Alon Levy on the U.S. Refusing to Learn from

Experts, Other Countries, and Its Own History When Building Transit


Fellow Alon Levy is interviewed by Asterisk for “All Aboard the Bureaucracy Train”:

[Alon Levy]: The other thing is how to do project delivery. With some variation, in all places with low construction costs and in most places with medium construction costs, the state does planning. They can contract consultants to help, but the state supervises them. The state owns the design. You almost always do two contracts, one for design and one for construction. It’s called, in American terminology, “Design-Bid-Build.”

A[sterisk]: So there’s two different sets of contractors involved here—one group that does the design process, one group that actually builds it.

AL: Yeah. Exactly.

A: Okay. And then the alternative is Design-Build—where it’s the same people building who are designing.

AL: Right. There’s a belief that Design-Build is more modern and more advanced. But every time a place switches from Design-Bid-Build to Design-Build, their construction costs go up, which is usually taken as evidence that that place is uniquely difficult to build in.

Now, the right way to do Design-Bid-Build requires a bunch of elements that are not present in the United States. Some of them have never been present. Some of them have atrophied. The first element, that’s the one that used to be present but isn’t anymore, is a large public sector, because you need a large enough bureaucracy that can supervise all the contractors.

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