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Evers signs design-build bill

Traffic travels on Interstate 41 through De Pere on July 17. On Tuesday, Gov. Tony Evers signed legislation requiring the Wisconsin Department of Transportation to maintain a list of at least five projects that can be delivered using the design-build system. (Photo by Kevin Harnack)

Traffic travels on Interstate 41 through De Pere on July 17. On Tuesday, Gov. Tony Evers signed legislation requiring the Wisconsin Department of Transportation to maintain a list of at least five projects that can be delivered using the design-build system. (Photo by Kevin Harnack)

With his signature on Tuesday, Gov. Tony Evers called on the state DOT to have at least five projects on hand that contractors can complete using the design-build method.

At the same time, the governor vetoed legislation that would have required the Wisconsin Department of Transportation to maintain a list of materials that could be used as substitutes for a road’s subbase and adopt a system meant to give raises to employees who most merit them.

The design-build bill, Assembly Bill 275, is not the first time state lawmakers have taken up this alternative to public bidding this year. The state’s current budget, signed into law in July, contains a provision setting up a WisDOT office meant to promote the use of the design-build system on road projects.

AB 275 goes beyond that by requiring the state to keep on hand a certain number of projects that can be delivered using design-build. Initially, the legislation would have required WisDOT to have 50 such projects on hand. A subsequent amendment, though, reduced the number to five.

Unlike the standard design-bid-build system, design-build lets contractors have influence over a project even during its earliest design phases. The hope is that, by bringing construction experts in as quickly possible, flaws will be discovered at the outset and the need for costly corrections avoided later on. Critics, though, worry the system will stymie competition by preventing all but big contractors with in-house design departments from trying for state contracts.

The bill signed by Evers on Tuesday will not hand design work entirely over to contractors. Instead, all projects will still have to be “sufficiently developed” by WisDOT before they can be awarded using the design-build system.

Of the two bills Evers vetoed, Assembly Bill 273 would have required WisDOT to maintain a list of at least seven subbase materials that could be used as substitutes for materials specifically called for in state plans. Contractors, in turn, would have been allowed to use those substitutes in their bids as long as they didn’t choose a material that WisDOT engineers had specifically said should be avoided.

Proponents of the bill argued allowing such substitutions would lower project costs. In vetoing the bill, Evers argued it would have given rise to redundant responsibilities.

“As acknowledged in the bill’s nonstatutory provision, the department already specifies a list of equivalent materials for road projects,” he wrote. “Department engineers already determine what subbases are appropriate for each individual project. Requiring the department to also specify in writing which of the listed subbases would be inappropriate for a project creates unnecessary administrative duties.

Evers likewise argued that the other bill he vetoed, Assembly Bill 284, would be duplicative. He noted WisDOT already takes part in the state’s discretionary merit compensation program.

This program, he wrote, “provides a means for the department to financially reward employees who have excelled in any number of ways, including identify cost-saving and efficiency-improving measures.”

About Dan Shaw, dan.shaw@dailyreporter.com

Dan Shaw is the associate editor at The Daily Reporter. He can be reached at dan.shaw@dailyreporter.com or at 414-225-1807.

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