tucson runways aerial

Realizing the Benefits of CMAR on Airfield Projects

Tucson Runway Design Shows Construction Manager At-Risk Method Can Be Beneficial for Airports, But Requires Partnership and True Collaboration for Maximum Benefit

By Scott Sikel and Tom Bair

In October 2020, the Tucson Airport Authority broke ground on the largest project in its 72-year history. The Airfield Safety Enhancement Program modernizes the airfield of Tucson International Airport and brings it up to current Federal Aviation Administration safety standards. The centerpiece of the estimated $300 million program is a new parallel runway that will reduce runway incursions for the airport and is being delivered through a Construction Manager At-Risk method. Three other projects in the ASE program are being delivered through design-bid-build contracts.

The CMAR project includes the demolition of existing Runway 11R/29L — a narrow general aviation runway — and its associated taxiways. In its place will be constructed Runway 12R/30L, a 10,996-foot commercial runway and associated parallel taxiways. It includes two parallel taxiways and new connector taxiways. Under contract with TAA, HDR is lead designer on this effort, providing airfield design, drainage and hydrology design, construction safety and phasing, as well as design for arresting systems used by military aircraft that share the airfield. The CMAR project consists of four guaranteed maximum price packages. One package is currently under construction, another is in contractor pricing and the remaining two are in design.

A Coordinated Approach

As a CMAR project, collaboration and teamwork with the contractor have been important throughout planning and development. This alternative procurement method is less common for airfield projects than traditional design-bid-build. Under the CMAR method, the owner has a contract with a designer to design the project and a separate concurrent contract with a construction manager/general contractor to construct the project. The designer and contractor are contractually required to work together during the design phase to complete the design and to establish a price for construction guaranteed by the contractor.

Working together on the design offers an opportunity for innovation and improved efficiencies and reduces the risk of later change orders. But to realize these benefits requires a designer and contractor that work well together and can collaborate to find efficiencies. Technical proficiency is important as always, but in a CMAR it is also important to have leaders and a team that are open-minded, flexible and amenable to working together. That comfort and the free flow of ideas that follows are what lead to innovation, efficiency and the true benefits of the CMAR approach.

Design and Construction Efficiencies Through Collaboration

In Tucson, the designer-contractor relationship has been fruitful. Since beginning design work in 2019, HDR’s team has held frequent meetings with the contractor to coordinate upcoming work, identify challenges and develop solutions with TAA, the contractor and the program manager as an integrated team.

In this collaborative process, HDR developed multiple scenarios and worked with the airport and its program manager to create design concepts. These were presented to the contractor, who used the concept to develop a construction estimate and offer their comments on how it could be constructed based on available funding.

Those meetings have led to increased optimization of the final design and streamlined coordination with stakeholders.  For example, construction phasing alternatives were developed by the team and vetted in near real time by the contractor to determine schedule and cost implications, not only for each package but the project as whole.  Using this process, over nine alternatives were analyzed and refined until a single recommended approach could be presented concisely to the airport’s larger stakeholder group.  The result is a phasing and packaging approach that will save the project millions of dollars in costs, while also providing a safer environment for aircraft operations during construction.

More Cost Certainty

The involvement of the contractor in regular design meetings can also help in smaller ways. With representatives of the contractor participating on regular calls, they can offer feedback in real time on design options. A drainage design call, for instance, may involve a decision on whether to use a box culvert, a large concrete pipe or multiple smaller pipes, all of which could be valid. This delivery method allows the contractor to work with the designers to consider multiple options to determine the most cost-effective solution given the project constraints.

These ongoing discussions and feedback provide more certainty in project cost as guaranteed maximum price packages are developed. Because the contractor has already provided input on preferred and better options, it reduces the potential for cost impacts and schedule delays during construction and provides more confidence for the owner.

Technical Proficiency a Must

While the ongoing and regular involvement of a contractor from the beginning of the design process can provide helpful clarity in many situations, it also puts more emphasis on the technical abilities of the designer to quickly and critically evaluate suggestions from the contractor.

For projects using traditional procurement methods, the design is developed before the contractor is involved. Designers rely on past experience to develop a solution for a project. In a CMAR, the designer coordinates with the contractor early in the design process. That requires the designer to be flexible and open-minded, but also possess the technical wherewithal to evaluate contractor input in the light of what’s best for the client. Just as the contractor provides feedback on design elements, each suggestion from the contractor must be evaluated carefully by the design team. This iterative process, with each side offering ideas, is what helps improve concepts and final designs.

Benefits Built on Teamwork

The Construction Manager At-Risk delivery method offers the opportunity for improved collaboration and efficiency on airfield projects, along with improved cost certainty for the owner. More than traditional project delivery methods, however, the benefits rely on adding team members with the right temperament and attitude, as well as the requisite experience and technical know-how. Given the emphasis on working together, selecting partners that work as one team aiming toward a common goal is paramount. Owners that put together this team can realize important value, unlock innovation and deliver more cost-effective projects for their communities.

About the Authors

Scott Sikel
Scott Sikel

Scott Sikel, P.E., has 30 years of experience in airport design and construction. He specializes in project management, airfield design and construction management of large-scale international airports and smaller general aviation airports. In addition to the Tucson runway project, he has worked on airports across the U.S., including multiple airfield projects delivered through CMAR and other alternative delivery methods.

Tom Bair
Tom Bair

Tom Bair, P.E., is an aviation project manager for HDR who specializes in complex airfield development programs with an expertise in runway design.  Tom has delivered 12 runway projects for small, medium, and large hub airports, both domestic and international, including final design of two greenfield commercial service runways within the U.S.