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Domestic Scan Program: Best Practices in Right-of-Way Acquisition and Utility Relocation

3.0 Florida

3.1 Project Context

Over the years Florida has tested and applied many innovative practices in an effort to accelerate project completion. Such approaches are critical to meeting Florida's transportation needs since the State's population is increasing rapidly. Over 1,000 new residents enter Florida each day. Between the year 2000 and 2004 Flagler County (in Florida DOT's District 5) was the second fastest growing county in the country with a 38 percent population increase. The rapid population expansion creates continual demands for transportation improvements to accommodate permanent residents and vacation travelers.

Florida's District 5 (north central) office,1 which includes Flagler County as well as Orlando, Daytona Beach, and other fast-growing areas, has been especially innovative in applying procedures to expedite ROW acquisition and relocation within state policy constraints, as well as to expedite the utility relocation and adjustment process. This area of the State is plagued with accelerating transportation demands which have made the capacity of many local roads insufficient to handle current and future traffic volumes.

While meeting with Florida DOT District 5 and headquarters staff in Orlando, the scan group specifically reviewed the State Road 50 (SR 50) widening project in west suburban Orlando. This project is one of many in the District but was selected as representative of how the project development process in District 5 works. SR 50 is a highly developed urban arterial on which FDOT has undertaken a series of six contiguous design projects to widen the road from four to six lanes. The project corridor is lined primarily with strip development of commercial enterprises. Project improvements to increase capacity are for the most part limited to increasing the number of lanes, some modification of access, and improving intersection turning radii. Safety also is a serious concern; portions of SR 50 in Orange County have been determined to be the nation's 12th deadliest road and the second deadliest for pedestrians, with 144 deaths in 7 years. The project affects about 250 properties, although only a handful require displacements.

A unique problem is that the water table in this area of Florida is very near the surface, approximately eight feet. The State of Florida is in general a low-lying area and ranks with Louisiana as the second most low-lying state in the nation, just after Delaware. In any land development or transportation project along the corridor, removal and management of this water along with surface water run-off are major considerations. Construction and reconstruction of roadways includes finding locations to impound water and or channel it to approved disposal sites. Water management needs create unique requirements as well as opportunities for ROW acquisition. Water management is accomplished in a variety of ways, including creation of ponds by the State, purchase of appropriate rights to use ponds created by others, and the exchange of excess capacity from others in the project area. The State also may enlarge or deepen existing ponds and raise outlet weirs to increase pond volume levels. Pond development is not a casual undertaking in Florida but requires regulatory review and appropriate permitting by regulatory agencies.

Another challenge is that over the years, the areas adjacent to SR 50 have been intensely developed with commercial enterprises so that any proposed construction impacts the frontage of these properties and may impact access, landscaping, and water retention areas. Great care must be exercised to mitigate detrimental impacts to the businesses while retaining and improving the integrity of the transportation system. As with many roadways that have been in place for a number of years, encroachment creep is apparent. Car lots and other businesses routinely park vehicles on the state ROW, sometimes believing that is privately owned property. Demonstrating the extent of public ROW is a critical starting point for negotiations along these roadways.

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3.2 Policy Context

Under Florida's right-of-way acquisition procedures, all affected owners initially receive a written notice explaining the Department's need for the property. This notice also explains the acquisition process as well as the owner's rights. The Department has the land appraised, then begins the negotiation process with a written offer to purchase the required property based on the appraisal. After a period of negotiations, if a mutually acceptable agreement can be reached, a real estate closing occurs. At the closing, the owner receives the agreed payment in exchange for the property needed for the public transportation use. If an eminent domain lawsuit is required, a jury decides on the price and terms for the property. A defendant has 120 days after the lawsuit is issued to file an answer to settle claims. Affected owners may be eligible to claim business damages if their business has been in operation for at least five years immediately prior to the Department's acquisition and the acquisition is for only a part of the land on which the business is located.2

Florida has unique condemnation legislation which allows property owners to be reimbursed for reasonable legal and expert witness costs when the acquisition proceeds to court. With this type of legislation, property owners have little incentive to accept state offers of compensation and in the past have readily sought compensation through court action. The end result is that courts are overburdened with just compensation litigation, costs are greatly increased, and acquisition timeframes are increased.

In accordance with state policy, FDOT cannot under most circumstances reimburse utilities for costs associated with relocation on state-owned ROW. Exceptions can be made, however, under four circumstances: 1) where it is determined that the utility is located in an economically depressed area; 2) on Federal-aid Interstate projects; and 3) if the utility work is completed by the highway contractor and the utility bid is more than 110 percent of the State's official estimate for the work, the State can participate in costs beyond this level; and 4) if the utility agrees to relocate in advance of the project construction, FDOT will pay for the clearing and grubbing. The State of Florida can condemn ROW if necessary in the name of the State and turn that ROW over to the utility company so that the utility relocation can be accomplished.

On other utility-related issues, state statutes provide very limited guidance. They address only permitted utility facilities already on the roadway ROW, and specifically make provisions for the State's rights and responsibilities if the utility is interfering with a transportation project and no agreement can be reached between the State and utility. In this situation, the State must provide 30 days notice of what actions the utility must take to remove the interference. If the utility does not respond, the State sends a second notice and can take over the work and demand reimbursement from the utility or place a lien and assume ownership if not paid. In reality, FDOT considers this a fallback situation and prefers to reach agreements through negotiation.

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3.3 Innovations

As noted in Section 2.0, Florida DOT has piloted a number of ROW innovations, including incentive payments and appraisal waivers. In Florida, District offices function in a decentralized manner and are allowed a great deal of autonomy. District 5's ROW and utilities processes are further distinguished by a comprehensive approach that facilitates continuous innovation and improvement. This approach is characterized by a focus on team building and cross-disciplinary collaboration, early involvement of external stakeholders, clearly defined processes, performance measurement, and training and capacity-building. Noteworthy aspects of District 5's approach are described below.

Creation of Professional Teams

The District 5 office has developed a team concept to enhance the completion of projects. The success of the team process was evident in the enthusiasm and pride of ownership expressed by various members of the acquisition team. The successful team approach has required specific and continuing efforts to facilitate communication among all team members and throughout the District. Full and open communication is encouraged, and any team member has the authority to approach an official at any level to seek information, make observations, or ask for help in reaching the common goals. The environment is non-hierarchical - team members are not required to go through a formal chain of command, but may go directly to whomever necessary to answer their question or address their issue. The resulting efficiency in communication helps to keep projects on track.

The team approach includes a clear definition of the common goal. The goal is not just to complete an individual's assigned task, but to have the ROW available to construct the project on the scheduled date. Team members know that when project materials come to them late or behind schedule it is their job to find ways to expedite the process and to successfully complete all ROW acquisition activities and functions to make the property available for construction.

Development of competent, cohesive teams did not occur overnight. Initially meetings were held weekly to discuss issues, including what is working well, what needs improvement, and what should be changed. Formal recognition of those who had discovered alternative methods of completing tasks helped to assure the continued development of team members.

During discussions about team building it was acknowledged that not everyone readily embraced the concept. Change is unsettling and it took several successes to bring everyone on-board. This was described as a tipping process to be compared with a teeter-totter or see-saw. As the larger numbers of staff passed the point of the fulcrum the small group was carried forward to join the main group. Ultimately team work is infectious and everyone wanted to join a successful team. The successful team approach requires a champion who is willing to devote the time and energy to the creation of high-performing professional teams.

Formal Coordination Meetings and Continuous Involvement

Much of the District's success has resulted from holding regular meetings across a variety of disciplines to assure early recognition of problems and to seek early resolution. While holding meetings just for the sake of holding meetings is not recommended, the District's team meetings are conducted with clearly established objectives and a predefined agenda. FDOT's standard project approach includes formal coordination meetings for each project at design project milestones. These meetings include a parcel by parcel meeting and a meeting at the final design stage. A significant milestone is the post-construction meeting with the contractor which includes debriefing reviews on change orders, design changes, and other issues. This discussion captures the contractor's views as to what worked well and what action can the State take to make the next project advance more smoothly.

A key element of the team approach is coordination among different departments and functional areas. For example, project development and design staff are present at an initial meeting of the project ROW team to debrief the team on the project and any issues of which they are aware, such as permitting status, contacts already made with property owners, potential roadblocks, and any agreements that have been established.

Team Interaction at the Appraisal Level

A unique team approach involves the inspection of properties at the time of appraisal. The review appraiser, the agent, and fee appraisers visit the property at the same time. This field visit allows each party to observe the property and paves the way for expeditious review and negotiation follow-through. Fee appraisers develop a "data" or comparable sales book which includes pertinent property sale transactions to be used in valuing properties in the project area. Agents and review appraisers attend a meeting where the data books are presented and reviewed. This approach gives the agents a good understanding of the market conditions in the area and helps to facilitate negotiations. In some areas along the routes reviewed property values have escalated 40 percent in one year, making knowledge of current property values critical.

Early and Ongoing Communication with Property Owners and the Public

Florida District 5 has found that a project's success in achieving ROW agreements can be enhanced by establishing and maintaining forthright communications with those expected to be impacted by the project, beginning at the early stages of the project. The state personnel clearly understand their responsibility to include keeping businesses in business and easing the impact on owners and tenants, and work to earn the public's trust.

The District staff meets with abutters and other interested stakeholders early in the project process to assure that owners and tenants are fully aware of planned projects and can provide their input. This process greatly reduces the level of detrimental rumors and misinformation which often accompany transportation improvements. These early meetings allow owner input at an early stage and eliminate the surprise element involved in later public meetings. Owners often have worthwhile suggestions and comments and can provide valuable input.

Clear provision of information also is important. Property owners are provided a detailed description of the acquisition process in the form of a brochure which lays out the rights and options available during the acquisition process. This brochure confirms that if the owner requests it, the State will provide copies of the appraisal, the right-of-way maps, or construction plans within 15 business days of the request. The brochure describes the property owner's eligibility for attorney fees and appraiser fees both in the event of a negotiated settlement and in the case of condemnation. The brochure also outlines the general conditions under which a business where a partial taking has occurred may be eligible for a business damage claim. These businesses must have been in business for at least five years immediately prior to the acquisition and must be able to demonstrate that the losses are a direct result of the loss of a portion of the property.

One Agent Concept

A true one agent concept is used in Florida wherein the same agent handles the acquisition, relocation, property management, and clearing of the improvements for construction. The agent is involved from the initial team meeting at the initiation of the project until final settlement including mediation or court trial. The use of a single agent helps to ensure that owners and tenants receive consistent information regarding state procedures, and property owners always know whom to contact and are not shuffled from one state agent to another. The use of a single agent also avoids the problem of property owners indicating that an earlier agent made promises which are not being honored.

Consistent Staff Assignment

Two ROW staff members are assigned to each project, one with appraisal background and one with an acquisition background. These staff members track the project from beginning to end and are critical to the identification and resolution of ROW issues in the early design stages. Their involvement often results in advance acquisitions and quick settlements with willing sellers, and helps to produce high-quality appraisal reports.

Early and Ongoing Coordination with Utilities

Equally important to relationships with property owners is the development of working relationships with utilities. Private utilities as well as local governments are invited to participate as early as the initial scope of services design team meetings. This has been successful at obtaining early information from utilities on the locations of their assets. Early coordination with utilities can pose challenges, however. FDOT staff note that while utilities like the concept of coordination, it nevertheless represents an expense for them, and at the early stages there may be very few project details to work with. District 5's solution as been to hold advance meetings with utility companies at the "line and grade" design stage, when it is still early enough to make design changes but there are enough details for utilities to be able to assess potential impacts. This allows the utility to evaluate the anticipated impact of the project on their utility facility and to plan accordingly.

While FDOT has established "master agreements" and standard procedures with respect to the utility coordination process, use of these agreements and processes has varied by district as a result of the agency's decentralized approach. Nevertheless, the agency is aware that a consistent approach is especially important to statewide/regional utilities. To facilitate consistency, air issues of concern, and build relationships, FDOT hosts quarterly statewide meetings to which all utilities in the State are invited. These meetings last a week and include general meetings, open forums, and specific issue workgroups.

Condemnation Authority for Right-of-Way Required by Utilities

Florida statutes provide the State with the authority to purchase and condemn land for ROW needed for utility relocation as a result of a transportation project (Chapter 73 Section 015). FDOT will condemn the land in the name of the State and transfer it to the utility. While condemned land cannot normally be transferred to private interests, an exception is made if it is transferred for public uses such as utility relocation for transportation facilities, water retention areas, or drainage facilities.

Finalization of ROW and Utilities Needs at the 60 Percent Design Stage

A common problem faced by many state DOTs is that of ongoing design changes occurring once property maps are completed and ROW acquisition has commenced. The design changes require acquisition functions to be redone often several times and create delays in completion of ROW acquisition. District 5 has initiated a process whereby Design and ROW work hand-in-hand to formulate a good design which considers the physical construction needs of the project along with the needs of adjacent property owners. State ROW personnel work to reduce detrimental impacts on adjacent property to lessen business damages and to integrate the project into the existing and future land uses. Final ROW requirements are delineated at the 60 percent design stage and a parcel-by-parcel meeting with all disciplines is provided to consider one last opportunity to make changes. All subsequent changes must be evaluated to determine if they are clearly warranted or if construction can proceed without the change.

Tracking of Right-of-Way Requirement Changes

Avoiding last-minute design changes is considered important enough that District 5 has established a tracking system to record all changes after the 60 percent design stage. Any change proposed after this milestone requires a special ROW and Design meeting to discuss the proposed changes and to make a recommendation for or against the change. Any change requires management approval. District 5 staff notes that they have seen significant reductions in late changes - and resulting delays - as a result of the coordination process between Design and ROW as well as the tracking system, and are gathering data to quantify these benefits.

Florida DOT Procedures: Tracking Right-of-Way Requirement Changes

(Excerpted from the FDOT Utilities Manual)

Purpose: To obtain data on the causes for right-of-way requirements being changed after the approval of 60 percent (Phase II) Plans for identification of potential needed improvements in the Department's overall critical path process from the identification of right-of-way requirements to right-of-way certified clear. The data obtained is expected to better define the coordination efforts required between Design, Surveying and Mapping and Right-of-Way Legal Administration; identify the timeframe(s) where required resources need to be aligned; and ultimately to eliminate duplication of work being done by both Design and Surveying and Mapping. It is critical that all disciplines work together in educating each other as to what it takes to define right-of-way requirements, as to what stage (or stages) this is accomplished, and what are the impacts to the overall production schedule when requirements are changed.

Reasons for Change (code number for tracking form):
  • 01 Design Change to Scope (i.e. typical section, drainage design);
  • 10 Tweaking of Design Due to Final Geometry Calc on Property Lines;
  • 02 Variance or Exception Granted;
  • 11 Avoid Impacts to Real Estate Improvements;
  • 03 Permitting Issue;
  • 12 Reduce Damages to Remainder Property;
  • 04 Utility Design Issue;
  • 13 Development of the Property;
  • 05 Local Agency (JPA) Delay or Default;
  • 14 Real Estate Costs;
  • 06 Design Accommodation versus ROW Take (i.e. wall versus slope easement);
  • 15 Real Estate Interest Change
    (i.e. fee to easement);
  • 07 Design Mistake;
  • 16 Property Owner's Request;
  • 08 Survey Mistake;
  • 17 Uneconomic Remnant; and
  • 09 Property Changes Resulting from Complete Title Work (i.e. property split);
  • 18 Other.
Performance Measure: Projects Advance to Construction on Schedule

One of FDOT's performance measures on a project is the year and month that the project is available for construction. This measure ties in with the agency's goal of having the project available so that construction can begin on time. The team approach requires that all steps be taken as necessary to reach the goal. Projects are continuously monitored to determine whether they are ahead of schedule or behind schedule. Project and parcel tracking are an integral part of the process and the team knows that if some phase begins to slip the team will need to find a way to accelerate project activities.
An example of this approach is presented in the FDOT Project Management Handbook. The length of time necessary to complete a ROW project varies based on the size and complexity of the project. A base starting point is that the ROW acquisition process for a typical project takes anywhere from 18 to 24 months. A schedule outlines the steps from the completion of ROW plans to the certification that all ROW is available for the contractor. The completion of the condemnation portion of the eminent domain process may require an additional two years. The estimated time requirements for ROW acquisition steps are as follows:

Since some phases may overlap, the process can generally be completed within the 18 to 24-month timeframe, with the exception of eminent domain proceedings. Use of this type of schedule helps to keep projects on track since it is easy to see where the project progress is slipping.

Pass the Torch Hand-Off

Once ROW is available, a pass the torch meeting is held with ROW agents, consultants, and project managers. A parcel-by-parcel review is made of the project and all commitments are shown on the plans. These items might include saving trees, modifying driveways, revising slopes, saving trees, replacing landscaping, or adding fencing. This critical step eliminates the problem of disagreements between property owners and the contractor over actual or claimed construction adjustment commitments made by the State.

Florida DOT Pass the Torch Meeting Agenda

PASS THE TORCH MEETING

Attendees:

AGENDA:

Transfer of hard copy documents (commitment sheet on each parcel, right of entries, deeds with special conditions, easements, final judgments, aerial photos).

ROW contact person(s) for each parcel.

Customer satisfaction survey

Transfer copies of aerial photos, commitment sheets on each parcel, right of entries, final judgments

UTILITIES

NON UTILITY JOINT PARTICIPATION AGREEMENTS

POST DESIGN SERVICES AVAILABILITY

ENVIRONMENTAL CONCERNS

Extinguish the Torch

Once the project is constructed an "extinguish the torch" meeting is held with the contractor to perform a final project analysis. This meeting with the contractor reviews plans and how well they worked for the intended purpose. Project time and cost overruns are examined to determine what steps can be taken in the future to improve the project. The in-depth review, which includes all change orders and supplements, examines whether good decisions were made during the progress of the project and plan development. The contractor outlines what elements worked well and what might be improved for future projects. For projects in excess of $10 million a special review is made in an effort to find ways to do things better, and a review of plans for constructability is completed. Maintenance personnel attend the extinguish the torch meeting since the next step involves their function.

Definition of Market Value

District 5 believes that it is imperative that property owners have a high level of confidence in the values determined by the State and the offers of fair market value that are made for their properties. The State seeks to obtain high-quality appraisals that reflect the highest supportable value of the property. While this approach may have the appearance of increasing acquisition costs, it has led to greater efficiencies in the process by reducing condemnation and related lawsuits. As property owners come to understand that the State's approach is to consistently provide a favorable offer, they are more willing to settle amicably rather than bringing the process to court.

Incentive Offer - Acquisition Pilot

A successful incentive offer pilot project has been used on some projects in Florida. The acquisition incentive offer pilot allows the State to offer in excess of the appraisal value to secure a settlement. Pilot projects were in the past approved by FHWA on a state by state basis and were limited in scope. The approval authority has now been delegated to the FHWA Division Offices. The current pilot has a schedule of incentive payments, capped at 30 percent of the appraisal value with a ceiling of $150,000. Florida would like to see the incentive offer program expanded so that it is available for use on any project, without the need to establish a pilot project. The State is seeking to obtain a settlement rate of 80 to 90 percent. The incentive offer is particularly significant in Florida where property owners are entitled to reasonable legal fees and special expert witness fees. The concept of incentive payments has been successfully used in other states as well, for both acquisition and relocation.

Appraisal Waiver

Appraisal waivers have been successfully used by Florida DOT. The State has found that significant time and money can be saved by using both appraisal waivers and modification of appraisal review techniques. Appraisal waivers currently are limited to $25,000. The State would like to see an increase in the limit at which appraisal waivers can be applied. Other states have indicated that a high percentage of their case load is at or below the $25,000 level and accordingly do not see the need for a higher limit.

Performance Measure: Negotiated Settlement Rate

A key performance measure applied by FDOT for the ROW process is the negotiated settlement rate. FDOT staff feels that it is critically important to focus on positive outcomes - rather than negatives such as the condemnation rate - and seeks to minimize the application of eminent domain. District 5's negotiated settlement rate currently is in the 75 to 80 percent range as a result of the various tools and approaches described above, such as early contact with property owners and incentive payments. Staff hopes to further increase this rate to 80 to 90 percent.

Maps Based on Aerial Photography with Superimposed
Computer Graphics

FDOT develops maps that help to keep track of project activity and serve as an educational tool. Aerial photographs are taken of the projects including the existing roadway system. Existing and proposed ROW lines are superimposed on the photo using computer graphics, at a cost of roughly $10,000 per mile. These maps are a great aid in showing property owners the existing ROW limits and their property lines along with proposed design. The maps are particularly pertinent when dealing with highly developed urban properties. Over the years many businesses have used the ROW for parking and for traffic movement adjacent to property improvements. Parking on the ROW and other encroachments continue to be a major challenge and the maps are valuable in illustrating the limits of state-owned ROW.
Since commercial use of the ROW is a crime, one approach has been to hire off-duty highway patrol to suggest that encroachments be cleared or a fine will be imposed. The fee for use of these enforcement officers is approximately $30 per hour.

Efficient Transportation Decision-Making Process

The State of Florida uses the Efficient Transportation Decision-Making (ETDM) process for planning transportation projects, conducting environmental reviews, and developing and permitting projects.3 The State's procedures were developed as a result of streamlining provisions contained in the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21). These streamlining measures were created to reduce the often 10- to 15-year time lapse between the time the need for a project was identified and the time the project was delivered. Additional features of the process are designed to provide early recognition of resource agency concerns and to allow early public involvement.

As part of the ETDM process the FDOT has implemented an Internet-accessible interactive database tool known as the Environmental Screening Tool (EST). The new system was designed around the following key features:

A significant benefit of the ETDM process is that projects with fatal flaws that prevent their construction will be identified at an early planning stage before valuable and limited resources have been expended in their study and preliminary design. The use of ETDM also accelerates the process by facilitating early involvement by all parties. As the project advances toward the project development and design phase, use is made of GIS data layers. These data layers provide elements that are significant to various agencies. These web-based tools offer all agencies the opportunity to comment before the project goes into the State's work plan. During the resolution phase, alternate alignments and other relevant matters are available for review and comments by the state and Federal resource agencies. Once the process is out of the draft stage it is available for public view on the web site.

Agencies have opportunities to comment at two different stages under the web ETDM process and to take the appropriate action on the appropriate electronic screen. E-mail notification is sent to all parties to alert them that a new project posting is available requiring their review.

The benefits of ETDM extend not only to Federal and state resource agencies and decision-makers, but also to utility companies who are spared the task of reviewing planned projects which are ultimately doomed because of environmental flaws. The utility companies can thus concentrate on projects which are most likely successful candidates for completion. The utility companies also are in a position to omment on planned projects and their impacts on important utility facilities.

Much of the success, to date, of the ETDM process is credited to its creation. It began with a multiagency working group to study and redefine how projects would be planned, reviewed, and subsequently permitted. Beginning with a blank sheet and allowing agencies to provide input the process was designed to meet the needs of all parties while at the same time greatly accelerating the process.

Joint State - Local Projects

Reflecting interest in local economic development, Florida statutes have expanded over time to allow the State to undertake special projects jointly with local governments. The state legislature has established programs for local road development, including the Small County Road Program (SCRP), Local Aid Program (LAP), and Transportation Regional Incentive (TRIP) program. As FDOT is involved in administering and participating in costs for these projects, it has needed to develop guidance and procedures to address some of the specific challenges with these projects, including those associated with ROW and utilities. The Department's procedures include a checklist of items to be included in the agreement with the local entity for completion of the project and a schedule of necessary actions to complete the project on schedule.4 The State assembles a team to address regional needs and an "intake" form to gather information to program the project. A project manager is assigned to each special project and a core group is established to evaluate the project.

One of the continuing challenges with joint state-local projects is the rapid turnover of staff at the local level. When individuals who have initiated a project leave, there is often a void that must be filled by the State in outlining the steps that must be taken at the local level to successfully complete the project. The State also is concerned with the treatment of utilities and wants to ensure that all utilities are treated in a uniform manner at both the state and local level. Especially where Federal funds are involved, the local entities often do not understand the rules. The State has found that an educational process is required to make local jurisdictions aware of state procedures and their importance. In some cases, the State has found it easier to undertake certain aspects of the project (such as ROW acquisition) rather than training local employees.

Constraints Due to Local Planning and Zoning Ordinances

Minor acquisitions can reduce the size of properties below the minimum size allowed by zoning, creating a nonconforming use. If a variance cannot be obtained, the highest and best use of the property may be reduced and the State may be required to acquire the entire property. Setback requirements and landscape buffers also can create acquisition complications. Local entities may either approve or disapprove reduced setbacks and/or reduced landscape buffers.

FDOT has found that this is another challenge for which establishing early coordination and ongoing relationships - in this case, with local governments - can pay dividends. Most municipalities have been willing to work on nonconformity issues, for example, by approving variances for preexisting properties, but it helps to raise these issues before they occur rather than after the fact. As another innovative approach, the State will consider the use of easements rather than fee acquisitions to avoid reducing land areas below the minimum required by zoning, thereby avoiding setback and nonconformity problems.

Empowerment, Innovation, and Risk Taking

District 5 has concluded that the most effective management results in the highest level of authority delegated to the lowest practical level of the organization. Those who are actually doing the work are in the best position to be creative in finding solutions and exploring innovation. Risk-benefit analysis can be an important decision-making tool. Transportation organizations often pursue a zero risk tolerance policy which increases costs and lengthens the transportation improvement process. In contrast, the risk-benefit approach recognizes that where the risks of an action are small or inconsequential compared to its potential benefits, then the action should be taken.

Statewide Training Program

A number of states have noted that hiring and retaining staff with right-of-way and utilities expertise has been an increasing challenge, since older staff is retiring and few younger people have been trained in this field. District 5 alone has 85 in-house right-of-way and legal staff. To maintain a competent and knowledgeable staff, FDOT has implemented an extensive internal training program that includes two years of agent training and three years of appraiser training. The program was developed working with the International Right-of-Way Association and is continually being updated. The program not only builds in-house expertise but also qualifies in-house employees to oversee private sector work.
The benefits of consistent training programs are demonstrated historically by an intensive statewide training effort undertaken in Florida in the 1970s on eminent domain appraisal. This effort led to many people becoming established in the business and gaining considerable expertise. Some are still working for the DOT, either as employees or consultants.
FDOT's emphasis on formalized policies and procedures, such as schedules and agendas for interdisciplinary meetings, also supports the training and development of new staff. New project managers can quickly be brought "up to speed," and proven practices can be sustained even in the face of staff turnover.

Innovative Financing

The advancement of the SR 50 project was accomplished in part through the use of innovative financing techniques. The State Infrastructure Bank (SIB) provided a loan to the District office of $105 million to be disbursed when needed for various phases of the projects. Orange County provided an additional loan of $10 million. Use of innovative financing allowed for these projects to move forward years ahead of the normal schedule.
Funding is a critical first step in the acquisition of ROW and relocation of utilities. Most states cannot make any financial commitments until project funding is in place. Where normal state revenue is insufficient to advance all needed projects, innovative financing can help to close the gap. Innovative financing allows ROW acquisition and utility relocation to commence. Without the use of innovative financing on this project, no activity would have occurred for several years. Early completion of projects can pay dividend in terms of reduced congestion and crashes and by reducing costs which would otherwise escalate as a result of inflation of material and labor costs.

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3.4 Benefits

Florida DOT District 5 notes numerous benefits from their focus on a team approach, early involvement of external stakeholders, clearly defined processes, performance measurement, and a focus on innovation and experimentation. Examples include:

Florida's emphasis on performance measurement and tracking has provided some data to demonstrate benefits, such as the negotiated settlement rate of 75 to 80 percent. On the SR 50 project in Orlando, the agency notes that it has achieved very good results in avoiding late changes to ROW, incorporating early landowner input into design, avoiding unnecessary impacts to businesses, and designing the most economical project possible. Previous pilot studies also have helped quantify the benefits of techniques such as incentive payments and acquisition waivers. In the future, as additional data are collected, more information should be available to further demonstrate the benefits of Florida's approach.

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3.5 Resources

Web sites:

Documents:

Contacts:

1 http://www.dot.state.fl.us/publicinformationoffice/moreDOT/districts/dist5.htm.

2Florida Department of Transportation (2006). The Real Estate Acquisition Process.

3 For more information on ETDM, see the ETDM web site.

4See: http://www.dot.state.fl.us/planning/triph/jpas.tm.

5 Formerly District General Counsel and Right-of-Way Manager.

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Updated: 04/02/2013
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