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Right-of-Way Scans

Domestic Scan Program: Best Practices in Right-of-Way Acquisition and Utility Relocation

6.0 Cross-Cutting Findings and Innovative Tools

The scan team found that while each state visited has experienced considerable success in improving their right-of-way acquisition and utility relocation processes, there is no single "silver bullet" that can be applied throughout the country. Instead, a range of tools and techniques exist that may be applied in different statutory, political, cultural, and geographic contexts. The team did find, however, that all three states shared common traits, including:

6.1 Supportive Institutional Environment

First and foremost, the team found that a supportive institutional environment was common to all of the states and agencies visited, and was in fact critical for achieving innovations and process improvements. Characteristics of a supportive environment include:

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6.2 Focus on Process

A clear, well-defined, yet flexible process is critical to keeping project development, including right-of-way acquisition and utility relocation, on track. A number of process characteristics and innovations were demonstrated in the states visited.

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6.3 Technical Tools

Technical tools are important to supporting an effective process. The electronic age has made possible the use of a large number of electronic tools to manage and share information to support project development and monitoring. Each state demonstrated a comprehensive set of technical tools to support functions such as project management, property and utilities management, and providing information to the public. Some examples of these tools include:

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6.4 Other Techniques

A variety of other techniques are available, some of which may be applied in any state and others which may be applicable to specific contexts.

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6.5 Special Considerations for Design-Build Projects and Public-Private Partnerships

The design-build approach has in many cases proven to be a successful method of accelerating project completion, allowing activities to overlap that otherwise would have been undertaken sequentially. The inherent time savings may under some circumstances include ROW acquisition and utility relocation activities, especially if it is not necessary for the state agency to acquire ROW before letting the design-build contract, and if construction activities can proceed on some parcels before other parcels have been acquired. Design-build projects have the ability to bring a large personnel force to the project for the time necessary to complete the project and consultants have been successful in both the advance planning and in the tracking and delivery of needed ROW. Cost savings also can result if contractors are provided with incentives to identify less costly solutions.

Some states also are finding public-private partnerships (PPP) to be an effective tool for expediting project delivery. PPPs bring private sector resources to bear not only to design and construct the project, but also to finance, operate, and maintain it. PPPs are being used especially to expedite projects in high-growth or high-demand locations where toll revenues have the potential to cover the costs of the project.

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6.6 Federal Support

In the course of the discussions, scan leaders asked for suggestions as to how FHWA could support states in their efforts to expedite ROW acquisition and utility relocation. Both Florida and Texas DOT staff noted that for the most part, efforts to expedite right-of-way acquisition and utility relocation were limited not by Federal regulations and policy, but rather by their departments' own internal creativity and actions. However, participants and hosts did suggest some additional ways in which FHWA might assist states, either through policy and regulatory changes, or through changes to how existing policies and regulations are implemented and interpreted at a national as well as state level.1 Some specific suggestions from Florida DOT staff included:

Suggestions from Texas DOT staff included:

Scan participants also suggested that FHWA and/or AASHTO might provide resources that include examples of state statutory and policy language. Examples of specific topics of interest include:

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6.7 Benefits of Improved Practices

The most significant benefits of improved ROW acquisition and utility relocation processes have included shorter project delivery time and/or lower costs. In Florida and Texas, benefits have been clearly demonstrated through projects that are being delivered on time and under budget. In Texas, in particular, the agency has been able to move the large-scale and high-profile SH 130 project rapidly, from letting of the design-build contract in 2002 to completion of initial segments in 2006.

In some cases, direct cost savings have resulted - for example, through Mn/DOT's value engineering activities that have reduced property impacts and utility relocation requirements. In other cases, procedures may appear to increase costs - for example, higher incentive payments to property owners, or reimbursement of utilities - but can result in lower costs in the long run due to shorter project development schedules, lower court fees, avoiding possibility of high eminent domain awards, etc. In design-build situations where the contractor is responsible for property acquisition, the contractor often has a direct financial incentive to meet or beat deadlines, and may be willing to acquire some critical properties at higher values in order to reduce acquisition delays. Shorter project development also results in earlier realization of significant public benefits such as reduced congestion and improved safety.

Agencies anecdotally report other benefits as well. For example, all three states reported that early involvement of stakeholders, especially property owners and utilities, has led to less animosity and better relationships with these stakeholders and with the public in general. Internally, staff enjoys the challenge of developing and implementing innovative practices and appreciate the team working environment.

1 The concepts presented in this section are simply a reporting of ideas mentioned by scan participants and hosts, and are not intended to serve as a policy recommendation. They are presented here without consideration of the feasibility or desirability of their implementation. In some cases, FHWA may already be undertaking or studying the value of the suggested actions. A recent FHWA report presents a set of recommendations for FHWA and state DOT actions, including technical assistance, training support, and changes to legislation, regulation, and policy. See: Federal Highway Administration (2006). FHWA Office of Real Estate Services Research Results: 2006 Future Needs of Public Sector Real Estate.

2 FHWA is working on a statewide program on incentive offers and authority has been delegated to state Division offices.

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Updated: 9/5/2014
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