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Office of Planning, Environment, & Realty (HEP)

Right-of-Way Scans

Right of Way Domestic Scan, Austin TX

To advance right-of-way innovation, promote knowledge exchange and foster a community of sharing among right-of-way professionals and colleagues around the country

The Federal Highway Administration's Office of Real Estate Services sponsored the second right of way domestic scan to foster peer-to-peer knowledge exchange and share best practices and experiences. The purpose was to discuss and examine some innovative and non-traditional ways right of way professionals can contribute to the project development and delivery process. The Scan was held in Austin, Texas on April 2 - 3 and over 50 professionals participated. Scan participants included Right of Way Office Directors from 20 State Departments of Transportation (SDOT), right of way professional organization presidents, and Federal Highway Administration personnel.

The scan included presentations on Right of Way Aspects of Design-Build, Right of Way Electronic Appraisals Pooled Fund Research and Individual State Research, Right of Way LPA Stewardship and the Future of Right of Way in Innovative Financing. Scan activities included an inspection and description of the contracting methods used on the largest design-build toll facility project in the nation, presenter discussions with the participants, peer-to-peer knowledge exchange and open discussion sessions.

Right of Way Aspects of Design-Build

The design-build presentation focused on the new design-build regulatory requirements and insights from projects underway or completed. David Walterscheid of the Federal Highway Administration's Office of Real Estate Services gave a briefing on the new design-build Federal regulations and the suggested practices contained in the new regulations. The discussion covered some the regulatory requirements of the new regulations:

SDOT will provide a right of way project manager who will serve as the first point of contact for all right of way issues

During the second part of this session Oscar Rucker, Director of Right Way for the South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT), discussed the SCDOT's experience with design-build during their 27 in 7 program. The SCDOT has undertaken the 27 in 7 program with the goal of completing 27 years worth of projects in 7 years (at a cost of $5 billion). The 27 in 7 program is being handled by two groups of contractors, with the state split into two regions. The Eastern Region contracts are begin carried out by the Parsons Brinckerhoff/LPA Group and by the Fluor Daniel Corporation in the Western Region. A number of the projects being undertaken as part of this program are Design-build projects. The SCDOT Department of Right of Way has had experience with contractors doing the acquisition work as part of the design-build project and the SCDOT right of way staff acquiring the right of way for the design-build projects. Mr. Rucker offered the following lessons learned from the SCDOT's Department of Right of Way's experience with the 27 in 7 program:

Mr. Rucker also pointed out some of the advantages of design-build projects experienced by SCDOT:

Following the prepared presentations the group had the opportunity to interact with Mr. Rucker. The group had several questions about how the design-build process was implemented in South Carolina and about other lessons learned:

In summary, the group benefited from the first hand experience of those working with the design-build process. They benefited by being able to get information, insights and lessons learned that they will be able to use when their respective organizations undertake a design-build project.

Right of Way Electronic Appraisals Pooled Fund Research and Individual State Research

Representatives from the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) and the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) made presentations during this session. This session focused on a State Department of Transportation pooled fund research project on the electronic transmission and storage of appraisals and appraisal related documents, potential follow on research and implementation activities and the current state of electronic appraisal transmission and appraisal software creation and implementation.

The first portion of this presentation focused on a multi state pooled fund research effort. This research effort is being led by TxDOT. The goal of the research is to develop a "How To" manual of instruction for the electronic transmittal, storage and retrieval of appraisal documents. There are currently 9 states participating in this research:

Each of the participants in this research project contributed $10,000 to fund the research. The research will consist of a survey of each DOT participant to determine their user requirements. The researcher will then use the results of the survey to create the "How To" Manual. The Manual will include:

After delivery of the manual each of the participating DOTs will participate in a videoconference during which the contractor will present the findings to the participants. The researcher will also create a technical support call in number for each of the participant DOTs as part of the research project. The researcher will also specify an hourly rate for technical support that is not included in this project. An optional part of this research project will allow for up to two workshops to facilitate the implementation of the research findings.

After this research effort is completed a later scope of services may be added. The later research would consider methods to develop and implement a standardized electronic appraisal report format. This could include a program using artificial intelligence that would compare the appraisal report against a predetermined set of quality control standards to identify areas of the report that fall outside of the standards.

The second presenter Tom Shields, manager of the FDOT's appraisal and appraisal review office, described FDOT's current system for the electronic transmission and storage of appraisals and appraisal related documents. The system consists of a server outside of FDOT's firewall and an internal server inside FDOT's firewall. FDOT's process:

  1. Consultants with passwords email document to external server and notify the receiving district
  2. Document is manually (eventually automatically) moved to FDOT's internal server
  3. Staff reviewers, using an assigned password, download document or access it as needed
  4. If the appraisal review process requires modifications to the appraisal they can be submitted by the external server or sent via email
  5. Upon approval of the appraisal, it is moved to a work in progress folder and then relocated to a permanent appraisal file
  6. FDOT users, using assigned passwords, can then access the appraisal
  7. Public requests for documents can be handled by emailing document or creating CD-ROM(for large documents)

FDOTs next step in this undertaking will be to consider the development of a standardized appraisal format. On establishment of the format, FDOT will work to develop an artificial intelligence program that will perform statistical analysis of the reports and compare the appraisal to a pre determined set of quality control standards as part of an overall appraisal quality control process.

During the third part of the presentation, VDOT's Chief Appraiser, Mike McCall, described VDOT's efforts to create a software package to perform electronic appraisals. VDOT is currently reviewing and updating appraisal policies and procedures to be used as part of the software package. The VDOT vision is to customize a currently available commercial off the shelf appraisal software system. Their final solution will depend on the amount of available funding for this project. VDOT's stated goal for this project is to "provide a standardized reporting solution that minimizes mistakes in methodology and problem solving while effectively communicating the results of an appraisal in an organized and precise manner."

During the course of all three discussions several common potential benefits of electronic transmission, electronic standardized appraisals and forms, and an artificial intelligence system were described:

The final portion of this presentation was an open session during which the participants and presenters discussed implementation issues and concerns.

Some of the concerns or questions to be answered included:

This session made clear that the use and implementation of electronic transmission, storage and retrieval of appraisals, the creation and implementation of standardized electronic appraisal formats and the use of artificial intelligence to enhance appraisal quality control are issues at the forefront of many DOT's appraisal programs. The potential benefits to be gained from the pooled fund research project far outweigh the initial investment. The participating DOTs are optimistic that other DOTs will join in their research effort and maximize the value of the research. Contact John Campbell, Director of Right of Way Texas Department of Transportation, at 512-416-2901 to join.

As all three presentations indicated, after implementation of an electronic storage and retrieval system the next phase is to consider methods to create and use a standardized electronic appraisal format system. Through pooled fund research and cooperative effort, electronic appraisals should be a tool available to all DOTs in the near future.

Right of Way LPA Stewardship

The Right of Way Local Public Agency (LPA) Stewardship session was led by Galen Wright and Gerry Gallinger of the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT). They began by describing WSDOT's LPA program:

Some of the challenges that WSDOT faces in implementing their LPA stewardship program include:

WSDOT answers these challenges in a number of ways:

After WSDOTs presentation the scan participants had several questions about LPA stewardship and the WSDOT program:

This session pointed to the growing demands that LPA stewardship makes on a DOTs program. It also illustrated that LPA programs continue to grow in size and have unique needs. WSDOT's presentation showed that with a structured program which relies on training, oversight and partnership the challenges of carrying out an effective LPA stewardship program can be met.

The Future of Right of Way in Innovative Financing

The last session focused on the growing use of innovative finance tools by DOTs and the challenges of right of way acquisition used in concert with these tools. This presentation was led by both the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) and the Texas Toll Authority (TTA). In Texas, due to budgetary restraints, the State can only address 37% of its identified transportation needs during a fiscal year. One of the tools being used in Texas to address additional transportation needs is innovative financing.

The TTA is carrying out the State Highway 45 and Loop 1 project in Texas:

These projects are being built as an exclusive development agreement (essentially a design-build project). Right of Way for the project will be acquired by a team of consultants. As of February 2003, nine offers for property had been made and none had been acquired. Construction for segments 1-4 is scheduled to begin in the second quarter of 2003 and be completed in December 2007. The acquisition for this project is being done on a corridor basis.

Because this project is using TIFIA funding, all of the Uniform Act rules will be followed. During the course of the presentation and conversation, it became apparent that this type of project (design-build using innovative financing and an aggressive acquisition program) are not uncommon. The participants discussed Utah's Centennial Freeway project and a Massachusetts project. These projects were large projects, built on a tight schedule, using large number of contractors and all were design-build (or a similar process). They required the DOT to be innovative in its approach not only in their oversight and review of the project and also be aware of the pressure that the small acquisition window can create.

The participants agreed that right of way professionals will become more involved in these types of projects and will have to use maximum flexibility to ensure that production schedules are met but at the same time property owner rights are respected and protected.

Cindy Burbank's vision for the future

Scan participants welcomed the opportunity to have a dialog via videoconference with Cindy Burbank, Associate Administrator for the Federal Highway Administration's Office of Planning Environment and Realty. Among the many issues discussed were the future of the Domestic Scan and Web based or distance learning.

The participants discussed the scan with Cindy and all agreed that it was an invaluable opportunity to interact with their peers and to gain insight into practices and procedures that might be implanted in their program. The participants also expressed to Cindy their interest in continuing the scans and in future scans being multidisciplinary. They reasoned that if planning, environmental and engineering professionals were included in the scan that it would create opportunities to investigate program streamlining and integration opportunities. All agreed that this was a concept worth looking into.

The participants also had a discussion with Cindy about electronic media and specifically web based learning. Cindy and the participants discussed the Uniform Act Web based learning effort and other opportunities. Cindy pointed out that FHWA was forming partnerships with IRWA and the Army Corp of Engineers to investigate educational opportunities and that web-based learning would be an area of concentration and effort for FHWA in the coming years. All agreed that distance-learning tools were a good way to reach a large geographically dispersed audience.

Lessons Learned - Second Domestic Scan

Lessons learned from the first domestic scan aided in the planning and success of the second domestic scan sponsored by the FHWA Office of Real Estate Services. The scan was extended from one afternoon and one morning to an entire day and a half. The extra time allowed four different topics to be discussed. The format was adjusted to allow for more discussion time with the speakers and within the group.

Over fifty participants were involved in the second right of way Innovation Domestic Scan and 31 evaluations were submitted at the conclusion. The first question, "On a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 the lowest and 5 the highest, did the scan meet your expectations?" received a positive average score of 4.55. The next question asked if their objectives were met by the scan. The average rating was 4.63 and the comments were very good. For upcoming scans, it was suggested that the objectives be discussed at the beginning of the scan. Having a clearer objective of the purpose of the scan is essential to the continued success of the program. As far as the site visit, the majority of the participants enjoyed the visit to TTA, but some thought that the topic of Innovative Financing was "off-subject" for right of way professionals. The participants also noted that pre-scan communications and coordination were good and credited Betty Dillon of ATI, the FHWA contractor.


The Federal-aid right of way acquisition program has a long history of delivering right of way, a primary ingredient in the highway construction process, while at the same time ensuring that those whose properties are acquired are treated fairly and receive their constitutionally guaranteed just compensation. Statistics from 1973 to the present show that approximately 26,000 parcels are acquired each year with Federal-aid. While the number of parcels acquired with Federal-aid has remained constant, the task of acquiring the parcels has become more difficult. Examples of the difficulties SDOTs face include a continuing loss of institutional knowledge, staffing level reductions, compression of project schedules and increased complexity in the types of right of way to be acquired. One of the best resources that can be used to address these challenges is the professionalism and experience of the SDOTs staff.

The Federal Highway Administration realizes that SDOTs greatly benefit from interaction with each other to further enhance professionalism and experience of SDOTs staff. The Right of Way Innovation Domestic Scan allowed right of way professionals to discuss many topics of importance to the right of way community. The opportunity to participate in peer-to-peer exchange was appreciated by all involved. One participant stated, "Not only was this valuable to share experiences and knowledge but also allowed me to connect with others in our industry that will be a vital asset for sharing and brainstorming ideas."

The innovative ideas that were discussed during this scan will be carried back to 20 States, discussed with several local public agencies and professional association chapters, and will benefit everyone involved in transportation related projects.


Updated: 9/5/2014
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