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Right-of-Way Scans

2008 Right Of Way and Utilities International Scanning Tour – Australia and Canada

Summary Report


An effective transportation system is an essential requirement for developing and maintaining the economic strength of organized society. Planning, designing, and executing successful transportation projects requires the application of sound strategies to ensure the optimum use and management of scarce resources while, at the same time, addressing a variety of constraints and challenges, many of which are external to the agencies responsible for developing the projects.

Many transportation projects require the acquisition of land and other property interests as well as proper consideration for the accommodation and/or potential relocation of existing utility facilities within the right of way. A critical requirement for the successful completion of those projects is the judicious application of sound engineering and management principles during the right of way and utility processes. These requirements are particularly evident in urbanized areas where there is a more intensive land use and project costs related to right of way acquisition and utility relocation tend to be greater.

Managing acquired right of way assets and the accommodation of utilities within those assets is a continuous activity at transportation agencies. Nationwide, transportation agencies are responsible for managing millions of acres of land that provide right of way to transportation corridors. Managing this extensive and valuable right of way asset involves considerable resources and integration of numerous business processes, a sample of which includes determining right of way boundaries; inventorying roadside features; preparing right of way maps; buying, selling, and leasing assets; regulating the accommodation of utilities within the right of way; and preparing reports documenting right of way assets. In general, ready access to right of way asset data is a key requirement not just to streamline project delivery but also to effectively manage the right of way asset throughout the lifetime of a transportation facility.

In September 2008, the International Scanning Study Team visited Australia and Canada to learn about innovative practices on right of way and utility processes that might be applicable for implementation in the United States. The study team visited four state transportation agencies in Australia: The Road and Traffic Authority (RTA) in Sydney, New South Wales (NSW); the Department of Main Roads in Brisbane, Queensland; the Department for Transport, Energy, and Infrastructure (DTEI) in Adelaide, South Australia; and the Roads Corporation (VicRoads) in Melbourne, Victoria. In Canada, the study team visited Alberta Transportation in Edmonton (Alberta) and the Ministry of Transportation of Ontario (MTO) in St. Catharines. The 2008 scanning tour to Australia and Canada complemented an earlier scanning tour of European countries in 2000, which covered Norway, Germany, The Netherlands, and the United Kingdom.

Objectives for the 2008 scanning tour included the following:

To assist in the discussion with host country officials, the study team prepared a series of amplifying questions in advance of the scan tour to provide additional insight about the motivation and objectives of the scan.

Summary Of Findings


Lessons learned from the visits to RTA, Main Roads, DTEI, and VicRoads include the following:

In the alliance approach, the transportation agency uses an early contractor involvement model that focuses on assembling and integrating the best possible leadership, management, and project execution teams based on qualifications and prior experience. Following a "best for project" approach, each team could include participants from the the selected consortium and/or the transportation agency, depending on the specific expertise area.

An early contractor involvement approach means the alliance team is involved during the project scoping and design phases. Because there is no bidding at the end of the design phase (since the consortium was selected earlier), the alliance approach requires transparent communications between the parties, particularly in regards to compensation and cost structures. Strategies to achieve this goal include establishing a fee structure for all direct project costs that uses open-book accounting and is viewable by all parties, a separate corporate overhead and profit calculation, and clearly established gainshare/painshare arrangements. Gainshare provisions include establishing how to share any net monetary savings at the conclusion of the project.

In general, the alliance team has the responsibility to coordinate effectively with utilities early and find "optimum" relocation strategies. There is only one team interacting with utilities during the design and construction phases. The alliance team also presents a unified front for dealing and negotiating with property owners.

In New South Wales, the NSW Streets Opening Conference sponsored the development of a pilot training course for transportation and utility personnel who are involved in the location of utility facilities in the field. The training course is providing the foundation for a formal accreditation process for utility location services.

Through VicRoads International (VRI), VicRoads has an active presence abroad. An integral component of the VRI program is to provide staff members with the opportunity to travel and work abroad, which in the long term benefits VicRoads because it promotes personal growth and professional development. VicRoads also promotes VRI as a recruitment strategy.

These features combined result in a more cooperative, less adversarial relationship with property owners, which can result in more effective property acquisition practices and earlier access to property needed for project completion.

Through the alliance contracting approach, Australian states are beginning to experiment with the use of visualization techniques to assist in the right of way acquisition process, e.g., by using 3-D visualization techniques and posting video clips on the Internet to explain the project to a wide audience.

The multi-level MOU concept is also used in the United States. However, the impression received by the study team is that Australian MOUs are more elaborate and stringent than those in the United States. Readers should be aware that, opposed to the United States, where utility accommodation policies or rules at the state level govern the accommodation of utilities on the state right of way, a similar concept does not seem to exist in Australia (which could explain in part the need for more comprehensive MOUs). Nonetheless, the study team noticed several advantages in the Australian MOU concept that are worth considering for implementation in the United States.

MOUs with telecommunication providers in Australia seem particularly critical, considering that telecommunications in that country are governed by federal legislation (as opposed to state legislation, as is the case of other utilities) which, in general, is weak with respect to the power given to the agencies responsible for the road reserves to regulate the accommodation of telecommunication facilities.

Related to the implementation of the MOUs is the NSW Streets Opening Conference, which started in Sydney in 1909 as a focal point for the discussion of common transportation and utility issues. The association’s objectives include establishing agreed roadside allocations and recommended practices for the provision of utility services; fostering coordination; encouraging the use of agreed codes and practices for excavation, backfilling, and roadway reconstruction; and minimizing the impact of excavations. Membership includes utility owners, local government and road authorities, light rail operators, other government agencies, consultants, and other groups that have an ongoing interest in utility issues.


Lessons learned from the visits to Alberta Transportation and MTO include the following:

Recommendations and Planned Implementation Actions

The study team identified some 20 potential implementation ideas that would merit consideration in the United States. Of those ideas, the study team considered the following to be top priority for implementation:

With the 2000 and 2008 scans, the United States now has a sizable database of effective right of way and utility practices and strategies covering at least six industrialized nations in three different continents. The fact that some of those strategies and practices are present in all or most of those nations is an additional indication of the strength and benefit derived from those strategies and practices, further highlighting the value of their potential implementation in the United States. Taking into consideration that the United States is already implementing several of the recommendations from the 2000 scan, a valid recommendation would be to evaluate (if not now, possibly within the next 5-8 years) which recommendations from the 2000 and 2008 scans (and to what degree) have become accepted practice in the United States. It may be worth noting that FHWA recently facilitated a peer exchange to evaluate the concept of voluntary incentives for right of way acquisition and relocation, which was one of the recommendations from the 2000 scan. The peer exchange noted 13 pilot voluntary incentive applications from 8 different states.

Updated: 9/5/2014
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