P3s in Tunneling

Jim Rush

Jim Rush

Over the past 15 years, alternative contracting mechanisms have been used increasingly on tunneling projects in North America. When I first started covering the market in 1998, all eyes were on Puerto Rico where the first underground transit project in America was being delivered by design-build. That project – the Rio Piedras section of the Tren Urbano system – was essentially a test case for a large design-build. It consisted of approximately 1 mile of tunnel and two underground stations in a historic area of the capital city of San Juan.

The contractor on that project was a joint venture of Kiewit-Kenny-Zachary with Puerto Rican design firm CMA. The team involved a familiar cast of consultants that included Sverdrup (now Jacobs Engineering) for station design, Jacobs Associates for tunnel design, and Woodward Clyde (now URS) for geotechnical services. DMJM (now Aecom) provided 30 percent design services for the owner. The project included a variety of construction techniques, including EPB tunneling, NATM, cut-and-cover, and a mined station built using the stacked drift method.

Notice to proceed was given in April 1997, with project completion achieved in May 2003. After the successful completion of the project, more design-build tunnel projects have followed, notably in Washington, D.C. (Blue Plains Tunnel), Las Vegas (Lake Mead Intake No. 3), Seattle (SR 99) and Los Angeles (Crenshaw/LAX and Regional Connector projects). In fact, owners from those projects were represented in the annual TBM Roundtable last year (August 2012 issue, available on tunnelingonline.com).

More recently, there has been increased use of public-private partnerships – or P3s – for project delivery in underground construction. There are many variations of how P3s work, but commonly it is a design-build with the added component of the private partner bringing some project financing into the mix in exchange for future revenue generated by the facility (tolls, for example). This kind of arrangement can be particularly effective in building new infrastructure at a time when local government budgets are stretched thin.

Probably the most visible P3 in the United States is the PortMiami Tunnel, a highway project that involves the construction of a new facilities to improve transportation to the port and downtown Miami. That project is configured a design-build-finance-operate-maintain-transfer, in which the facility will be returned to the owner – the Florida Department of Transportation – after a period of 35 years. Other P3 projects in North America include the Midtown Tunnel in Virginia and – on a smaller scale – the Billy Bishop Airport pedestrian tunnel in Toronto.
To further explore this topic, we convened our roundtable with experts on the use of P3s, both in North America and abroad. Our panel consisted of Gordon Clark, Parsons Brinckerhoff; K.N. Gunalan, Aecom; Chris Guthkelch, Skanska; Don Phillips, Arup; and Kirsten Young, Dr. Mole Inc. In general, the panel agreed that P3s offer advantages to tunnel projects – particularly large transportation projects – and that we will continue to see increased use of P3s in the future. Education, communication between stakeholders, and well understood expectations and goals are key to the success of P3s.

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