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Office of Planning, Environment, & Realty (HEP)

Right-of-Way Scans

FHWA Right-of-Way and Planning Innovation Domestic Scan

Executive Summary

The Federal Highway Administration's Office of Real Estate Services and Office of Planning sponsored a domestic scan August 20-21, 2003 in San Francisco, California. The scan fostered peer-to-peer knowledge exchange and allowed participants to share best practices and experiences. The purpose was to discuss and examine some innovative and non-traditional ways right-of-way and planning professionals can work together to encourage integration of right-of-way, planning, environment, and design. The sixty-three scan participants included Right-of-Way Office Directors and Planning Directors and right-of-way and planning staff from 17 State Departments of Transportation (SDOT), local public agencies, and FHWA personnel.

Five topics were discussed during the two-day scan:

Right-of-Way and Planning Aspects of California's Design Sequencing

The Design Sequencing presentation focused on the design sequencing process in California and the State Route 60-State Route 91-Interstate 215 Interchange project ( in Riverside, California. The California legislature approved design sequencing for only twelve projects in the State, and they had to meet certain criteria including the following:

California cannot legally participate in design build projects, thus the legislature approved design sequencing. The main difference between design build and design sequencing is that in design sequencing the designs are 30% complete when the contractor bids for the construction project. The contractor constructs each sequence as design and right-of-way acquisition are completed by the State. Whereas in design build, the contractor is responsible for design, right-of-way acquisition and construction, and the department provides oversight.

Lessons Learned: The overall results of design sequencing in California remain to be seen, but Caltrans anticipates success upon completion of this project. The project manager stated that the design sequencing process works well for projects that meet the criteria set out by the California Legislature. On this project, the process will save one year in construction time at a cost of 19% higher than traditional ways (at least in support costs). At the time of the presentation, contractors had not bid on the contract, but California believes that contractors will want the project due to various incentive clauses included in the contract.

Context Sensitive Solutions for Highways as Main Street

The California Department of Transportation defines Context Sensitive Solutions (CSS) as meeting transportation goals in harmony with community goals and the natural environment. CSS requires "careful, imaginative, and early planning, and continuous community involvement" (Director's Policy Number 22, CSS).

Context sensitive solutions are funded in several ways. The Community Based Transportation Planning Grants are planning grants to support livable community concepts. The seed funding ($3 million each year) is used to develop and implement livable community improvements. One such project was in Tulare County on the Cutler-Orosi project. The grant provided $52,000 to conduct charrettes around the area that allowed citizens to voice their opinions. The result was a successful project that completed the sidewalk system, improved pedestrian crossing at schools, and included construction of roundabouts. FHWA Transportation and Community and System Preservation (TCSP) grants also aid in funding CSS. TCSP provides funding for planning grants and capital projects. The main focus is on building relationships between transportation, the community, and system preservation.

After the discussion, it was noted that a good publication on CSS is the "NCHRP Synthesis 480: A Guide to Best Practices for Achieving Context Sensitive Solutions." An electronic copy may be found at

Lessons Learned: Community involvement is very important to the CSS process especially to address competing interests between the community and engineers when dealing with transportation improvements on highways. Public interest meetings allow for discussion between transportation officials and the community and are imperative to the success of CSS projects. Caltrans believes that through the use of public meetings they build consensus among the public and elected officials. They believe that by building consensus they achieve community buy-in, which ensures the viability of the project and its special features, including right-of-way aspects.

Integration of Right-of-Way, Planning, Environment and Design

FHWA has an ongoing research project entitled "Integrating and Streamlining Transportation Development and Decision-Making." The purpose of the project is to identify successful practices currently employed in the development of transportation solutions by means of integrating the disciplines of right-of-way, planning, environment, and design.

As part of the research project, a web-based survey was taken of all SDOTs with a 70% response rate. After the survey, five States were selected to discuss their integration procedures and processes. Florida, Maryland, Ohio, Oregon, and Pennsylvania shared their ideas on the integrated process, how to develop and implement an integrated process, common pitfalls, and the attributes that impact effectiveness of an integrated process.

Examples from the survey of successful integration practices include:

Positive impact on effectiveness and efficiency

Source: Survey, "Integrating and Streamlining Transportation Development and Decision Making," 2003.

Lessons Learned: Overall, the results of the surveys completed during the research project indicate that States are receptive to the idea of integration and have challenges carrying out the implementation process. In general, as the complex projects are developed and designed, integrated involvement by the planning, environment, and right-of-way is taking place. However, this is not true for the more routine projects. It was agreed that FHWA should provide guidance to the States on how to successfully integrate the various disciplines in the overall processes, whether it is right-of-way, planning, environment, or project implementation.

Planning and Right-of-Way Aspects of Access Management

Access Management is a set of techniques that State and local governments can use to control access to highways, major arterials, and other roadways to benefit safety, smooth operations, and the environment. The Transportation Research Board (TRB), with FHWA support, recently published an Access Management Manual intended to relay important information to the transportation community. The Access Management Manual does not establish national standards and warrants because there are no national rules for access management. The manual is described as a valuable guide for establishing and administering Access Management programs and is very comprehensive.

The positive effects of access management can be found in safety, efficiency, the economy, and the environment. As the access points along a roadway increase per mile, the rate of vehicular crashes increases. The "NCHRP Synthesis 289: Corridor Management: A Synthesis in Highway Practice" was referenced ( and describes the planning and right-of-way aspects of access management.

The Delaware Department of Transportation (DELDOT) Corridor Capacity Preservation program was also discussed. Corridor Capacity Preservation maintains the ability of a road to carry increasing volumes of traffic safely and efficiently, without building an entirely new road. The four main goals of the Corridor Preservation Program are

Lessons Learned: DELDOT expects right-of-way costs to increase in Delaware due to existing development in the State and scarcity of resources. They are proactively addressing this issue by instituting the Corridor Capacity Preservation program. Other States noted that buying access rights early is an increasing trend and will save money in the long run of transportation budgets.

Blueprint: Sacramento Region Transportation Land Use Study

The Sacramento Area Council of Government (SACOG) is actively trying to change development patterns in the Sacramento area. The Blueprint project aims to encourage walking and bicycling to school and work. Over the next twenty years, SACOG will spend $500 million in federal and matching funds for the "Community Design" program to categorize and support different kinds of development patterns.

Smart growth principles are essential to Blueprint and follow:

Public involvement is essential to Blueprint and neighborhood workshops have been held. Workshop participants are developers, real estate professionals, business leaders, government officials, and the public. The participants at the workshop are encouraged to "test drive" smart growth concepts on the maps by using stickers with different land uses on them. The information on the completed map is entered into a computer and participants are able to see exactly what the development would look like that they created together.

SACOG believes that land use balance is realistic and could work well in the future. By looking at the statistics between existing planning and land use balance, there is a lot to be gained if SACOG succeeds in changing land use patterns. After initiating the Community Design Program, SACOG must get regional agreement from elected officials on new growth allocations and development plans for the entire region. It looks like the development plan will work due to the buy-in from developers and local government agencies. The rural towns around Sacramento are excited, and the public is pleased with the mixed-use concept. The upcoming challenge it to get good designs and to encourage the local governments to build parks near the developments.

Lessons Learned: Public involvement is necessary to have successful land use planning in both metropolitan and rural areas. Developer education is also essential to the success of Blueprint. SACOG has provided seed money to pay 5 to10 pre-qualified consultants to give advice on new urbanism and smart growth. When a developer wants to build in the Sacramento region, the city is encouraged to promote mixed use and send the developer to the consultants. SACOG will pay the fees of the consultant the first time they are consulted by the developer. After the first time, the developer will need to pay the fee.


The FHWA Domestic Scan highlighted areas where right-of-way professionals have made strides in advancing their right-of-way program, and similarly the planning professionals have defined a definitive comprehensive planning process. For the future of the Federal-aid Program, FHWA and States should continue to work towards streamlining and integrating the right-of-way, planning, and environmental programs. The challenge is educating technical (i.e., right-of-way, planning, and environment) specialists to appreciate the other program areas, its purpose and function. This will require cross training and understanding the structure of other programs, the program lexicon and acronyms, program culture, and the players in each program process. Additionally, as States and MPOs get more involved in scenario planning, then the integration of the three program areas working in partnership will make vision and scenario planning more effective, comprehensive and collaborative.

Updated: 10/20/2015
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