Chapter 7: Recommendations
The Right-of-Way and Utilities scanning team discovered many similarities between the right-of-way and utilities practices in the European countries they visited and those in the United States. The team also observed a number of interesting and innovative practices in those countries that, if implemented in the United States, could benefit State and Federal transportation right-of-way and utilities programs.
The team met on the last day of the scanning study to review their findings and identify practices with the greatest potential for implementation in the United States. Their recommendations and implementation strategies are in this chapter.
Implementation on some strategies had begun already when this report was published. Chapter Eight details those activities. The findings, observations, conclusions, and recommendations are those of the scanning team and not FHWA.
Early and frequent contact with property owners is essential to successful acquisition. The scanning team encourages States to consult affected property owners before completion of project design to assess the impact of the proposed design and to determine if a design revision is warranted. Selective use of this practice could result in more timely purchases and reduce damages to the affected properties.
The team encourages acquisition staff to use an in-depth interview process, when appropriate, to discuss the impact of a project with property owners. This interview will afford a better understanding of how owners use the property. Information obtained from the interview can be used to determine if further investigation into possible damages is necessary. If so, appropriate experts should be assigned to assess the project's impact on the property. Findings from the in-depth interview, appraisal, and expert analysis will help form a comprehensive estimate of just compensation, which will facilitate negotiations with property owners.
States are encouraged to adopt a risk management-based appraisal review system similar to those used in some European countries. The goal is to determine whether such a system--for example, auditing a sample, reviewing all complex appraisals, or setting review thresholds--can protect the quality and integrity of the valuation process while saving overall project time and costs. The team recommends that a risk management-based appraisal review system pilot be undertaken in several States in conjunction with FHWA. Results of the pilot should be used as a basis for any regulatory changes.
In Europe, the same person commonly performs both appraisal and negotiation functions on a parcel. The team recommends that a pilot program be conducted in several States in which the same individual conducts both appraisal and negotiation functions when acquiring land for right-of-way. The goal of the pilot is to determine if such an approach is cost effective while at the same time assures appropriate treatment of property owners.
Based on the European approach to negotiations, the team recommends that emphasis be placed on compromising on issues related to just compensation. It is recognized that such techniques will effectively resolve acquisitions in a timely and cost-effective manner.
Three of the four countries the team visited use some form of land consolidation. This process allows pooling of fragmented land parcels and redistribution using more economically rational parcel configurations. Owners receive land of at least the same value as the land they put into the pool. The team recommends that FHWA research the ability of States to accomplish voluntary land consolidation and implement a pilot program to evaluate the benefits.
The team recommends evaluating items eligible for business reestablishment and relocation reimbursement in the Netherlands and England. The European experience and results of the recent FHWA-sponsored research on "Business Payments and Services" can be used to support changes in Federal legislation and regulations. This could involve consideration of:
- Liquidation of small businesses beyond the $20,000 fixed payment now available under the Federal Uniform Act.
- Giving special consideration to business owners of retirement age.
The Norwegian model for compensation calculates a total payment based on replacement cost. This amount includes the estimated fair market value and any additional amount needed to replace the acquired property. This one-step process would save time and cost, and could be tried experimentally in the United States.
Although training requirements vary in the countries visited, they all emphasize formal training and ongoing employee development. The team recommends that FHWA encourage establishment of a pre-employment degree program and employee education and training programs. This involves exploring the potential for recruiting one or more colleges to provide this service, including a college degree program for right-of-way careers and a continuing education program using distance-learning techniques. This proposal expands on the Federal Government's potential establishment of a real estate services academy.
The team recommends establishing a panel of representatives from FHWA, IRWA, AASHTO, and a private consultant to pursue this training concept. FHWA will act as the lead to contact colleges and online learning centers, with the goal of developing and implementing such a curriculum by Fall 2002.
The team recommends evaluating mentoring activities in each State through AASHTO's Internet web site, developing a summary of mentoring methods in the United States and Europe, and recommending adoption by States.
The team noted special efforts in European countries to enhance cooperation, coordination, and communication with utility companies. In the United States, according to the U.S. General Accounting Office, States with active utilities coordinating committees that meet regularly to discuss common problems have fewer utility-related problems than other States. The team recommends that State DOTs continue and intensify efforts to meet with utility company representatives regularly. DOTs should take the lead in developing and supporting utilities coordinating committees.
Utilities in most of the countries visited are routinely placed underground. As a result, utility pole collisions are not a problem. In the United States, utilities are located underground for aesthetic rather than safety reasons. Some State DOTs, however, are addressing safety by developing and implementing utility pole safety programs designed to systematically relocate hazardous utility poles.
The team recommends that State DOTs continue to develop or enhance utility pole safety programs. Locating utilities underground should be considered as a possible countermeasure, although putting all utilities underground would be costly and difficult in some States because of unfavorable soil conditions. State DOTs should evaluate their decision-making process for utility installations, looking beyond construction costs to give appropriate weight to factors such as safety, environmental effects, and community aesthetics.
The team noted that several European countries are using or considering establishing utility corridors for utilities crossing major highways or located longitudinally along highway rights-of-way. Conduit can be placed within these corridors for future use by multiple utilities, or joint trenching can be used to systematically arrange multiple utilities in the same trench.
In the United States, it is considered in the public interest for highways and utilities to share highway rights-of-way. Such use is subject to State DOT approval and the issuance of permits. As more utilities desire to cross or use highway rights-of- way, State DOTs should consider establishing utility corridors and requiring utility companies to coordinate the installation of their facilities within these corridors.
In the Netherlands, a new national plan recognizes utilities as a mode of transportation. As such, more credence will be given to the contribution of utilities to transportation. Initially this will include more use of gas transport lines, followed by increased use of water, electrical, mineral, and petroleum transport lines.
As highways in the United States become more congested and air quality concerns increase, taking advantage of pipelines to transport essential products normally transported by trucks may be beneficial. The team recommends that State DOTs consider methods to foster pipelines as a transportation mode. This could involve facilitating research and developing methods to exploit pipeline transport, including establishing routes and corridors for pipeline companies or funding construction and operation of pipelines.
In the three years following the scanning study, England's Highways Agency planned to advertise 19 design-build contracts for major projects. Utility relocation is an essential part of these projects.
Contracts for design-build projects in the United States often fail to include utility relocations. By including utilities in these contracts, risks of utility-related delays would be transferred to highway contractors, reducing delays and large cost overruns. The scanning team recommends that State DOTs not already including utilities in design-build contracts consider doing so.
Master utility agreements between the highway authority and utility companies are used commonly in Germany in lieu of individual project agreements. These agreements outline authority, obligations, and liabilities.
The AASHTO Subcommittee on Right-of-Way and Utilities has established master agreements as a best practice because they eliminate the need for approvals on individual contracts. These agreements save time for both DOTs and utility companies, including the time necessary to consummate agreements.
The team recommends that State DOTs not using master utility agreements consider doing so. AASHTO and/or FHWA should consider developing model master agreements or distributing sample master agreements obtained from State DOTs that use them.
In addition to the primary recommendations described above, team members identified other utilities strategies that may have value in the United States:
Utility Installations by Highway Contractors--In Norway and England, highway contractors sometimes place conduit for utility companies. This also occurs on some projects in the United States. State DOTs, in conjunction with utility companies, should consider allowing highway contractors or their subcontractors to install such items as conduit for later use by utilities, storm and sanitary sewers, water lines, and possibly power, communications, and high-pressure pipelines. This will improve highway contractors' ability to control workflow and coordinate sequential or concurrent operations, reducing delays and disruptions.
Cost Sharing--In England, when utilities located on highway rights-of-way are required to relocate to accommodate highway construction, utility companies and the Highways Agency pay 18 percent and 82 percent of relocation costs, respectively. This cost includes preparation of estimates, preliminary engineering, advance materials orders, supervision, inspection, overhead, and other eligible expenses. In addition, 75 percent of the Highways Agency's 82 percent may be paid to the utility company in advance by lump sum or installment. State DOTs should consider such a cost-sharing arrangement for utilities located on public and private rights-of-way. Theoretically, this would be an incentive for utility companies to relocate facilities in a timely manner. It also would eliminate costly, time-consuming arguments over who has prior rights. In addition, State DOTs should consider paying preliminary engineering costs up front in exchange for an agreement from utilities to complete work in a timely manner. They also should consider paying construction costs up front under a pre-financing agreement in cases where disagreements over project costs threaten delays.
Acquisition of Right-of-Way for Utilities--Several European countries visited acquire right-of-way for utility purposes. Some State DOTs in the United States do this also. When State DOTs are in the process of acquiring right-of-way, they could consider acquiring, in consultation with affected utilities, sufficient right-of-way to accommodate utility needs. This would minimize inconvenience to property owners created when both DOT and utility representatives approach them to acquire property rights.
Damage Prevention--Damage to underground utilities by excavation activities is a problem in Europe. Utility companies in Germany are responsible for identifying their underground facilities and providing this information to highway contractors before excavation. Highway contractors in the Netherlands are required to call a national information center to obtain information about underground utilities before they begin excavation activities. Highway contractors in England must notify all affected utilities before they begin to dig. Despite these activities, damage to underground utilities continues to occur. The same is true in the United States, where extensive one-call notification programs have been developed to reduce damage to underground utilities caused by excavation activities. To protect underground utilities from unnecessary damage, State DOTs should use one-call notification centers at an appropriate level of participation and provide sufficient oversight to assure that highway contractors fully participate in one-call notification programs.
Protected Highway Designation--In England, the Highways Agency has the power to designate a roadway as protected, precluding new utility installations. Existing utilities on newly designated roads may repair facilities and make service connections, but may not expand or replace facilities on the right-of-way. This designation applies to motorways and other major highways. As DOTs in the United States search for ways to increase highway capacity and facilitate traffic flow on the National Highway System, consideration should be given to ways in which this idea may apply.
Minimizing Pavement Cuts--Pavement cuts are a significant problem in Europe. In Germany, underground utility crossings on major roads are made by boring, jacking, or directional drilling, but pavements frequently are cut for utility crossings on lesser roads and for fiber optics installations on streets. Pavement cuts are a problem in the United States also. Pavements on lesser rural highways are cut routinely for utility crossings, while in cities pavements frequently are cut to access utilities located longitudinally beneath streets. Fiber optics installations are becoming particularly troublesome as streets are torn up for installations and then poorly repaired. Efforts need to be made in the United States to use non-destructive technologies for highway and street crossings and to better control the frequency of pavement cuts to access or install utilities under streets.
Geographic Information Systems--GIS is used in Europe for mapping right-of-way properties. In Norway and England, software programs have been developed and GIS is used extensively. Similar activities are under way in the United States, including efforts to use GIS for utilities, but more research on the feasibility of using GIS to map utilities should be initiated.
Accommodation of Fiber Optics and Wireless Telecommunications--Fiber optics and wireless telecommunications are being installed in Europe. A fiber optics installation on highway right-of-way is being considered in Norway, although there are no plans to receive cash or services in exchange for allowing this installation. In Germany, cables used by mobile phone operators have been installed in tunnels for a fee, and wireless telecommunications towers have been installed in privately owned service areas along motorways. Procedures are being developed in the Netherlands to accommodate fiber optics and wireless telecommunications towers. Compensation has not been seriously considered, but provisions will be made just in case. Consideration is being given in England to accommodating fiber optics and wireless telecommunications towers in exchange for cash or services.
Many States in the United States have entered into resource-sharing arrangements with both fiber optics and wireless telecommunications companies. States have received cash and services in exchange for use of highway right-of-way. Intelligent Transportation Systems have been enhanced greatly by these installations. State DOTs should continue pursuing resource-sharing arrangements, but care should be taken to assure that the safety, operations, and integrity of highways are not compromised.
The team supports FHWA and AASHTO efforts to examine the feasibility of incorporating right-of-way functions, as well as utilities, into the design-build process. The team encourages State right-of-way and utilities personnel to study the benefits of design-build contracting, including shortening the project development process by eliminating many procedural procurement processes.
The team recommends establishment of a work group through FHWA to reevaluate methods for corridor preservation using the "1990 Report of the AASHTO Task Force on Corridor Preservation" as a starting point. The team suggests creation of one or more pilot projects to test corridor preservation and land consolidation techniques. The team recommends evaluating adverse effects of not doing early right-of-way acquisition, including increased costs because of value appreciation and adverse impacts on property owners forced to hold property they cannot sell.
This should be a joint effort with AASHTO subcommittees responsible for statewide transportation planning, land use and environment, and right-of-way. As background, England's Blight Acquisition Program offers relief to property owners adversely affected by a pending project. This program provides for early acquisition of such properties.
The team recommends that FHWA and States evaluate methods used in various countries for rights of entry and early acquisition to facilitate early entry onto property for project construction. They should consider expanding these methods by using risk management concepts, while ensuring that property owner rights are protected.
The team encourages the AASHTO Right-of-Way and Utilities Subcommittee to establish an information clearinghouse on right-of-way and utilities databases, including GIS, for project development, tracking, and management.
|<< Previous||Contents||Next >>|