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Major Projects


Schedule Estimating: Estimating Schedule for FHWA Major Projects


One section of a major project financial plan documents the project's schedule, including major milestones, for completing the project. A specific completion date (month and year) is included in the Initial Financial Plan and becomes the baseline completion date for the project.

Major projects are usually more complex and contain more risk elements than other projects. Careful attention must be provided when determining the completion date for major projects. Traditional estimating methods may not be appropriate in all cases. This guidance is intended to assist project sponsors and the FHWA with ensuring that the project completion date is determined using sound practices that result in logical and realistic completion dates. This should result in a more stable completion date throughout the project continuum.


The completion date for use in a major project financial plan is date when all construction work identified has been completed and the project sponsor has accepted all of the contractors' work, also known as final acceptance. This includes all work as identified in the NEPA decision document or similar document that clearly identifies the complete scope of the project. The completion date in a major project financial plan usually occurs after the substantial completion date, since all physical construction must be completed, including major punch list items and cleanup. No significant change orders or claims should be unresolved or outstanding.

Warranty or maintenance periods for work such as landscaping or electrical components are not considered when determining the completion date because warranties do not impact the completed construction or operation of the finished facility. Work that is not integral to the facility or is not directly related to the operation of the completed facility (e.g. off-site environmental mitigations, right-of-way transfers, some types of third party work, etc.) should not be considered when developing the completion date.

Risk and Uncertainty:

The development of the completion date should be based on the best information available. When preparing any schedule estimate, engineering judgment should be applied. There should be a disciplined and comprehensive method of assessing and reassessing project risk and uncertainty. Uncertainty and risks associated with a construction schedule estimate can be represented as a contingency. Major projects require special consideration of project risk and complexity in order to produce accurate contingencies. Schedule contingency estimates should be defined and quantified throughout the project's development as specific risk elements, which then may then be used to create a risk management plan for the project.

As the project is refined, any schedule contingency should be adjusted as uncertainty and the potential impacts of risk are reduced or increased. As with any contingency, the appearance of false precision should be avoided. Unsupported early optimism (i.e. low or no contingency amounts) should be avoided.

Initial Financial Plan:

The completion date documented in the initial financial plan will be the baseline completion date throughout the life of the project. So it is important that this date is reasonable and accurate. One way to ensure the completion date is reasonable and accurate is to include a schedule contingency to account for uncertainty and risk. A discussion of schedule uncertainty and risk should occur during the FHWA Cost Estimate Review conducted before the initial financial plan is submitted. The initial financial plan should include a brief discussion of schedule assumptions, uncertainties, and risks. Where appropriate, the initial financial plan should identify the value and content of the schedule contingency.


As discussed in the major project financial plan guidance, completion dates are revised as necessary for each Financial Plan Annual Update. As noted above, any schedule contingency should be adjusted as uncertainty and the potential impacts of risk are reduced or increased.

Team of Experts:

A skilled, interdisciplinary team should produce schedule estimates. Schedule estimates should be developed using a clearly identified scope of work. Estimates should be based on consultation and input from agency experts. For example, right-of-way acquisition schedules should be determined in consultation with an agency's right-of-way office. For work that is unusual, (e.g. buildings, railroads, mass transit, ferry boat docks, etc.) consultation with outside agencies may be appropriate.

The team should also have a thorough understanding of the project's scope, including the ability to determine and evaluate critical issues and risks. If resources are available, others experienced in schedule estimating who have not been extensively exposed to the project should also provide input. This can bring a new independent analysis regarding items that may have a major impact on the schedule estimate. Core competencies for schedule estimating and a formalized training program to meet these competencies should be established. In addition, a documented schedule estimating process should be in place.

Schedule Considerations:

The following should be considered when preparing a program schedule estimate for a major project:

Preliminary Engineering. Include time required to prepare the construction documents. It includes any field investigation, testing and administration of the design work.

Right-of-Way. Include time required to research and acquire right-of-way for the project, including easements. Include right-of-way time for storm water management, wetland mitigation, and other work outside the roadway prism. This also includes the time for any required relocation assistance and benefits for displaced individuals, families, businesses, governments, and nonprofit organizations, as well as the administration time of all right-of-way activities. It should also consider settlements and awards for condemnation cases.

External Third Party (e.g. Utilities and Railroad Adjustments). Include time required for third party work. Perhaps the most difficult schedules to estimate are those that are associated with third parties, such as utilities and railroads. Third party requirements have a high potential for risk and change. For example, major projects often are located in urban areas with a high concentration of existing utilities. While it is best to locate and avoid as many utilities as possible during the design phase, appropriate schedule contingencies for utility adjustments should be included. If all external third party work cannot be identified, appropriate schedule contingencies should be included.

Construction Contingencies. Include a schedule contingency to allow for the likelihood that additional construction work will be identified after the design has been completed and the project awarded. Similar to cost allowances for construction change orders, this cost is usually included in a project's baseline budget based on the sponsor's past experience with construction change orders on comparable projects.

Procurement. It is important to consider how projects will be procured and packaged. The type of procurement may impact the amount of uncertainty associated with a completion date. For example, a public-private-partnership (P3) procurement may have less uncertainty than a design-bid-build procurement. However, P3 contracts often have compensation event and relief event clauses that identify conditions that would trigger additional compensation and/or contract time - which should be considered when determining the schedule contingency. These contracts may require a smaller schedule contingency since the number of construction claims for delays due to design errors is substantially reduced.

Weather Seasons. Consider a schedule contingency for longer duration projects since there is a greater risk for impacts to the construction schedule. Construction scheduled in winter or rainy seasons should be accounted for appropriately in the schedule contingency, since there may be a higher risk in meeting construction schedules due to unforeseen weather delays.

Number of Concurrent Contracts and Contract Interfaces. Major projects with many contract interfaces may have more schedule uncertainty or risk than a major project delivered through one contract. Consider a schedule contingency on projects where multiple construction contracts are underway at the same time. The potential for one contractor to impact another contractor's activities is higher, especially where the activities are interdependent. This may result in additional delay due to coordination during construction.

Multiple Projects. Major projects may have multiple independent construction projects programmed over many years. Sometimes funding and changing priorities affect the funding schedule for future projects and can delay their delivery. Consider a schedule contingency when the project may be subject to delays due to changing priorities.

Other Factors. A few of the potential impacts to the schedule contingency are delays associated with the risks of encountering underground utilities and other obstructions, differing site conditions, contaminated soil, multi-agency involvement, etc.

Updated: 05/04/2023
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