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Federal-aid Program Administration

Subject: INFORMATION: Stewardship and Oversight of the FHWA Construction Programs Date: January 8, 2003
From: /s/ Original signed by:
King W. Gee
Associate Administrator for Infrastructure
Refer To: HIAM-20
To: Associate Administrators
Chief Counsel
Directors of Field Services
Resource Center Managers
Division Administrators
Federal Lands Highway Division Engineers

On June 22, 2001, FHWA issued the Policy on the Stewardship and Oversight of the Federal Highway Programs (Stewardship Policy). The Stewardship Policy reaffirmed that, regardless of the project responsibilities delegated to the States (or other Federal Agencies), FHWA is ultimately responsible for the Federal highway programs. The Stewardship Policy applies to all FHWA programs. The purpose of this memorandum is to re-affirm FHWA's policy position to ensure that each FHWA division office stewardship program provides assurances that highway improvements are constructed to a desired quality and that Federal-aid construction funds are expended in a manner consistent with applicable Federal laws and regulations.

Quality construction is fundamental to meeting the mission of the Agency. Achievement of the Agency's national objectives is dependent on highway improvements being constructed to a desired level of quality in order to ensure that they perform as intended. Quality construction improves system performance, resulting in reduced impacts on traffic, congestion, and the environment. Safety is improved through minimizing work zone frequency, duration, and disruption of the normal traffic flow. Quality construction results in improved economic efficiency of our highway investments.

Since the passage of the ISTEA of 1991, changes in Federal legislation have significantly altered the environment through which the FHWA delivers the Federal-aid program. These legislative changes have provided the State departments of transportation with expanded authority to act on behalf of the FHWA in ensuring that projects constructed using the Federal-aid highway funds result in long-lasting, economical and high-quality transportation improvements. However, this expanded authority has not diminished the FHWA's responsibility and accountability to Congress and the public.

FHWA Responsibility for Construction Oversight

The basis for our authority can be found in 23 United States Code, (U.S.C.). Representing the Secretary of Transportation we are charged with certain responsibilities. For example, in 23 U.S.C. 114, it states:

"The construction of any highways or portions of highways located on the Federal-aid system shall be undertaken by the respective State transportation departments or under their direct supervision. ... such construction shall be subject to the inspection and approval of the Secretary."

In addition, in accordance with 23 U.S.C. 302 (a), it is the responsibility of FHWA to insure that:

"Any State desiring to avail itself of the provisions of this Title shall have a State transportation department which shall have adequate powers, and be suitably equipped and organized to discharge to the satisfaction of the Secretary the duties required by this Title."

Subsection (a) of 23 U.S.C. 109 further requires that:

"...the Secretary shall ensure that the plans and specifications for each proposed highway project under this chapter provide for a facility that will (1) adequately serve the existing and planned future traffic of the highway in a manner that is conducive to safety, durability, and economy of maintenance; and (2) be designed and constructed in accordance with criteria best suited to accomplish the objectives described in paragraph (1)..."

Subsection (c) of 23 U.S.C. 106, Project approval and oversight, provides for the States to assume some responsibilities of the Secretary for certain projects. However, subsection (d), Responsibilities of the Secretary, further states that:

"...nothing in this section, section 133 [Surface transportation program], or section 149 [Congestion mitigation and air quality improvement program] shall affect or discharge any responsibilities or obligations of the Secretary under (1) section 113 [Prevailing rate of wage] or 114 [Construction], or (2) any Federal law..."

Construction Stewardship

In order to carry out these responsibilities, division office stewardship programs should provide for program-level and project-level construction oversight, problem solving, technical assistance, quality improvement, and deployment of state-of-the-art technology. The stewardship programs should include elements that address full-oversight projects, State administered projects, and major projects, as appropriate. As a minimum, the stewardship program should:

  1. Evaluate the State and local agencies' transportation construction programs, including their procedures and controls for assuring transportation improvements are constructed in accordance with approved standards and acceptable contracting methods.
  2. Evaluate the quality of materials, equipment, construction practices, and work force used for the purpose of evaluating the quality of the constructed product.
  3. Provide technical assistance in problem solving and recommendations for improvements to State and local construction programs to ensure that high quality products are constructed.
  4. Provide sharing of identified state-of-the-art practices and innovations in materials, equipment, construction practices and contracting methods for the purposes of highlighting best practices.

Risk Assessment

Because of the large amount of public funds involved, construction programs are inherently high-risk areas. The division office risk assessments should include an assessment of the risk associated with the State and local transportation agencies' Federal-aid construction programs for the purpose of determining oversight priorities. Consistent with the Stewardship Policy, the primary focus should be the identification and prioritization of high-risk construction areas such that the appropriate level of division office resources can be allocated to manage the associated risk.

Guidance and Implementation Tools

An effort is currently underway to review and update the existing technical guidance related to the FHWA construction programs. The specific statutory requirements pertaining to construction will be identified and implementing directives will be reviewed for relevancy and updated, as appropriate. Tools to assist in the implementation of construction oversight, such as inspection guides and training opportunities, are also being developed. Specific tools include the following:

  1. National Specification Website- In coordination with AASHTO, a national highway construction specification website is currently being developed which will provide a method to electronically access and search construction specifications from all of the State DOT's , Federal Lands Highway, and other transportation agencies. This website will also make available emerging specifications in areas of quality assurance, performance-related specifications, and other new specification types (warranties, design-build, lane rentals, etc.) A pilot version of the website is now being tested. The final website, containing the specifications from all of the States, is scheduled to be completed by spring 2003.
  2. Construction Program Management and Inspection Handbook- This handbook will assist FHWA engineers in maintaining and improving technical competence in a selected and balanced program of construction inspection techniques. The handbook will also provide the field engineer with tools for developing and carrying out a program of risk management with reasonable assurance that FHWA is getting the most value for the expenditure of its resources on construction inspection. A draft version of the handbook was given limited distribution in October 2002, for peer review. Copies of the final handbook will be distributed to all divisions, when it is completed in spring 2003.
  3. General Construction Program Policy and Guidance- It is recognized that much of our regulation, policy, procedure, technical guidance, and training applicable to project delivery still needs to be revised to match the ISTEA and the TEA-21 legislative changes. With this in mind, an effort is now underway to evaluate the current program regulations, policies, and agency positions that apply to the Federal-aid construction program and project oversight, and to identify areas in need of update. Additionally, a Construction Program Guide webpage is being developed, which will consolidate all construction-related regulations, policy and guidance information, and will make this information electronically accessible. This webpage should be open for general use by January 2003.
  4. National Network of FHWA Construction Contacts- A network of construction contacts throughout FHWA was established fall 2002. Future meetings and workshops involving this "Virtual Team" will provide a forum for technology transfer and information sharing, technical support, and a mechanism for targeting future high priority work initiatives in the construction field. A full list of these contacts is available under FHWA's Construction and Maintenance webpage at https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/construction/.

Updated information concerning these tools will be transmitted as it becomes available.

Updated: 06/27/2017
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