At the Intersection of Design and Risk Reduction
Chief Estimator Brian Ficzeri approaches every project like a three-dimensional puzzle. But unlike a conventional jigsaw project, building critical infrastructure involves a level of complexity that requires the industry’s best problem solvers.
Over his nearly 30-year career, Brian has estimated some of Balfour Beatty’s most impactful bridge, highway and water projects. He has seen the industry change and adapt to an ever-evolving variety of supply chain disruptions and project risk scenarios. Through it all, Brian’s expertise has empowered client decision-making and forever improved the way our communities live and move.
Driving Down Risk
Estimators are integral to driving successful project outcomes from the earliest stages of preconstruction by identifying innovative and practical solutions that drive down costs. But far from simply crunching numbers, Brian knows that expert networking and well-cultivated industry savvy is essential to navigating a landscape of escalating risks.
“As estimators, we’re always looking for the best, most cost-effective way to do something,” Brian says. “That often requires some back-and-forth collaboration with our client and designers to arrive at the right intersection of design features, supply chain management and budget considerations.”
Brian maintains a revolving roster of suppliers, manufacturers and trade partners and a near-encyclopedic knowledge of common industry costs, but every component is less predictable than it’s ever been. To ensure our project stakeholders see the best outcomes, Brian keeps a particularly close eye on the prices of steel, concrete and other ubiquitous materials, as well as the strained labor market. Every advantage counts in the pursuit of reducing risk, and Brian finds them at every opportunity.
“In some ways, my role is now more complex, but understanding and facing each new challenge is part of the fun,” Brian says. “I combine my past project experience, knowledge of industry trends and strategic market analysis to determine which escalations are real and lasting, which are temporary and which path works for our client’s and trade partners schedules and budgets.”
Bridges to Success
Brian’s 27 years of estimating experience has touched countless landmark infrastructure projects in Texas. He still has favorites, however, and most are community-connecting bridges. From Houston’s I-10 to the Margaret McDermott Bridge and Skillman Bridge in Dallas, Brian’s preconstruction expertise powers later construction success.
Whatever the project, Brian likes to think of estimating in terms of what he colloquially calls “widgets” – discrete, modular and repeatable packages of design elements that create both cost reliability and eventual efficient constructability. Of course, Brian’s many widgets require constant re-evaluation according to market conditions. They nevertheless provide our estimating teams and the clients they serve with an endlessly useful toolbox of building blocks from which any infrastructure project can emerge.
“Finding opportunities for efficiency during the estimating process is as much an analytical task as it is a creative one,” Brian says. “Balfour Beatty’s estimating teams excel at creative project sequencing, procurement solutions and design revisions that can save our clients money and reduce risk.”
For example, a highway project may require the excavation and construction of a water retention pond. That design element may have a generally reliable set cost based on size and depth, but Brian identifies ways to reduce risk for all project stakeholders. Properly sequencing the pond within the larger project, repurposing excavated material and even strategic over-digging and using the excess to offset backfill costs elsewhere are just some possible opportunities to create savings on any front.
Brian’s project experience has also included a range of contracting models, including smaller hard bid projects and massive, multi-year design-build behemoths like the Horseshoe Interchange and its constituent Margaret McDermott Bridge, now a landmark feature of the Dallas skyline.
No matter a project’s contracting model, Brian strives to understand local municipalities, their construction regulations, project site conditions and how each factor might affect risk. Especially on large-scale design-build projects, many of which span many miles of highway, managing traffic redirection and utility relocation are critical considerations.
Brian and Balfour Beatty’s team of expert infrastructure estimators manage these risks – and so many more – through a matrix of common issues and a risk register, comprising even more movable widgets in their toolbox.
“No matter how complex a project is, we collaborate with all stakeholders to proactively seek out, evaluate and mitigate risks,” Brian says. “If something happens, do we have a half-a-million dollar problem, a $5 million problem or $50,000 problem? By planning for these contingencies in advance, our clients and trade partners are equipped to make the best decisions.”
By simultaneously satisfying local regulations, creating end-user-friendliness and meeting clients’ design and budget goals, Brian sets up projects for success.
Answering the “Why?”
Interstate highways and landmark bridges transport thousands of drivers every day, providing essential channels of connection for our communities. The design choices and cost considerations that inform these projects matter, not just to direct stakeholders but also the people who utilize them every day. Estimators like Brian can explain the “Why?” behind each such choice made at the strategic intersection of savings and design intent.