Project Management Institute

The Boston Harbor Project

framing a world-class project

Wastewater Treatment Plant on Deer Island in Boston Harbor

Wastewater Treatment Plant on Deer Island in Boston Harbor

The 1986 federal court order that directed the clean-up of Boston Harbor set milestones for the major elements of a new wastewater system. The management plan to design and build the vast new facilities was devised by a brand-new public agency. The Massachusetts Water Resources Authority was created to redress the pollution of New England's largest and most historic port and rehabilitate the region's infrastructure. The agency was sued over the condition of Boston Harbor before it was able to open for business. Born in controversy, the project is now substantially under budget and nearly one-third complete. The Boston Harbor Project has benefited from the application of project management principles to a world-class challenge. More than $2 billion in work is under contract; 78 prime contractors and 1,800 construction workers are on the job; and construction congestion is reaching its peak on the 210-acre island site in Boston Harbor.



Boston Harbor has played a role in American history since colonists boarded a merchant ship at Griffin's Wharf in 1773 and tossed chests of tea into its waters. Writing about the events at the time, John Adams called their actions daring, firm and intrepid, and likely to lead to a new epoch in history. More than two centuries later, his description might apply to the efforts of the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority to end 300 years of harbor pollution and build new wastewater facilities that will help the region compete for growth and development in the next decades.

The Boston Harbor Project is one of the single largest public works projects ever undertaken in New England. The completed plant will be the second largest of its kind in the nation. The project involves the design and construction of new wastewater treatment facilities expected to cost $3.6 billion when completed by the end of 1999. The new primary and secondary facility will treat the wastewater of 2.5 million people and 5,500 businesses in the Boston area.

The project is being conducted under a 1986 consent decree placed in the U.S. District Court as a consequence of the region's violation of the 1972 Federal Clean Water Act. Fearing that anew public agency would lack the expertise and resources to execute a rigorous court-ordered schedule, Judge A. David Mazzone requested that the MWRA “investigate and evaluate construction management approaches for the facilities construction program in order to provide a basis for determining its efficacy and cost for use in the program.” The environmental engineering firm of Camp Dresser &McKee was charged with exploring the use of program management as part of its facilities planning assignment.

From its inception, the MWRA occupied a prominent place in the public eye. Successful management of the project required a plan that took advantage of the momentum offered by the court order and acknowledged the public nature of the project, the environment in which it would be built, and the massive size and complexity of the effort.

The cost of the project would place a sizeable burden on the Authority's customers, making cost controls a significant part of any plan. The project also began at a time when federal funding had ceased and regional growth had stalled, making state assistance unlikely. Finally, confidence in elected officials and public institutions had reached new lows, challenging the Authority to find a way to organize its resources successfully to build one of the largest wastewater treatment plants in the world.

Court-Ordered Schedule of the Boston Harbor Cleanup Project

Figure 1. Court-Ordered Schedule of the Boston Harbor Cleanup Project


The Clean Water Act of 1972 required that all municipal treatment systems incorporate secondary treatment by 1977 to remove significantly higher levels of organic material and solids from wastewater. The new standard placed the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC), the MWRA's predecessor agency, in violation of the law. Unfortunately, the law allowed jurisdictions that discharged into coastal waters to apply for waivers from the secondary treatment requirement. The MDC applied for the waiver in late 1979. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) did not make a final decision on the request until 1985, when it was denied.

The continuing deterioration of Boston Harbor prompted coastal communities and environmental groups to take aggressive action during the prolonged wait for the EPA's decision. In 1982, the City of Quincy, site of the aging Nut Island treatment plant, filed a suit in Massachusetts Superior Court charging violations of the laws prohibiting discharges into coastal and tidal waters. The imposition of a moratorium on any new sewer hookups in the Boston Metropolitan Area by presiding Judge Paul Garrity raised the issue to new heights of public awareness. Although the moratorium was quickly overturned on procedural grounds, the threat of halting new construction in the region provided increased impetus for resolving the problem.

The legislative response to the growing concern about the condition of the harbor was to create an independent state authority. In late 1984, the MWRA assumed the responsibility of providing water and sewer services to 60 communities formerly served by the MDC. In effect, the new Authority was charged with the Boston Harbor cleanup and the restoration of the region's entire water and sewer infrastructure.

Within a month of its creation, the Authority became a defendant in a suit brought by the Conservation Law Foundation and the EPA over the MDC's failure to comply with the Clean Water Act. The MWRA entered into negotiations that resulted in the issuance of the court-ordered schedule on May 8, 1986.


The centerpiece of the 1 l-year project is a primary and secondary wastewater treatment plant with a capacity of 1.3 billion gallons a day. The project includes the construction of two tunnels: a 9.5-mile effluent outfall tunnel stretching from Deer Island into the deep waters of Massachusetts Bay, and a 5-mile tunnel connecting Deer Island to Nut Island in Quincy, where a new headworks will send flows from southern MWRA communities to the Deer Island facilities. In addition, the project requires 200,000 square feet of building space for support, operations and maintenance services, and a 70 megawatt power plant to support construction and provide back-up power for permanent operations. Residuals management facilities are required on Deer Island, and an $87 million sludge processing plant is already operating at the Fore River Staging Area in Quincy.

The first phase of the primary treatment plant will come on line in July 1994, and the entire plant is scheduled for completion in July 1995. Once the effluent outfall tunnel is ready, primary wastewater will be released into deep bay waters instead of in the shallow estuary of Boston Harbor. The secondary treatment plant is being completed in stages. The first phase of secondary, which will treat most dry weather flow, will be completed by October 1996. The next phase will begin operating in 1998, providing treatment for an average flow of 450 million gallons a day. The entire plant is scheduled to be completed in 1999.

More than 2,000 construction workers, engineers, construction managers and support personnel are already at work under unique conditions. The construction site, although connected to the town of Winthrop by a narrow road, is being treated as a true island to minimize the impact of construction traffic on the narrow streets of the adjoining neighborhoods. Workers must travel to the island by bus or water. Other mitigation arrangements control noise, dust, and supplies and equipment delivery.

More than $2 billion in design and construction work is under contract. Construction is about 30 percent complete and the project continues to move at a very rapid pace to meet scheduled interim and court-ordered milestone dates. Nearly 70 percent of the construction contracts have been awarded, and 78 prime contractors and 612 subcontractors are at work.

To date, the MWRA has met or bettered the court-ordered schedule for every project milestone. These include:

  • Removing scum (grease, plastic and other floating pollution) from wastewater discharges for landfilling instead of discharging it into the harbor;
  • Establishing a complex water transportation system to carry workers, vehicles and equipment, along with a computerized reservation and badging system;
  • Beginning primary and secondary plant construction on schedule;
  • Ending the ocean discharge of sludge and opening the sludge pelletizing plant; and
  • Beginning construction of the Nut Island headworks.

The next major milestone will be the July 1994 opening of the first half of the primary treatment plant.

This summer, the MWRA will begin operating a permanent pilot plant capable of handling up to two million gallons of flow a day. The plant will be used as a research tool to test operating modes planned for the full-scale facilities. The plant will also serve as a source for treated water to test the operations of other new facilities before they come on line. In the long run, the pilot plant will provide a place to train plant operators and to test processes applied in the larger plant that will need to meet water quality standards.


The scale of the Boston Harbor Project and the financial burden it presents for local ratepayers provided the MWRA with an overwhelming mandate to devise a management structure that would meet real-world needs and control project costs. The final structure of the management plan took shape as the early planning process was beginning and as the structure of the Authority itself was being established.

The first decision made was to use a combination of in-house staff supplemented by private-sector consultant resources. External and internal factors influenced the recommendations made to the Authority on how to structure the management of the project. Shifting views of government and its efficacy, the need to attract talented and experienced staff to the project, the economies of scale offered by the private sector and issues related to bidding, contract management and liability affected the decision to select a program management approach composed of three major entities:

1. An in-house MWRA group dedicated solely to the project, known as the Program Management Division (PMD);

2. A consultant team led by ICF Kaiser Engineers of Massachusetts serving as the Construction Manager (CM);

3. A second consultant team serving as the Lead Design Engineer (LDE)lled by Metcalf& Eddy, Inc.

The mission Program Management Division is to provide the Authority with oversight and control of the Boston Harbor Project. The MWRA saw several advantages in setting up a dedicated in-house team:

1. A dedicated team prevented the mega-project from consuming the resources of the other divisions of the new agency, which already had ongoing responsibility for a sizeable capital rehabilitation and replacement program.

More than $2 billion worth of construction is underway on Deer Island, principal site of the Boston Harbor Project

More than $2 billion worth of construction is underway on Deer Island, principal site of the Boston Harbor Project.

Organisational Structure of the Boston Harbor Project

Figure 2. Organisational Structure of the Boston Harbor Project

2. An independent division focused the attention of a specific group of individuals on the project rather than involving staff with multiple responsibilities.

3. The new division provided the opportunity for the MWRA to identify and recruit personnel with program management skills from within and outside the MWRA.

The PMD is a group of 48 individuals with both private and public sector experience. The division is responsible for the executive direction, management and coordination of the project, including monitoring the performance of consultants. PMD issues bids, selects consultants, authorizes change orders and progress payments and issues completion certificates. The MWRA also retains the right of independent review of all work products produced by its consultants. PMD controls the project and directs the consultants. PMD's role is managerial and seeks the best value for the ratepayers’ investments, while consultant resources supply technical support.

PMD staff members have training and experience in engineering, design, construction management, finance, contract administration, program management, information systems and environmental planning. PMD's life span is finite: when the project has been completed, there will be no need for this specific project management division.

The use of a consultant team in the role of Construction Manager (CM) was also integrated into the management structure. Day-to-day program management responsibilities reside with the CM, with oversight and direction supplied by PMD staff. As the principal management consultant, Kaiser Engineers is responsible for scheduling, cost estimating, cost control, public information, permitting, water transportation, value engineering, equipment pre-purchase, facility testing, start-up and staff training. Kaiser is the construction manager and field supervisor for the project. The firm also provides technical support for Authority decisions regarding contractor selection, change orders, progress payments and final acceptance.

A 3,100-ton diffuser barge placed 55 riser pipes that will connect to the last 1.25 miles of the 9.5-mile effluent outfall tunnel. The pipes will disperse treated wastewater from the new plant into Massachusetts Bay

A 3,100-ton diffuser barge placed 55 riser pipes that will connect to the last 1.25 miles of the 9.5-mile effluent outfall tunnel. The pipes will disperse treated wastewater from the new plant into Massachusetts Bay.

The Lead Design Engineer (LDE), Metcalf &Eddy, has primary responsibility for directing the design of the major project components. The role of the LDE is to develop project-wide design standards, prepare plans and specifications at a conceptual level (10-15 percent completion) for all facilities, prepare the final design of facilities requiring early completion and oversee selected detailed designers, known as Project Design Engineers (PDEs), for the remaining detailed designs.


Construction management offered a systematic approach for managing the program from the pre-construction planning and design stages through start-up and acceptance of the new facilities. A CM approach met many of the objectives set for the new agency and harbor project team. Construction management:

1. Provided a program-wide perspective that enhanced timely project completion and cost control;

2. Responded to the unique and complex characteristics of constructing large-scale facilities on a remote site that required the development and coordination of numerous construction support services;

3. Allowed the MWRA to integrate construction-related knowledge into the design process, thereby minimizing total cost;

4. Immediately introduced specialized construction expertise and management systems to the fledgling Authority;

5. Provided a substantial level of resources temporarily needed by a public agency for a “once-in-a-lifetime” project.

Some Distinctive Features

Once the PMD staff was assembled, the Authority began the selection process MWRA wanted to ensure that constructibility and operability concerns were included in the design. Choosing the CM before the LDE met these goals and ensured that the complex logistical challenges posed by the project could be tackled at once.

The Authority decided to procure the services of the Lead Design Engineer separately from the CM to ensure that the most qualified firm of each type was selected in an independent competition. A joint selection would have left the Authority subject to the private market choices of pairings of a CM and LDE. The MWRA was concerned that a joint selection could have led to a situation where a single winning proposal did not contain the very best choices of a CM and LDE for each activity.

Finally, the CM was created to be the “owner's representative.” The CM has no responsibility for design, material or equipment supply, or construction. Kaiser provides resident engineering and is responsible for start-up without having a vested interest in the performance of the design, equipment or construction. The CM was charged with making sure the elements of the project worked, not defending their use or design.

Defining Relationships

Kaiser Engineers and Metcalf & Eddy have specific responsibilities as CM and LDE and their relationship is clearly defined.

Metcalf & Eddy has ultimate responsibility for coordinating all design and engineering work. In this role, the LDE reports directly to the Authority's Program Management and Engineering Divisions. The LDE also ensures that all components of the project are compatible and will function as intended across construction packages.

Kaiser's role in design is limited to value engineering and conducting constructibility and operability reviews. This involvement brings an added dimension of quality control to the design and utilizes the CM's construction and operations-related knowledge at key points in the design process.

Kaiser is responsible for managing the overall program for schedule and budget control. All design consultants and construction contractors feed the CM their schedules and cost information for analysis and monitoring. Kaiser uses the KEMS system to monitor 18,000 scheduling activities and hundreds of unit prices. Kaiser is also responsible for starting up the new facilities. Because the CM was excluded from design, construction and equipment supply, Kaiser can act as the MWRA's unbiased representative in starting the new Deer Island plant.


PMD has consistently worked to identify policies and practices that are innovative and successful. The goal of management is to respond as flexibly as possible to changes in the operating environments. Project management is not static-it works hard to anticipate problems and devise strategies for dealing with them.

At the outset of the project, the management team identified five factors as crucial to completing the job successfully. In 1985, when the plan was being formulated, the project team listed them in the following order: (1) meet or beat the court-ordered schedule, (2) start actual construction as soon as possible, (3) cut costs, (4) develop a good business reputation, and (5) make the completed project work. Each factor affected a management goal; for example, meeting court milestones proved the MWRA's ability to mobilize and succeed, thus building credibility for the project.

As time passes, the importance of the factors shifts. Cutting costs and making the project work are now prime elements in the management plan. The MWRA has met court milestones and developed a good business reputation. Subsets of these factors will begin to take precedence as construction peaks between now and October 1994. An aggressive safety program will bean integral part of making the project work and keeping a good reputation. Maintaining effective change order and claims procedures will continue to safeguard the expenditure of public funds. A quality control program helps the CM track contractors’ performance and make adjustments to ensure that the new facilities will work as intended.

Business Environment Changes Over Time

Figure 3. Business Environment Changes Over Time

Management Team Roles and Responsibilities

MWRA Program Management Division-PMD

  • Provide executive direction
  • Monitor consultant performance
  • Issue bids
  • Select consultants
  • Authorize change orders/progress payments
  • Issue completion certificates

Construction Manager-CM

  • Day-to-day management
  • Scheduling
  • Cost estimating and control
  • Community relations
  • Permitting
  • Water transportation
  • Value engineering
  • Safety
  • Facility testing
  • Start-up and training

Lead Design Engineer-LDE

  • Prepare conceptual-level plans and specifications for all facilities
  • Produce final design for facilities requiring early completion
  • Oversee detailed design by project design engineers
  • Develop CADD system
  • Develop project-wide design standards

Controlling the Costs of Management

Management of the BHP presents a separate cost aspect of the project. The MWRA has aggressively monitored the cost of its management structure, a challenge easily overlooked in the process of spending nearly $2 million a day on construction. The goal of the program is to keep the combined management costs of the PMD, CM and LDE to 10 percent of the total project cost.

In current dollars (as of April 1993), the cost of the Deer Island-related facilities of the Boston Harbor Project is $3.04 billion. This cost has remained almost constant since the initial projection of $2.9 billion in May 1988 dollars. As a result, the fully inflated cost of the project is currently estimated to be $3.6 billion, $400 million less than the original projection of $4.0 billion presented in May 1988 as part of the Secondary Treatment Facilities Plan.

Program Management Budget as a Percentage of Cumulative Capital Cost

Figure 4. Program Management Budget as a Percentage of Cumulative Capital Cost

Workers place concrete linings in the 9.5-mile effluent outfall tunnel. The tunnel will have a finished diameter of 24 feet

Workers place concrete linings in the 9.5-mile effluent outfall tunnel. The tunnel will have a finished diameter of 24 feet.

Management costs currently equal about 10 percent of total project costs, and they are projected to be 10.5 percent of total project costs upon completion of construction. This figure includes the MWRA's Program Management Division and CM costs, as well as the portion of LDE costs for design management.

Cost Control Techniques

Unlike many other large-scale public works projects, such as highways and mass transit, the Boston Harbor Project is being paid for largely by MWRA ratepayers. To date, 90 percent of the project's costs have been financed by bonds and a portion of sewer fees paid by 43 member communities. The likelihood of future federal assistance may increase slightly if the Clinton Administration successfully reauthorizes and funds the Clean Water Act or a national infrastructure construction package. The MWRA is also supporting legislation on the state level to obtain debt service assistance to reduce the costs of capital borrowing.

At an average household cost of $545 for fiscal year 1993, metropolitan Boston's water and sewer rates are now among the highest in the nation. Projected costs will reach an estimated $1,200 by 1999 without additional state or federal assistance. Polls continue to show support for clean water projects, but burgeoning rate increases threaten the hard-earned social and political consensus about the value of the project.

These pressures prompted an extraordinary scrutiny of techniques that would control project costs through design and construction, meet the court-ordered schedule, assist with the construction of a massive plant on a small urban site and meet the goal of delivering a high-quality product that would start up as planned. The decision to proceed with project management was one of the agency's first cost control approaches. The program management structure provides strong direction by the owner supported by the expertise and resources of a private sector construction management team. The ability to award construction contracts on schedule has resulted in substantial savings. The other cost-saving techniques have been quantified to the extent possible. They include strong design management, construction packaging, marketing to bidders, a project-wide labor-management agreement and emphasis on safety, quality and scheduling.

Controlling the Costs of Design

Design costs have been controlled through standardization and oversight provided by the LDE, Metcalf& Eddy, Inc., the creative application of computer-assisted design and drafting (CADD) technology and the use of independent value engineering, constructibility and operability reviews led by the CM.

The LDE has provided project-wide design standards and prepared plans and specifications at a conceptual level (10-15 percent completion) for all facilities, further guaranteeing the soundness of construction and operations characteristics; prepared the final design of all facilities requiring early completion; and has overseen the work of detailed designers, known as Project Design Engineers (PDEs), for the remaining detailed design.

The creation of a standard design manual and the development of a project-wide conceptual design eliminated the need for many initial questions from the PDEs and reduced design cost and time. PDEs have a limited amount of time to produce suggestions on ways to improve the conceptual design. The detailed design is locked in soon afterward, as much as possible, so that the design can be expedited.

Standardization was further enhanced by the use of a single CADD system by all designers (which will serve as a management information system for operating the facilities once the project is complete). The MWRA chose a single system to be used by all designers and furnished firms with the required hardware and software.

MWRA success comes in many forms: It's a harbor that is cleaner today than it has been in generations, with dramatically fewer summertime harbor beach closings and healthier winter flounder. it's the ability of the region's water and sewer infrastructure to accommodate growth and the guarantee that municipal water is safe and abundant. It's support for thousands of construction jobs on our projects. To the MWRA, success means creating a positive difference in the lives of Massachusetts citizens.

Douglas B. MacDonald, Executive Director
Massachusetts Water Resource Authority

This unusual CADD arrangement had many benefits, including (1) allowing timely completion of work on the massive project by many designers, often in different locations across the country, but speaking the same language, (2) ensuring consistency and quality control while using multiple design firms, and (3) creating the information system for the ongoing management of the completed facilities.

The CM's independent review teams also helped control project costs. Kaiser conducted value engineering reviews on the conceptual design prepared by Metcalf & Eddy and on the 50 percent submittals prepared by the detailed designers. Kaiser's constructibility and operability reviews are done at the 30,60 and 90 percent intervals. These reviews have brought valuable insights to the design process, helping obviate potentially expensive construction and start-up problems.

Design costs for the Boston Harbor Project currently equal 4.3 percent of construction costs, as opposed to an expected industry standard of 5–9 percent. Costs of design and engineering incurred during construction (such as review of contractors’ submittals, and administration services) are presently $141 million.


Sorting construction of the mammoth project into logically sequenced packages has successfully increased price competition and helped boost local employment. The project was subdivided into 92 discrete, sequenced construction packages falling into the following sizes:

1. 57 packages of less than $10 million;

2. 10 packages between $10 and $25 million;

3. 14 packages between $25 and $75 million;

4. 7 packages between $75 and $100 million;

5. 2 packages between $100 and $150 million;

6. 1 package between $150 and $200 million; and

7. 1 package in excess of $200 million.

The breakdown also maximized competition among local construction firms by orienting packages mindful of the limits of their bonding capacity. By the end of March 1993, 401 local firms were acting as prime contractors or subcontractors on the project, winning 72 percent of the work available.

The high level of competition and a downturn in the regional economy have brought construction bids that have been 16.9 percent below engineers’ estimates to date.

Contract packaging has also been keyed to construction sequencing to coordinate work on the multi-layered project. A site utilization plan defines every phase of construction. Specifications that are tailored to each contract set out precise dates for starting and completing work, assign laydown and storage areas and describe how one construction contract tits with dozens of others. The first operating milestone in 1994 includes complete or partial completion of 15 construction packages worth $627 million. The detailed planning is required to keep each element on schedule and avoid costly delays. Pushing the schedule allows savings that can be significant given project costs.

To begin the sequence of work, for example, contractors had to make room for the new plant, so they literally reshaped the face of the island. Fortified World War II bunkers-with roof slabs 17 feet thick—were demolished with explosives. More than 1.8 million cubic yards of glacial till were relocated from the center of the island to the northern end to form a landscaped hill to shield Winthrop from the workings of the new facilities. A 70 mw power line was laid on the harbor floor to provide construction power. A working prison was finally demolished after the county completed a replacement facility, making space for secondary treatment facilities.

This kind of planning stays years ahead of construction. Although the project is reaching peak construction between April 1993 and October 1994, the site coordination team literally knows who will turn out the lights when the last sequenced package is completed on Deer Island.


Public owners of complex construction projects often require their contractors to bear all of the risk associated with variable subsurface conditions. Contractors tend to include substantial contingency funds in their bid prices to cover the possibility of discovering different site conditions during construction.

Recognizing that construction of 14 miles of undersea tunnels is, by nature, highly risky, the MWRA minimized contingency bids by engaging in extensive geotechnical investigations and adopting risk-sharing practices recommended by the Underground Technology Research Council (UTRC). During the two summers preceding the bidding of the effluent outfall and outfall riser/diffuser contracts, the MWRA conducted approximately $20 million of geotechnical investigations along prospective tunnel routes. The results were shared with prospective bidders as they assembled their bids.

The MWRA also sought to encourage cost savings through a value engineering incentive clause promoting innovative construction methods and techniques. If a contractor conceives of a more cost-effective construction approach that is approved by the MWRA and its design engineer, the MWRA and the contractor negotiate a sharing of the associated cost savings. Changing the construction foundation for one package, residual facilities, as a result of value engineering, for example, brought the MWRA net savings of $3.2 million over the original estimated cost of the contract.

Combined with the economic downturn, these contracting practices brought in bids for the outfall contract and the diffuser/riser contract that were a combined total of $120 million below budget. As of August 1, 1992, all 55 diffuser/risers were installed eight months ahead of schedule, experiencing change orders equal to 0.5 percent of the construction value. As of March 31, 1993, the first mile of the effluent outfall tunnel had been bored, a disappointing figure caused by a myriad of factors, including equipment problems.


Aggressive and timely management of change orders and claims is another significant factor in controlling costs and guarding the expenditure of public funds.

Change order procedures include prompt and rigorous scrutiny of the proposals. An initial analysis determines the legitimacy and magnitude of the proposed change order and whether or not the work associated with it is of a critical nature. An expedited review process is used if the work is determined to be of a critical nature.

A second, detailed analysis includes the development of independent fair cost estimates, negotiation strategies and settlement procedures. All change orders are processed initially by a dedicated contracts office managed by the CM and located at Deer Island. This staff interacts closely with resident engineers and cost and schedule analysts. Ultimate signatory authority and approval, however, reside with MWRA staff.

For the purposes of this project, claims are defined as rejected or denied change orders. They are handled by the contract's office first; if unresolved, the claims are evaluated as major or minor. Minor claims are sent to a Claims Office, while major claims are forwarded to a Claims Review Board composed of MWRA and Kaiser senior management staff. Major claims involve a substantial amount of money, a number of contractors, a substantial schedule impact or some precedential value. If settlement terms cannot be resolved, the claim maybe litigated.

A berm from the center of Deer Island was moved to the northern end to create a Iandform to shield Winthrop residents from construction

A berm from the center of Deer Island was moved to the northern end to create a Iandform to shield Winthrop residents from construction.

The value of change orders to date for the $244 million worth of completed construction equals 3.27 percent of the original bid price. Change orders on construction contracts in progress represent 1.1 percent based on 30 percent physical progress. Claims after $910 million in expenditures are equal to approximately $15 million.

In formulating a labor relations policy for the Boston Harbor Project, the MWRA sought to find ways to attract a reliable pool of labor, avoid delays and provide a safe workplace.

Labor disputes had the potential to bring costly delays—at a price of nearly $2 million a day—because picketing at a limited number of access points, such as ferry and barge sites, could have shut down the job for any number of reasons. To respond to this problem, Kaiser Engineers negotiated a Project Labor Agreement that ensures labor harmony with more than 15 international and more than 25 local unions represented by the Building and Construction Trades Council of the Boston Metropolitan District.

The agreement is designed to avoid delay by assuring that labor disputes do not occur. Procedures are laid out to resolve disputes that do arise quickly and efficiently. The pact establishes written work rules for the employment of all construction workers, as well as standard working conditions (such as work and travel allowances). The agreement contains a 10-year, no-strike guarantee with the unions, which prohibits all of the employees covered under the agreement from striking, picketing or otherwise disrupting the project. Individual employee grievances and jurisdictional disputes are handled through a three-step grievance procedure culminating in final and binding arbitration.

A lawsuit enjoined the Authority from enforcing the agreement in 1991, but all of the contractors on the project voluntarily adhered to its terms. A decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in March 1993 reaffirmed the legality of the agreement and ensured that labor delays will not add to the cost of the project. The Court's decision upholds the position that public agencies have the right to impose a uniform labor agreement on all contractors in large projects, a right already afforded to private sector project owners. As of April 30, more than 6.5 million labor hours had been completed over four years without a single day lost to labor disruptions.

Boston Harbor Project safety is an aggressive program that begins with standard practices demanded by state and federal law, then goes a step further to create a multi-dimensional program aimed at every level of the construction team. From the time workers pick up their job application forms until they draw their final paychecks, safety is the word they will hear most often.

Beginning with such standard safety practices as appropriate dress, training and equipment requirements, the MWRA added a pre-employment substance abuse testing program for all new hires. The program is an unusual one for a construction project because it was jointly agreed to by management and labor, not imposed as a work rule. The substance abuse prevention program aims to avoid on-the-job problems; currently, only 4.5 percent of applicants fail the pre-hire test The program epitomizes the success of labor and management efforts on the project.

The safety program requires experienced safety personnel at all levels of the management and contractor team. Staff members provide executive oversight while four CM safety staff, including a tunnel safety expert, work with each project contractor who is required to have a safety program in place and a full-time safety officer on site.

PMD views individual contractors as the key to making the safety program work. Contractors buy into the plan because accidents are costly not only in terms of worker health and workforce morale, but in lost time, follow-up investigations, and insurance costs, The contractors hold weekly “tool box” safety sessions with employees and are required to provide special training in high-risk occupations. Some contractors have initiated their own safety-incentive programs to reward employees for maintaining a safe workplace.

Three safety committees meet regularly to assure that the most experienced eyes in the industry keep tabs on project safety. They include an executive committee, made up of PMD and CM staff; the Construction Industries of Massachusetts Committee, made up of contractors’ representatives and the CM; and a labor management group, with representatives from local unions, labor organizations and the CM.

The labor management group, called the Joint Labor Management Safety Committee, is a good example of how a safety committee works. The 10-member group focuses on specific safety problems by identifying the craft that appears to suffer most from the injury and determining how often and why the injuries occur. The committee passes its findings to craft stewards and foremen who discuss the safety issue with crews during regular tool box meetings.

Because the project is the largest in the region, it also receives a good deal of attention from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which has cited some project contractors for safety violations. PMD and the CM believe that OSHA provides a safety litmus test and approves of the aggressive stance the agency is taking with respect to project safety. The goal of the Boston Harbor Project is to have the safest construction project in the nation.


The tight sequencing of multiple contracts on a small site made quality control a critical element of the Boston Harbor Project at the outset. The CM undertook an aggressive Quality Assurance/Quality Control (QA/QC) program based on the idea that quality can be built into a product, not “inspected in” after the work is completed. Preventing mistakes from happening in the first place is an efficient way to do business.

While contractors have primary responsibility for construction quality control on the project, Kaiser Engineers oversees a three-part program monitoring compliance with the MWRA's quality criteria. Kaiser prepares a checklist clearly defining the organization, management, work and inspection procedures that the contractor will use to do the job. Kaiser then reviews and approves each contractor's quality control program and provides ongoing and final work inspection.

Piers built at Deer Island are part of the water transportation system developed for the Boston Harbor Project

Piers built at Deer Island are part of the water transportation system developed for the Boston Harbor Project.

The final steps involve quality assurance: overseeing daily quality control by performing regular audits on each contract, tracking the findings and analyzing trends to determine if any program-wide changes are needed.

This emphasis on building quality into the project reflects a shift from the traditional build-inspect-rework approach to quality management. This system saves time for the MWRA and saves the contractors and ratepayers money.


When workers in the old Deer Island treatment plant divert flow to the new facility in July 1994, the MWRA expects a smooth transition. The operations and maintenance (O&M) planning team has been a part of the Boston Harbor Project since its inception. The group's work covers such elements as staffing, safety, training, process controls, laboratory procedures and maintenance. The team has drafted-and updates on an annual basis—an operations and maintenance plan that coordinates the steps and resources necessary for successful plant start-up and operation.

To keep the operable/maintainable goal at the forefront, O&M professionals and designers have worked side-by-side since 1989 to link operations and maintenance requirements to design and construction. The CM has a subcontractor specializing in coordinating operational needs and assisting with employee training. At each submittal a CM and LDE review group gave plans “an operator's eye” to be sure, for example, that workers will have maintenance and operation access to all required equipment.

A master start-up committee currently meets on a monthly basis. The group includes representatives from the Deer Island Treatment Plant staff, the CM's O&M group, and LDE and PMD staff. The committee has prepared a generic start-up plan for phases 1,2 and 3 of the entire project, and subcommittees are charged with dealing with individual facilities and formulating specific start-up plans.

Employees are also being prepared to operate and maintain the new plant through a four-phase job training program that began with an assessment of employee needs. The MWRA set up classes to help workers brush up on basic skills before enrolling them in classes geared to the new plant. An apprenticeship program and plant systems training will familiarize the staff with all plant operations.

Start-up activities will first be tested with the opening of the project's pilot plant this summer. Given the sequencing of the facilities, the start-up committee will coordinate the testing of systems across multiple construction packages as more elements of the project are completed.


The major challenge on Deer Island during the peak phase of construction will continue to be contractor congestion, as more than 25 general contractors and hundreds of subcontractors race to meet their milestones. Yet this state of congestion wasn't easy to reach. The MWRA was faced with building one of the largest wastewater treatment plants in the world in an urban area, next to a working prison, with residential neighbors and tons of equipment and materials needed to supply the project. This project's construction challenges included:

  • Deer Island is actually a 210-acre peninsula connected to the town of Winthrop by a thin strip of land. The site size and location demanded innovative techniques to accommodate the decadelong, multi-billion construction project. The MWRA devised a water transportation system to move construction materials and half the workers by water. Piers were built at Deer Island, Nut Island and the Fore River Staging Area (in Quincy) to carry personnel by ferry and equipment and materials by roll-on/roll-off barges. More than 60,000 vehicles have been carried on the barges since June 1990 and nearly 300,000 workers have traveled by ferry and water taxi. The remainder of the workers travel by bus.
  • To conserve space for construction on Deer and Nut Islands, the MWRA allows contractors to use a portion of a 180-acre site in Quincy, the Fore River Staging Area, for staging and laydown.
  • Contractors will use one million cubic yards of concrete-enough to repave the 135-mile Massachusetts Turnpike—to build the new wastewater facilities. An on-site batch plant has already placed 277,000 cubic yards on the project.
  • The MWRA supplies water, fuel, power, trash disposal and road maintenance and snow removal services to all contractors through a central services system.
  • Permitting for a project of this size and complexity threatened to bring all work to a halt. PMD and the CM worked with regulatory agencies to expedite reviews. Kaiser incorporated permitting schedules into the overall program schedule, consolidated the applications into logical packages and provided central coordination. Because the approval process can be so lengthy, permit applications have been generated at the 90 percent design stage to avoid delaying construction. Uncontrollable events manage to slow some aspects of the project, however; brutal winter storms caused significant seawall damage and proposed repairs had to be permitted before repairs could be made.
  • Because public support is crucial to the success of the project, the MWRA reaches out to ratepayers and to the design, engineering and construction communities with a public information program. Industry publications brought great interest in bidding on aspects of the project. Newsletters are sent to neighboring communities to keep residents apprised of progress on mitigation commitments. A project video brings the work on the island to schools, businesses and local cable television stations.


The Boston Harbor Project is moving at a rapid pace, and the construction management approach has led to substantial and very visible progress in the effort to control the pollution of Boston Harbor. Nearly 30 percent of the construction is complete, 70 percent of the construction contracts have been awarded and design of all facilities is 83 percent complete.

The success of the management approach is demonstrated most visibly in the ability of the project to remain on schedule and within budget. All court-ordered milestones have been met and the $3.6 billion project is estimated to be $400 million under May 1988 estimates. Program management costs are currently ruining at 10 percent of total project costs and are projected to be about 10.5 percent at project completion.

Five key factors contributed to this success:

1. Recruiting a talented in-house management team that is dedicated to pushing the project ahead and fulfilling the mission of the Project Management Division;

2. Retaining adequate control of the program to divide responsibilities clearly and provide sufficient direction to consultants;

3. Using private sector resources to provide experience and a depth of knowledge that the new MWRA could not have replicated;

4. Integrating constructibility and operability concerns into the design process and using value engineering to avoid potential construction problems;

5. Completing pre-construction planning at an early stage to meet the needs of the project and keep the MWRA's commitment to mitigate the project's impact on neighboring communities by extensive use of a water transportation system.

The Boston Harbor Project has been an experiment in government and private industry working together on project management to deliver one of the largest public works facilities in the world on time and under budget. To our delight, the experiment so far has been a complete success. Our hope is that this history will continue to carry the project over the next few critical construction years.

Peter Shelly Senior Attorney
Conservation Law Foundation

PMD has successfully used the management and cost control techniques described here to produce significant financial savings. Assisted by the private sector resources of the CM (Kaiser Engineers) and the LDE (Metcalf & Eddy), the MWRA has managed to maintain the vigorous pace of the court-ordered schedule.

Creative and imaginative design, planning and management have also contributed to cost savings. Extremely competitive construction bids have been running about 17 percent below estimates, also bringing cost savings. The slowdown in the construction industry, an aggressive outreach program and construction packaging and reducing bid contingencies have all lowered construction costs. The QA/QC inspection proogram should continue to bring savings and ensure quality.


The emphasis of project management will begin to shift this summer with the opening of the pilot plant and the peaking of construction work on Deer Island. Testing and start-up issues will begin to consume staff members as the MWRA begins to count down the days until the first half of the new primary treatment plant opens in July 1994. Site congestion is now real: Deer Island seems to be as crowded as it can get, with 3 more contracts valued at $275 million to be awarded this year. The results of design reviews and value engineering will be tested in the real world as pieces of the facilities are brought on line.

The project management structure continues to provide the flexibility the MWRA needs to complete the Boston Harbor Project. New issues continue to challenge the ability of the management team to maintain momentum, perhaps the most difficult task of all for a project of this size and complexity. As construction interfaces approach testing and start-up, PMD, CM and LDE staff will be watching to see if design interfaces have worked as intended.

A series of issues will continue to be the focus of attention, including:

  • Change orders and claims, on the increase as construction peaks, will be monitored carefully by PMD and the CM to keep additional costs to a minimum.
  • On the design side, there will be constant monitoring of the integration of plant-wide systems such as hydraulics, electricity and water flow and pressure to maintain construction quality control.
  • The CM will step up efforts to enhance safety and avoid any increase in accidents on the crowded site.
  • Site management will take on more importance as schedules and work areas need to be shifted, sometimes daily, to accommodate the work of individual contractors. The sequence of work will constantly be adjusted to make every day productive for each contractor.
  • The effluent outfall tunnel continues to pose significant construction and environmental challenges. The tunnel is the largest single-entry bore ever attempted, and it remains a daunting effort. The MWRA has never underestimated the difficulty of the tunnel construction and has therefore set up a risk-sharing program with the contractor. The Authority is also engaged in an extensive monitoring program assessing the conditions in Massachusetts Bay before and after the implementation of the outfall to address concerns about potential effects of the discharge.
  • Other system issues-combined sewer overflows, infiltration and inflow and general improvements to the regional infrastructure-may affect some of the basic assumptions the Authority has made about the sizing of the secondary treatment plant.


Keeping track of more than $2 billion worth of construction, including over 100 construction packages and dozens of contractors employing nearly 2,000 workers, could be the management challenge of the century.

Thanks to KEMS, an Artemis-based, data-management system, everything a Boston Harbor Project manager needs to know about a large-scale project is summarized in easy-to-understand charts and graphs.

The computer system, which was developed and refined by ICF Kaiser Engineers, is a fully-integrated management tool well suited to a multi-faceted, high-cost project. KEMS divides the multi-billion dollar, n-year wastewater treatment plant project into 11 large summary groups, which include logistics, site preparation and major construction components.

Physical progress curves, an “S” curve imposed over a bar chart, provide staff with an at-a-glance overview of the entire project, indicating progress in each group. This graph summarizes schedule, cost and progress data, using worker hours as a common yardstick.

For a detailed reading, each bar representing a summary group becomes its own physical progress curve summarizing progress on all associated construction packages. Physical progress curves for each construction package are produced monthly and become available five working days after the data date.

Actual progress as measured in the field is compared against planned progress as detailed in the CPM schedule, creating a project “scorecard” that easily identifies negative trends early in the course of construction so that management can take prompt corrective actions.

The management of the Boston Harbor Project contains particularly valuable lessons for public agencies, especially in a time of financial restraint. Finding relief for ratepayers may be the MWRA's most important mission of the next two years as rates continue a steep ascent. The executive director of the agency has strongly articulated the need for financial assistance for the project and for other mandated work and is leading a program to manage MWRA spending, obtain state debt service assistance and increase federal funding.

The federal court order directed the new MWRA toward the concept of program management, and the combination of will and know-how offered by the two very different approaches has kept the massive project on schedule and under budget. The elements of the management approach used for the Boston Harbor Project are particularly relevant for public agencies responsible for completing complex public works projects. They apply as well to any agency or owner faced with similar program management challenges.


Walter G. Armstrong is the director of the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority's Program Management Division. His career has been devoted primarily to planning and managing large-scale public works projects. One of these projects received an engineering excellence award from the New York Association of Consulting Engineers for its sensitivity to environmental and urban design issues.

Mr. Armstrong graduated from Boston College in 1973 with a degree in economics and English. In 1977, he was awarded a master's in city and regional planning from Cornell University.


Marshall Y. Lee, currently serves as the manager of the Coordination and Control Department of the MWRA's Program Management Division. The Program Management Division is charged with managing the $6 billion design and construction program required for the Boston Harbor Clean-up effort.

Mr. Lee's career has been devoted primarily to design and construction of public/private sector projects.

Mr. Lee graduated from Boston University in 1985 with a master's in business administration and from Northeastern University in 1977 with a B.S. in civil engineering.

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.

JULY 1993



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