The Highways Agency this week pledged to take on greater financial risk on future road schemes by engaging contractors to work alongside consultants on detailed design.
The Agency is gambling that early involvement of contractors will shave up to two years off average construction times.
But the move will substantially increase costs borne by the Agency during the planning and design phase. Road schemes failing to win planning consent will hit the Agency harder financially than at present.
Having a contractor on board through the planning stage will lead to a considerable increase in the contractor's fee, admitted procurement director Steve Rowsell. However, value engineering carried out by the contractor and development of a construction methodology alongside detailed design will contribute to major cost and time savings, more than making up for it, Rowsell said.
Most trunk road schemes under consideration will see early contractor involvement.
These include eight schemes added to the Agency's targeted programme of improvements last year and projects emerging from the Agency's multi modal studies, said Rowsell.
He confirmed that the Agency was planning to go out to tender for early contractor involvement on the Stonehenge Tunnel project in September.
The Agency is trialling the arrangement with contractor Nuttall on the £33M A500 Pathfinder scheme near Stoke-on-Trent.
Nuttall will be working with designer Hyder, which has so far carried out only about 25% of the total design. Under the plan, the scheme to route part of the A500 through an underpass and build new junctions would start construction in 2003 and complete in 2005 (see feature, page 30).
Contract terms allow Nuttall to be compensated for any delays resulting from the public inquiry or changes to the design.
Savings of 10% are expected overall, said Rowsell.