A Bridge Over Troubled Waters: How Bridging Documents Facilitate Project Development

By Cody Thomas, Esq., Manager and Counsel, AIA Contract Documents

July 12, 2022

Prior to sending out a request for proposals to design-build contractors, the owner on a design-build project will often retain the services of a design consultant to prepare the project’s initial design and budget. Typically, this consultant is not the entity who ultimately serves as the project’s contractor. Thus, an issue arises in conveying the initial design and budget to the contractors responding to the owner’s request for proposals. Bridging documents are often the solution to this issue.

Bridging documents are prepared by the owner’s consultant, a bridging architect, and are used to provide design-build contractors bidding the project with the project’s design and construction requirements. These documents typically contain a summary of the work, technical requirements, plans, project constraints, reference materials, and contractual requirements. From the owner’s perspective, one of the common disadvantages of design-build projects is the loss of control over the project’s development. When properly prepared, bridging documents can alleviate this issue and advance the owner’s goals by establishing a clear and competitive procurement process and allocate risks in order to optimize the owner’s risk/cost tradeoff.

Another advantage to bridging documents is that potential design-build contractors do not have to incur costly fees associated with the typical procurement process. The potential design-build contractors are provided with the preliminary design from the owner, reducing the amount of time and costs required to prepare a sufficient bid proposal. This allows firms who may otherwise be unable to cover the traditionally high costs of a preparing a proposal to meaningfully participate in the bid process. This also allows for a more realistic fixed price or cost plus with a guaranteed maximum price contract quicker than other project delivery methods. Bridging documents also reduce pre-construction costs.

As can be seen, properly prepared bridging documents can span the potential troubled waters between conception and construction on design-build projects. It is recommended that owners interested in utilizing bridging documents take a look at AIA C141-2014. AIA C141-2014 is a standard form agreement between the owner and a consultant for a design-build project and represents the first step to using bridging documents.

AIA Contract Documents has provided this article for general informational purposes only. The information provided is not legal opinion or legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship of any kind. This article is also not intended to provide guidance as to how project parties should interpret their specific contracts or resolve contract disputes, as those decisions will need to be made in consultation with legal counsel, insurance counsel, and other professionals, and based upon a multitude of factors.