples of enabling states’ legislation, including an evaluation of legislation that does not preclude usage;
    • Identify the cultural changes public and private sectors should adopt to manage PDB projects; and
    • Develop resources that identify potential implementation requirements, promotional tools (i.e., infographics, fact sheets), procedures (including quality assurance (QA)), strategies, training needs, and challenges as it relates to PDB.

  • Procurement
    • Identify the qualitative selection criteria matrices typically applied for procurement;
    • Identify the differences in a qualifications-only based selection vs. traditional best-value selection (i.e., price + qualifications);
    • Identity similarities of scoring systems and award algorithms;
    • Identify effective branding tools and methods to market PDB contracts to promote public involvement and political support; and
    • Identify effective information exchange practices between owner and PDBTs during procurement (i.e., confidentiality requirements, one-on-one meetings, etc.).

  • Pricing Procedures
    • Define pricing methodologies for projects (i.e., agreed lump sum, GMP, TMP, target budget, fixed-price/best design);
    • Identify procedures and milestones to assess and validate PDBT’s price and schedule;
    • Determine best methods to assist with pricing and effective convergence factors;
    • Determine best methods for state DOTs managing contingency pool funds, ensuring continued innovation, and achieving cost savings with the PDBT;
    • Identify how incentives and disincentives are effectively incorporated;
    • Identify the current state-of-practice for the use of an independent cost estimator (ICE);
    • Identify how agencies ensure competitive elements are incorporated into PDBT selection (if required by legislation); and
    • Identify how alternative technical concepts (ATCs) are utilized in a PDB process (if required by legislation).

  • Contract Administration
    • Identify the implications and strategies for PDB design and construction activities as they relate to surety/bonding/insurance;
    • Determine PDB best practices for the identification and allocation of critical project risks;
    • Identify key contracting phases as they relate to PDB project delivery, to include naming conventions utilized for the contracting phases (i.e., Phase I, Phase II, and 1A-1B-2), and summarize the administrative steps within each of the phases;
    • Identify the timing consideration and key factors of funding availability;
    • Identify the best practices for subcontracting and DBE participation;
    • Identify key differences in project oversight of a PDB project vs. traditional DB after the pricing process is complete;
    • Identify the QA implications in PDB delivery; and
    • Determine the industry definition of an “Off Ramp,” the optimal timing of the “Off Ramp” determination, the key considerations/impacts when utilizing the “Off Ramp” option, and effective contracting language structures when utilizing the “Off Ramp.”

Task 3. Execute the approved Task 2 methodology. Synthesize the results of Tasks 1 and 2 to identify knowledge gaps for state DOT programs in implementing and managing PDB projects. These knowledge gaps should be addressed in this research or in the recommended future research as budget permits.

Task 4. Propose a preliminary roadmap for the proposed guide based on the findings from Task 3 to be fully developed in Phase II.

Task 5. Prepare and submit Interim Report No. 1 that documents the work completed in Tasks 1 through 4 and presents an updated plan describing work proposed for Phase II through IV.

PHASE II — Methodology Development

Task 6.  Execute the work proposed according to the approved Interim Report No.1.

Task 7. Provide a detailed outline of the proposed guide supported with examples (e.g., detailed description of chapters and sections).

Task 8. Prepare Interim Report No. 2 that documents the results of Tasks 6 and 7 and provides an updated work plan for the remainder of the project. The updated plan must describe the work proposed for Phases III and IV.

PHASE III — Guide Development

Task 9. Fully develop the guide according to the approved Interim Report No. 2.

Task 10. Prepare Interim Report No. 3 that documents the results of Task 9 no later than 8 months after approval of Phase III. The updated work plan must describe the work proposed for Phase IV.

PHASE IV — Final Products

Task 11. Revise the draft guide considering the NCHRP’s review comments.

Task 12. Prepare a final deliverable that documents the entire research effort. Final deliverables should include, at a minimum (1) a final research report documenting the entire research effort and findings; (2) the guide; (3) infographic material for briefings for policy and decision-makers; (4) prioritized recommendations for future research; (5) presentation material; and (6) technical memorandum on implementation.


STATUS: Proposals have been received in response to the RFP.  The project panel will meet to select a contractor to perform the work.


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