Design-build delivery method for USACE civil works projects provides value

Posted in: Energy, Infrastructure, Military, Water


Denison Dam and hydroelectric power plant wikicommons
The Denison Dam design considered fatigue and fracture in accordance with USACE ETL 1110-2-584, Design of Hydraulic Steel Structures.

Design-build is one of the primary project delivery systems used in the construction industry. In design-build, both design and construction services are contracted by a single contractor. In this method, the design is completed while construction is ongoing. The biggest value of design-build is the time saved in procurement and a potential for value engineering review and project phasing.

Design-build is commonly used for military construction projects executed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. You should be aware that the USACE does not authorize construction until 100% of the design is approved. Though less common, USACE also uses design-build to execute select civil works projects.

As architecture and engineering team on a USACE civil works design-build project, we face numerous challenges, including:

  • Our ability to save costs by using standard components is limited because every project is unique.
  • Our ability to reduce design fees by limiting how much is drawn or saving time by overlapping design and construction phases is limited. This is because USACE requires 100% design completion prior to construction, and 35%–65%–95% submittals and design reviews.
  • Our design may need to undergo a peer review by another District or one of the USACE centers of expertise depending on the size and type of project.
  • Finally, many USACE Districts require an extensive design documentation report in addition to plans and specifications to fully document all modifications to their projects.

Design-build can still provide benefits on these projects. Having the designer and contractor working together throughout the process improves the value and constructability of the design. It can also assist in resolving issues during construction.

Our team recently served as the engineer for the design-build team selected to design and replace two tractor gates at the Denison Dam in Texas. The design considered fatigue and fracture in accordance with USACE Engineer Technical Letter 1110-2-584, Design of Hydraulic Steel Structures. This manual contains extensive requirements for evaluating and detailing fracture critical members of hydraulic steel structures. This design also required a peer review by another District. Needless to say, it was an exciting project for our design team, the contractor, the gate fabricator and the USACE Tulsa District. We learned a lot about how to work collaboratively with the USACE, the contractor and the fabricator to deliver a successful project.

Ultimately, Denison Dam received two new tractor gates designed for:

  • 126 feet of head, earthquake loading and closure under flow
  • Gate slot refurbishment
  • New flood and emergency gate dogging devices
  • New work platform for dogging device installation and maintenance.

Meeting the objectives of USACE Civil Works design-build projects is challenging. My formula for success is continued correspon­dence and cooperation between the designer, the contractor, the contrac­tor’s fabricator and the District.


Miro Kurka, PE, PMP

About the Author

Miro Kurka, P.E., PMP, knows water is an incredible resource. “I like leading teams and managing water infrastructure projects that make our citizens safer, wealthier and happier.” A retired U.S. Army officer, he managed the Corps of Engineers’ program in Tulsa, Portland and Afghanistan for 30 years. He enjoys traveling and meeting people.

Read more posts by Miro Kurka, PE, PMP

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