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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 Office of Real Estate Services sponsored the first domestic scan to foster peer-to-peer knowledge exchange and share best practices and experiences. Our 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 first domestic scan participants included of Right of Way Office Directors from 15 State Departments of Transportation (SDOT), local public agency officials, right of way professional organization presidents, and Federal Highway Administration personnel. The scan included presentations on Right of Way in Context Sensitive Solutions, Right of Way Contractor Management and Right of Way aspects of Access Management. Scan activities included innovative relocation procedures, panel discussions by the participants and site visits to local projects.
The context sensitive solutions (CSS) presentation focused on a Maryland State Highway Administration (MDSHA) project in the Mt. Rainer community. Eleanor Huber of the MDSHA described how a CSS project is dependent on stakeholder involvement and buy in, and examined right of way aspects in a CSS project. The role of right of way professionals in the Mt. Rainer project included participation in community outreach sessions, securing rights of entry, negotiating with government agencies for property rights and participation in the project team. Following the presentation a panel of scan participants presented their perspectives and experiences with CSS. Panelists from Florida, Minnesota and Wisconsin DOTs shared project experience in which right of ways' role was a key to successful project implementation and also discussed projects where right of ways' role was not defined or in some instances even considered.
The common thread throughout the discussion was the need to make a connection with the community to gain community buy in and reach out within the agency to facilitate a unified approach to solving the challenges of modern day highway improvement and construction projects. Ken Towcimak, Right of Way Director for Florida DOT (FDOT), provided a good example of the ways in which right of way professionals can not only participate in a CSS project but can make the project a success. He explained that right of way professionals played a key role in the Ybor city project. Not only did right of way professionals help the stakeholders reach an agreement that met the needs of the community and FDOT but were also key to successful implementation of the agreement. The panelists also focused on the need to build relationships within their respective agencies to ensure that right of way professionals are a productive member of the CSS project team. Although there were examples demonstrating the value of early coordination and involvement in the CSS process, several participants related that their respective SDOTs had not yet considered including right of way in the earliest stages of a CSS project.
Yolanda Takesian, Assistant Chief MDSHA Community Design Division and Eric Marabello, project manager/designer MDSHA, led the tour of the site and pointed out the projects' features and the role of right of way professionals. The site visit reinforced the value of early coordination within the SDOT, the necessity of determining what the stakeholders issues are, the need to be creative in looking for ways to implement agreements with stakeholders and the value of giving the stakeholders a sense of ownership in the project.
The right of way contractor management session focused on the increasing need to utilize contractors to assist with delivering the required project right of way. Stuart Waymack, Director Right of Way and Utilities Division Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), discussed VDOTs' experience with utilizing contractors. VDOT, like a number of SDOTs, is dealing with several human resources challenges. They currently are subject to a hiring freeze and 20 percent of the staff is eligible to retire. To bridge the human resource gap, VDOT uses contractors. VDOT currently procures contractor services from a pre-approved list of 16 firms. VDOT believes that one of the keys to their successful integration and use of right of way contractors is that their State program mirrors the Federal program. The contractors on their approved lists only have to work to one standard rather than two. The right of way office can also pick and choose which projects they feel are best suited for contracting out and to date have had good results.
The panel participants from Alaska, Colorado, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania DOTs shared their experiences with using contractors. The experiences ranged from the use of turnkey contractor work to contracting for specific functions. In one State, they discovered that 50 percent of the parcels being negotiated by the contractors were being condemned as compared to 18 percent when negotiated by State employees. They handled this problem by tracking the contractors' condemnation rate and specifying that in their future evaluations of contractor performance, high condemnation rates would be considered as a factor in the competitive process. Another State noted that they were having 75 percent of their appraisals done by contractors who were on their pre-qualified list. They compensated these appraisal contractors through the use of a fee schedule. Perhaps the most common insight shared by the presenter, panelists and audience participants was that the use of contractors would continue and probably increase. Because of this trend it is important to use some of the tools described above (prequalification lists, performance tracking, turnkey contractors) and most of all to trust your contractor. One of the most recent tools to addressing this trend is the International Right of Ways Associations course 303, Consultant Management.
The group tour of the Woodrow Wilson bridge project brought into focus the magnitude of the real estate acquisition job that VDOT carried out and the value of not only using contractors but of having the right tools to facilitate the hiring and management of contractors. The group toured the Hunting Towers apartment complex during which the prime contractor discussed his companies' role in completing a planned 15-month relocation schedule in just 9 months.
The last session focused on the access management program. Ken McDonald, Chief MDSHA Access permits division, described the process by which MDSHA considers an access break request, their process for valuation of the break and the criteria they use to make their decision. The right of way office is involved in the process by determining the value which the access break adds to the property in a before and after situation. Ken McDonald gave a presentation on the MD Rt. 713 and Arundel Mills Boulevard access management project. A later site visit to Arundel Mills Mall allowed the group to see firsthand the access management issues.
The panelists from North Carolina, Tennessee and Washington State SDOTs discussed their roles in access management as well as their States' policies and procedures. One SDOT has primarily frontage road access and is now reviewing their method for valuing access. Another SDOT described their experience using access break fees and trying to limit out-parcel access. Another State described their philosophy of charging for breaks in limited access corridors as compared to permitting on non-limited access corridors. The theme for this session seemed to be that most States have similar programs but in some cases have made unique refinements to their programs. A number of the participants took the opportunity to delve into some of these unique refinements in order to gain insights, which they may take back and implement in their respective programs.
Many lessons were learned from the first domestic scan for the Office of Real Estate Services. We learned that three topics is a good number to focus on, but there should be more time to discuss the topics. Several participants mentioned that more time would be appropriate to allow the participants to discuss among themselves their own ideas and opinions. One participant summed it up well by stating, "The scan was very informative and useful. I hope that FHWA will continue these in the future. I believe every State agency would benefit."
Fifty-one participants were involved in the right of way Innovation Domestic Scan and over half submitted evaluations 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 4.37. The next question asked if their objectives were met by the scan. The average rating was 4.3 and the comments were very good. The majority of the participants enjoyed the site visits and thought that they fit in well with the presentations. The participants also noted that pre-scan communications and coordination were good.
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 theme of the scan, right of way innovation, served the participants well. Right of way acquisition has evolved into what many SDOTs consider a stable function. Because right of way professionals have quietly met the challenges posed to them and because most SDOTs, as a whole have limited resources, right of way has not been a high priority or high visibility item for a majority of SDOTS. The group discovered that although the right of way function will retain its traditional role of acquiring property and ensuring just compensation to property owners, there are a number of new ways which right of way can continue to contribute to the overall success of the SDOTs. Perhaps the most innovative outcome of the scan was identification of the many non-traditional ways in which right of way can contribute. The innovative ideas that were discussed during the scan will be carried back to 15 States, several local public agencies, and several professional association chapters and will benefit everyone involved in transportation related projects.
Right of Way in Context Sensitive Solutions
Right of Way can utilize their skills to support the CSS process
Explain project to property owners and get buy in from property owners
Find creative ways to address the needs of the property owners while moving process forward
Consider use of donations, Easements, and Rights of Entry
Involvement of Right of Way on the CSS project team facilitates process and enables right of way professionals to keep property owners informed and involved
Right of Way Professionals need reach out within their own agencies to ensure that they are part of CSS process
Right of Way Contractor Management
Need to use contractors will continue to increase
A number of Right of Way offices have experience using contractors:
Use of pre-qualified list of contractors ensures quality of work
Use evaluation tools to track performance
Be selective: select jobs which are suited to use of contractors
Majority of participants had some type of access management program and are interested in methods to enhance their programs.
Each State program was somewhat unique
Insights and refinements from the other programs could be useful or implemented
A continuing dialog will help participants address issues in their own program