NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) A $56 million project to widen Interstate 40 in Wilson County is more notable than the average road construction project.
That’s because it is the largest design-build project to date that the Tennessee Department of Transportation has bid out. Design-build is a type of contracting that allows a single firm to design a project and construct it. Typically, the state would competitively bid the design and construction work separately.
Supporters of design-bid contracts say projects get done quicker because construction can start before the design is complete. Critics say taxpayers can end up paying more for work because only a few large companies can compete.
The process is becoming more popular across the nation. For example, New York State allowed it last year for the first time and the Federal Highway Administration has encouraged states to use it.
“It is going to be a tool we will continue to use as we go forward,” TDOT Commissioner John Schroer told The Tennessean. “It gives us a great opportunity. It helps us move things quicker.”
The I-40 project will widen the roadway from four to eight lanes along a 7-mi. (11 km) stretch in Wilson County, where close to 70,000 vehicles travel each day.
Paul Degges, TDOT’s deputy commissioner and chief engineer, said officials decided to start small with design-build in an effort to get experience with it before delving into a large project.
He said the department used it in 2008 on an exit ramp. It also was used on a project on state Route 317 in Hamilton County. Degges said the process saves time, and that’s an important factor on heavily traveled roads. The I-40 project was awarded in December and work began in the last month with a completion date in December 2013.
“We have easily cut a year off the traditional development,” Degges said.
Degges acknowledged that the design-build contracts don’t allow for the same competition as traditional ones, but he said TDOT does not bid them the same way. Because they are more complicated and more expensive to put together, he said the agency seeks bids from about three firms and provides a stipend to losing ones.