Subscribe to Email Updates

Closing the Gap with Design-Build for Water Infrastructure

Closing the Gap with Design-Build for Water Infrastructure

Today's global infrastructure investment, estimated to be $2.5 trillion per year, falls short of the $3.3 trillion annual investment needed to keep pace with expected growth, not to mention renewal of existing aging infrastructure.

With funding flat or declining, new ways of increasing productivity by streamlining project delivery are needed, according to a 2016 report from McKinsey & Company, "Bridging Global Infrastructure Gaps." The report also states that improving project selection and maximizing existing assets could result in cost savings as high as 40 percent, which would help close the gap.

But just how can streamlining project delivery lead to increased productivity — particularly in the case of complex water and wastewater projects?

An important part of the answer lies in the delivery system itself. Traditionally, infrastructure projects are delivered using a design-bid-build model. In this model, design and construction are procured and managed separately, and there is no input into the planning and design from the contractors, subcontractors or equipment suppliers who will be building the project. And because there isn’t a single point of responsibility for the overall project delivery, it can result in delays, rework and sometimes claims that prevent a project from being delivered on time and on budget while consuming valuable management design and construction resources.

The design-build construction model offers owners another option. This form of integrated project delivery brings efficiency to the cycle by consolidating responsibility for both design and construction to a single point. This process brings the owner, designer and builder to the table early in the design and planning process, allowing the project to benefit from the experience and skill sets of the entire team. And because construction can begin early, cost escalation risk is reduced and delivery cycles are shortened.

This delivery method also chooses team members based on overall value and greatest return, unlike its design-bid-build counterpart that focuses on low cost. Using design-build for water infrastructure allows consideration of critical factors such as qualifications, quality of work, experience and past performance. The full integration of the owner, designer and builder puts the project on course to deliver the right balance of quality, cost and schedule.

Having a highly qualified, skilled and experienced project team is particularly important for water projects, where the projects typically are built around an existing operating facility and must maintain regulatory compliance. A specialized and cohesive team that knows how to sequence and execute the work to keep a facility online and functioning during construction reduces risk, saves time and money, and improves project efficiency.

To address the growing infrastructure crisis, we need to embrace better ways to build and maintain our infrastructure assets for future generations. We also need to learn how to close the funding gap by becoming more efficient and productive in our project delivery approach. Design-build is a promising solution that can do just that.


Your plant is one of your most important assets, so give it the treatment is deserves. An efficient, integrated team provides cost certainty and timely delivery. Put your infrastructure updates on the fast track with design-build.

Download the White Paper

Leave a comment

John Mitchell
Written by John Mitchell
John Mitchell is process technology director for water industry projects at Burns & McDonnell. He has more than 30 years of experience in water and wastewater treatment, wastewater collection and planning services.

Related posts

Each Project Is a Unique Experience
Each Project Is a Unique Experience

I would describe myself as an adventurer who thrives on challenge and growth. This personality trait has translated well in my...

Project Management Office Provides Adaptability in Uncertain Times
Project Management Office Provides Adaptability in Uncertain Times

With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, organizations are under stress like never before with project shutdowns or delays and...