The Design/Build Decision - Lessons Learned from the Hiawatha Light Rail Project

The 12-mile, $715 million Hiawatha Light Rail starter line in Minneapolis kicked into full revenue service on December 4, 2004, one month ahead of the scheduled Full Funding Grant Agreement milestone date and within the very lean project budget. Similar to the June opening of the initial eight-mile segment, throngs of patrons turned out to ride the distinctive yellow-and-silver vehicles, but this time to go all the way to the �crown jewel� at the end of the line, the Mall of America. Minnesota�s largest-ever public works project had been plagued by a multitude of obstacles since its conception in the mid-1980s, primarily the result of an uncertain and often hostile political climate, lawsuits by the state�s largest utility, and various key organizational changes within Metro Transit, the operator of the transit system, and the Metropolitan Council, the regional governing authority and grantee for Hiawatha. In spite of these challenges, the light rail system has been performing to rave reviews by patrons and many erstwhile opponents. The system operated nearly a year of pre-revenue testing and training, and for over three months in revenue service before incurring its first accident and there have been minimal disruptions to service. More impressive is the ridership: Since the start of the first phase of Hiawatha rail operations in June 2004 through the end of the year, approximately three million riders have boarded trains, 106% higher than Metro Transit�s projections. While the transit focus has now turned to operating the line and looking ahead to developing a regional network of light rail, commuter rail and transit corridors in the Twin Cities, one of the key decisions made years ago during the preliminary engineering for Hiawatha was to utilize a design/build (D/B) procurement strategy to deliver most of the alignment. (The tunnel boring and construction of the station under the Minneapolis-St Paul International Airport was performed under a separate contract.) At the time, the overseers of the Hiawatha Project were inclined to proceed with conventional thinking in the industry that D/B was the best course to take because the schedule could be compressed, much of the grantee�s risk would be reallocated to the D/B contractor, and administrative obligations and costs would be significantly reduced since the responsibilities for coordination and execution were squarely under the terms and conditions of the D/B contract. This paper presents a perspective of the perceived advantages of utilizing a D/B contracting method for a light rail system versus some of the realities associated with this approach, and will convey the factors and potential downsides to be considered when making this decision. The author, drawing on his experiences with Hiawatha�s $330 million D/B contract, will describe some of the tactics and techniques employed during the project life � both successfully and unsuccessfully, as well as provide recommendations when considering such a contracting method including: (1) time allocation for planning and preparation; (2) impacts of misunderstandings/missed communications and front-end delays; (3) project organization and coordination; (4) necessary resources and capabilities of the owner/ operator project management team; and (5) �shared risk.�


  • English

Media Info

  • Media Type: Print
  • Features: Figures; References; Tables;
  • Pagination: 7p
  • Monograph Title: Rail Transit Conference Proceedings, 2005

Subject/Index Terms

Filing Info

  • Accession Number: 01002159
  • Record Type: Publication
  • ISBN: 1931594155
  • Files: TRIS
  • Created Date: Jul 14 2005 3:55PM