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3rd Infantry Division Highway Corridor Study

Fourth Meeting of the Expert Working Group

April 28, 2011, 1pm-2:45pm
FHWA GA Division Office, Atlanta

Attendees:

Non-Federal EWG Members

Federal EWG Members

Augusta-Richmond Co. PC
Coastal Region MPO (remote)
Georgia DOT
North Carolina DOT (remote)
Tennessee DOT (remote)
WaysSouth

FHWA Eastern Federal Lands
EPA Region 4, NEPA and Wetlands
FHWA GA Division and HQ
FHWA NC Division (remote)
National Park Service
US Fish and Wildlife Service (remote)
USDA - Forest Service (remote)

Project Team

FHWA HQ
ICF International
Wilbur Smith Associates

Greeting and Introductions

The fourth meeting of the Expert Working Group (EWG) for the Third Infantry Division Highway Corridor Study was held on April 28, 2011, from 1:00pm to 2:45pm at the FHWA Georgia Division office in Atlanta. The purpose of the meeting was to review the corridors that were advanced for costing; discuss the cost estimating methodology and review the costs; and to discuss upcoming public involvement activities. The following is a summary of discussion topics, questions, and comments.

John Mettille, Project Manager for the ICF Team, opened the meeting and welcomed participants, who then went around and introduced themselves. Six EWG members attended the meeting in person. The majority of the EWG participated by remote access.

The meeting started with brief review of what the study is and isn’t and a recap of the third meeting. The study is a conceptual feasibility study that will form the basis of FHWA’s report to Congress (Phase 1). States and MPOs are not required to implement any of the corridors discussed. The report to Congress will not include any recommendations. The study team may recommend potential follow-on studies to FHWA as part of Phase 2 of the study.

The third EWG meeting focused on the corridors that were evaluated and screened against potential fatal flaws. Based on the study team’s evaluation and on input from the EWG, two corridors and a no build alternative were advanced for costing. Planning-level cost estimates were prepared for Corridor A West (entire length), Corridor B and B Bypass (Savannah to Millen only), and a No Build alternative (signing an existing route). Maps of Corridors A and B/B Bypass were reviewed with the EWG.

One new alternative was suggested by a member of the public through the project website. The route would parallel the Savannah River on new alignment through South Carolina from I-95 to I-85 near Greenville. The alternative would face the same type of challenges as Corridor D, thus it was not recommended for additional consideration.

Costs were estimated for the design levels (Interstate, Arterial, Super-2, and Context Sensitive) as applicable to each corridor. The Interstate design level would provide at least four travel lanes with grade-separated interchanges, designed to Interstate standards. The Arterial level provides four travel lanes with at-grade intersections at cross-streets. The Super-2 design level provides an enhanced two-lane highway (two travel lanes plus a third lane for passing, truck climbing, etc) with at-grade intersections. The Context Sensitive design level is the minimum level of improvement necessary to have a continuous two-lane highway along a corridor. If the existing facility provides better mobility than a design level proposed for a corridor, that segment was not included in the cost estimate for any lower design levels.

Cost Estimating Methodology

The study team looked at the state of the practice for cost estimating in Georgia and Tennessee. Planning-level cost estimating tools developed by GDOT and TDOT were used for segments of the corridors within their respective states. The estimates include costs for preliminary engineering, right-of-way and utilities, construction, construction engineering inspection (CEI), as well as contingency costs.

Costs: Preliminary Engineering – includes environmental/NEPA work, public involvement, and engineering design efforts. The TDOT tool estimates these as 10% of construction cost; the GDOT tool estimates these as 10% of the total project cost. The preliminary engineering/environmental costs resulting from the application of either model are consistent with estimates from previous FHWA reports to Congress, and comparable to the per-mile costs of some of the study team’s recent environmental projects.

Costs: Right-of-Way & Utilities – includes costs for acquiring new right-of-way and relocating utilities. TDOT estimates are adjusted for land use type. GDOT’s tool adjusts for land use, project type, and location; it also includes a 50% contingency for unknowns in ROW.

Costs: Construction – includes mainline construction, plus per-item costs for structures, interchanges, intersections, mitigation, and more. TDOT base estimates are adjusted for terrain and facility type; GDOT estimates are adjusted for area and facility type, and use per-item unit costs for bridges and interchanges.

Costs: Other – CEI is estimated at 10% of construction cost. Approximately 10-30% of project cost was added to account for contingencies, which are built into the GDOT model but not the TDOT model.

Corridor Cost Estimate Comparison

Corridor maps with cost estimates were reviewed and compared between control points as well as along the entire corridor length. Total project costs are shown in the table below:

Comparison of Total Corridor Costs
Corridor Context Sensitive Super-2 Arterial Interstate
A West $694 million $1.2 billion $2.5 billion $4.8 billion
A West (Dalton spur) $562 million $872 million $2.0 billion $4.2 billion
B/A West N/A N/A $2.5 billion $5.2 billion
B Bypass/A West N/A N/A $3.1 billion $6.1 billion
No Build N/A N/A N/A < $500,000
Question/Comment : 1. Martin Weiss (ICF Team): It looks like alignment bands are 1-mile wide?
Reply : John Mettille (ICF Team): Correct.
Question/Comment : 2. Martin Weiss (ICF Team): For the signing only estimate, how many centerline miles would be signed?
Reply : Rebecca Thompson (ICF Team): The estimate is not route specific, it’s just ballpark estimate to sign an existing Interstate route between Savannah and Knoxville.

Cost Uncertainties

John Mettille pointed out that the project cost estimates become more accurate as projects advance through the project development process. Large contingencies have been used because there are a lot of unknowns at this very early conceptual planning stage.

Types of risks affecting costs could include unclear project definition; inflation; delays in implementation; and indirect risks. Costs could be significantly higher than the estimates shown in the presentation. The contingency factors built into the estimates (10% to 30%) help account for some of these risk elements.

Question/Comment : 3. Steve Luxenberg (FHWA GA): That’s $6 billion in today’s dollars?
Reply : John Mettille (ICF Team): Yes.

Project Development Steps

Both state DOTs (GDOT and TDOT) have very complex project development processes. The final report to Congress will inform them of the complexity and will include both states’ flow charts. Similar features from both are summarized in the bullet points below:

Identify need – The first phase of study looks at route conditions and needs. Projects must meet one of the Long-Range Plan goals to move forward.

Program funds – Adequate funding must be identified in each state before a project can develop. GDOT and TDOT Long Range Plans identify needs over next 30 years and show large funding gap between needs and funds.

Question/Comment : 4. Steve Luxenberg (FHWA GA): Are the plans based on revenue projections in the current authorization? (Note: The current surface transportation authorization act is an extension of SAFETEA-LU).
Reply :
  • John Mettille (ICF Team): Yes.
  • Stefan Natzke (FHWA HQ): The Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has been explicit that the authorized funding in the next surface transportation law will be aligned with actual revenues in the Highway Trust Fund. There will be no additional influxes of cash to the Highway Trust Fund from the General Fund of the Treasury, as has occurred in the past few years.

Planning – This step involves the development of project purpose and need, development of conceptual alternatives, and an overview of potential issues that must be considered.

Preliminary Design – This begins the evolution of design work. Alternatives are refined and evaluated; environmental analysis can begin as the project location is better defined.

NEPA – The NEPA phase involves analyzing and documenting project impacts. A tiered EIS could work if this project were to move forward, allowing for an overview of the entire corridor before advancing individual sections. It can take several years to progress through this phase.

Final Design – This step involves the development of detailed plans, specifications, and estimates necessary prior to construction.

Permitting – A number of permits would be required for each construction section. Permitting is often begun during final design, as soon as an adequate level of detail is known.

Construct Project – The final step, culminating in the project opening to traffic. Right-of-way acquisition and utility relocations must occur in this phase.

Project development is a 10-12 year process for a typical highway project, from planning to opening to traffic. Legacy projects can last much longer, 30+ years.

Upcoming Public Involvement

Three public webinars/Q&A sessions are scheduled for May 17-18. The EWG members have been asked to distribute fact sheets and flyers to their constituents. Comments will continue to be accepted through the public website.

Question/Comment : 5. Steve Luxenberg (FHWA GA): Will the webinars cover the same material presented in this meeting?
Reply : John Mettille (ICF Team): It will be a condensed version of the project tasks completed to date.
Question/Comment : 6. Steve Luxenberg (FHWA GA): Will that be the only public involvement?
Reply : Stefan Natzke (FHWA HQ): We also have the website. Other options were considered; our approach is consistent with state plans. We wanted the public involvement program to reflect that this is a conceptual corridor study, and not a project in the development stage.
Question/Comment : 7. Ralph Comer (TDOT): TDOT has distributed the materials. However, we did include several caveats: this is an FHWA consultant-led project; the state is not expected to include the project in plans; no alternative is being recommended, and there may be no alternative moving forward for additional development.
Question/Comment : 8. Jamie Higgins (EPA): How are you letting people know about the webinars?
Reply :
  • John Mettille (ICF Team): We are using state/MPO public involvement avenues.
  • Rebecca Thompson (ICF Team): We emailed a fact sheet/flyer that has login info and will resend to the EWG.
  • John Mettille (ICF Team): The majority of comments received through the website (approximately 120 comments so far) are concerns about impacts and funding. Four comments have been in favor of the project; the rest are opposed.

Next Steps

The EWG was asked to review the information on cost estimating and next steps and provide any comments or concerns.

Next tasks: public involvement, assembling final report to FHWA, and possibly a final EWG call/webinar in late May/early June.

Question/Comment : Steve Luxenberg (FHWA GA): Once we submit the report to Congress, what happens?
Reply : Stefan Natzke (FHWA HQ): The study report that will be submitted to FHWA will shape the report to Congress; part of the study report will be recommendations on further studies, if any. We may end up stopping at the report to Congress.
Question/Comment : 9. Jamie Higgins (EPA): Will the draft report be released to the public before Congress?
Reply : Stefan Natzke (FHWA HQ): The report to Congress will not be released prior to submittal to Congress; the consultant report, maybe – we need to think about that.
Question/Comment : 10. Jamie Higgins (EPA): Will we get to review a draft of the study report?
Reply : John Mettille (ICF Team): A potential fifth EWG meeting will could the opportunity to comment. Or the draft final report could be circulated via email with comments submitted electronically. The report will primarily be a compilation/summary of work to date.
Question/Comment : 11. Jamie Higgins (EPA): Please provide enough review time (more than two weeks).
Question/Comment : 12. Martin Weiss (ICF Team): I have one request to the EWG – a key thing we haven’t really covered – what should the contractor recommend in Phase 2, if anything? We may not have time for this discussion, as the focus has been on Phase 1. Should there be no further sub-studies conducted, or certain studies conducted all along a corridor, or on certain segments only, etc?
Reply :
  • Martin Weiss (ICF Team): There have been hundreds of studies that FHWA has been required to give to Congress; USDOT sends a transmittal letter (5-6 pages, with or without study), key points/conclusions. In some cases, nothing happens but Congress may request another study (very rare circumstance).
  • Stefan Natzke (FHWA HQ): Martin gave a pretty accurate description of the process; however, we are just speculating what might happen. The study report and recommendations for Phase 2 are separate products.
Question/Comment : 13. Lewis Grimm (EFL): In addition to providing costs associated with corridor, for the benefit of Congress, should we include something that says from this stage of conceptual study, even if it is identified in a state plan, there are years and years of work in the project development process?
Reply : John Mettille (ICF Team): It will require a champion at every stage; could take someone their whole career to get through the project development process.

The meeting adjourned at 2:45pm.

Updated: 03/22/2013
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