Design-build is a project delivery method which combines the design and construction of a project into one contract. It typically does not utilize “competitive bidding” in which a contract is awarded to a qualified firm with the lowest bid.
Adding an HOV lane to a ten-mile section of Route 405 in Los Angeles was California’s first major design-build project on a state highway. Subsequently, SB 2X 4 authorized additional design-build projects, followed shortly after by AB 2098 in 2010, AB 401 in 2013, AB 2551 in 2016, as well as AB 994, SB 793 & 373 all in 2017.
AB 401 specifically authorize the Department of Transportation to utilize design-build procurement for up to 10 projects on the state highway system. However, the subsequent bills provided broader authority to local/regional transportation agencies, water authorities and health districts. More recent projects utilizing the design-build procurement method include 15/91 Express Lanes Connector and State Route 91.
These laws require Caltrans to perform the construction inspection on state highway projects which utilize the design-build method. ACEC, representing private engineering firms, filed suit challenging the constitutionality of AB 401 but the courts dismissed the complaint, upholding the constitutionality of the new statute. Whether this process saves money, expedites projects, or transfers risk to the private sector continues to be debated.