States will have more flexibility to build roads and bridges faster under a new rule that will allow design work and environmental reviews to occur concurrently, said U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary E. Peters.
The final rule amends Federal Highway Administration regulations to allow states to use various innovative contracting methods ranging from basic design-build contracts to long-term concession agreements while simultaneously pursuing federal environmental approvals. The rule also increases the opportunity for smaller projects to use design-build contracts by eliminating a required dollar amount for projects.
"This new flexibility will help states build needed roads and bridges faster, while at the same time protecting the environment," Peters said.
The rule allows certain design work to begin while the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process is under way, still ensuring that the full range of alternatives is considered. Using this process, states are able to expedite the contract award process and start preliminary design while ensuring the objectivity of the NEPA decision-making process.
"Innovative contracting leads to speedier project delivery. The new rule will help to mainstream the approach and reduce the costs for states wishing to enter into public-private partnerships," said Federal Highway Administrator J. Richard Capka.
Capka added that a quicker process will save taxpayers time and money. Overall, design-build has been proven a successful contracting tool, reducing average project delivery time by 14%.
The rule, which was open for full public comment before publication, can be viewed at www.fhwa.dot.gov/new.html.