The National Academies

NCHRP 10-122 [Pending]

Cost Estimating Practices for Highway Projects

  Project Data
Funds: $250,000
Contract Time: 24 months
Staff Responsibility: Christopher T. McKenney
Comments: Contract pending at this time.


Cost estimating for highway projects assess the anticipated costs required to complete a project according to the construction plans and specifications. To assemble a complete estimate, an estimator must combine the knowledge of construction methods and techniques into a methodical process, which requires assembling, organizing, and calculating large amounts of data and information such as materials, labor, and equipment. The importance of timely and accurate estimates are essential for management decision-making at state department of transportations (DOTs) and other agencies.

In 2013, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) published the Practical Guide to Cost Estimating (PGCE) to provide state DOTs and other agencies with practical guidelines on how to develop realistic estimates of project costs. Since then, innovative means and methods of estimating have been identified within the industry to assist with the development of consistent and reliable cost estimates. The technological advancements of various software, tools, and resources have modernized the estimating process with digital two-dimensional (2D) drawings and three-dimensional (3D) modeling. However, state DOTs and other agencies need more guidance on resources available for more current and accurate cost estimating materials and resources.

Research is needed to: (1) identify recent and trending advancements in cost estimating practices for state DOTs and other agencies, and (2) update and develop practical materials and resources to successfully manage their estimating programs.


The objective of this research is to develop state-of-the-art material and resources relating to cost estimating practices.

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 related to cost estimating. The review shall include published and unpublished research conducted through the NCHRP; Federal Highway Administration (FHWA); and other national, international, state, and pooled-fund sponsored research.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 and current state-of-practice from state DOTs, practitioners, and relevant stakeholders as it relates to cost estimating.

At a minimum, the proposed approach shall collect and summarize information to characterize the current state-of-practice as well as future needs. The following list is in order of priority:

  1. Identify the significant differences and similarities of alternative contracting methods (e.g., design-build (DB), progressive design-build (PDB), construction management at risk (CMAR), construction manager/general contractor (CM/GC), private-public partnerships (P3), emergency contracting, and indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity (ID/IQ)) with regards to estimating project cost;
  2. Identify state and federal compliance requirements related to performance measures, procurement process, civil rights inclusion and participation (e.g., disadvantaged business enterprises (DBEs), on-the-job training (OJT), and tribal employment), value engineering, Buy America Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA);
  3. Identify cost estimating software technology to support and track construction estimating for the duration of a project. This should include, the functionality of software/hardware and technology, utilization with cross-agency disciplines, and the capability to connect with construction administration systems;
  4. Identify the data exchange standards and requirements (e.g., Industry Foundation Classes (IFC)) to ensure compatibility and continuous flow of data from inception to asset management, including the creation or development of digital as-built drawings;
  5. Define differences between external market conditions and contingencies (e.g., material procurements, material suppliers, supply chain delivery, labor and trades shortage), and how they are incorporated into the project estimate;
  6. Identify the advantages and disadvantages using digital design as it relates to the estimating process; and
  7. Identify effective marketing tools and methods to promote public involvement and political support.

Task 3. Execute the Task 2 methodology and prioritize knowledge gaps of cost estimating practices for highway projects. These knowledge gaps should be addressed in this research or in the recommended future research as budget permits.

Task 4. Develop resources (e.g., infographics, fact sheets, and compendium) from the findings of Task 3 to highlight potential implementation requirements, procedures (including quality control (QC), quality assurance (QA), and quality verification (QV)), educational needs, instructor-led training courses, certification programs, strategies, and challenges as it relates to cost estimating.

Task 5. Identify existing sections of the PGCE that the research results may influence or may be impacted by the research results, including an update of current glossary of standard terminologies and applications used in the estimating process.

Task 6. Prepare Interim Report No. 1 that documents Tasks 1 through 5 and provides an updated work plan for the remainder of the research.


PHASE II – Guide Development

Task 7. Prepare draft language for consideration by AASHTO in the next update of the PGCE, hereafter called the AASHTO Deliverable, supported with examples.

Task 8. Prepare Interim Report No. 2 that documents Task 7. This report should include revised examples of materials and resources developed in Task 4 to be incorporated into the contractor’s final research report.


PHASE III – Final Products

Task 9. Present AASHTO Deliverable to the AASHTO Technical Committee on Cost Estimating for comments and propose any revisions to NCHRP.  Revise the AASHTO Deliverable considering the NCHRP’s review comments.

Task 10.  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 AASHTO Deliverable; (3) prioritized recommendations for future research; (4) presentation material and resources; and (5) 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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