During the past 20 years, highway right-of-way acquisition and utilities accommodation in the United States have become significantly more complex. At the same time, right-of-way and utilities personnel have come under increasing pressure to provide cleared right-of-way more quickly. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) developed a National Strategic Plan to enhance communities through highway transportation projects using innovative acquisition of right-of-way, sensitive and effective relocation of affected residences and businesses, and relocation and accommodation of utilities with minimal impact and disruption to the communities.
As part of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials' (AASHTO) strategic plan assignment, the AASHTO Subcommittee on Right-of-Way and Utilities completed a nationwide review of processes and procedures to identify best practices in the United States. The study outlined process improvements in the following areas:
- Right-of-way and utilities involvement in project development
- Property appraisal and appraisal review
- Acquisition of total property rights, easements and permits
- Relocation assistance to owners, tenants, businesses, and farm operations
- Property management of acquired right-of-way
- Utilities coordination, adjustments, and relocations for highway projects
- Management practices for effective right-of-way and utilities operations
- Training programs and mentoring procedures for staff development
In March 2000, FHWA, AASHTO, and the Transportation Research Board (TRB) jointly sponsored an international scanning study to observe right-of-way and utility coordination practices in four European countries. The scanning study delegation identified practices used in the selected countries that, if implemented in the United States, will help ensure timely procurement and clearance of highway right-of-way and adjustment of utilities. The dissemination of information about and potential adoption of European right-of-way and utilities techniques and best practices will enhance the ability of State and local agencies to streamline delivery and improve the quality of right-of-way services.
The U.S. delegation included members representing State departments of transportation (DOTs) in Maine, Michigan, Virginia, and Washington State; FHWA; and the private sector, including representatives from the International Right-of-Way Association (IRWA) and O.R. Colan Associates, Inc. These panel members offered expertise in many right-of-way and utilities activities, including project development, appraisal and appraisal review, acquisition, property management, condemnation, relocation, and utilities coordination and accommodation. Team members are listed in Appendix A.
The team met with transportation officials in Oslo, As, and Moss, Norway; Bonn, Germany; The Hague, Netherlands; and London, England. Host officials provided a wealth of information on right-of-way and utilities practices in their respective countries, as well as insight into similar practices in neighboring countries. Travel between cities and countries afforded the team additional opportunities to observe innovative practices.
Team meetings were held at the beginning, midpoint, and end of the two-week study to share observations and discuss practices identified as having value for potential implementation in the United States.
Findings and observations in this report are grouped into the following chapters:
- Appraisal and Acquisition
- Compensation and Relocation
- Project Development
Each chapter includes primary findings the team believes have the most significance and/or implementation value. Other observations that may have potential implementation value in the United States also are included.
The countries the team visited have an underlying philosophy of sensitivity to the needs of property owners. In some cases, this philosophy replaces the need to have prescriptive regulations on how to conduct appraisal, acquisition, and relocation procedures. The primary findings identified by the team for appraisal and acquisition reflect this sensitivity.
Practices used in these countries encourage property owner involvement before completion of final right-of-way plans and use an extensive property owner interview process. They make a conscientious effort to limit the number of people contacting the property owner, including assigning one person to serve as appraiser and negotiator for acquisition and relocation services.
Highway agencies in these countries reduce the time needed to provide acquisition offers to property owners by limiting the need for appraisal reviews and through passage of special enabling legislation to streamline the acquisition process. They use mediation and quick payment processes to facilitate settlements and payments to property owners. These actions underscore the desire of the highway agencies to provide a fair and equitable method for acquiring right-of-way.
All of the countries visited have a compensation framework similar to that used in the United States. In many cases, however, compensation includes elements not always compensable in the United States. Compensation includes provisions for payment for land acquired, damages to remaining property, and relocation reimbursements. The impact on properties outside the project limits also is considered.
The countries all provide liberal payments to businesses affected by property acquisition, project construction, or highway operations. These payments ran7ge from -+liquidation and acquisition of businesses to the negotiated reimbursement of moving and relocation costs and incidental expenses incurred by displaced businesses.
The team was intrigued by the land consolidation concept used in Norway, Germany, and the Netherlands. Land consolidation involves adjusting property boundaries in the area of a highway project and redistributing the land to affected landowners. Land for sale next to the project also can be acquired and reassembled with properties divided by the project. The idea is to create better parcels for continued agricultural use or more desirable parcels for development. In Norway, the acquiring agency or one property owner affected by the project can request an investigation into land consolidation. In Germany and the Netherlands, a consensus of landowners is required to begin the land consolidation process.
Training requirements vary among countries, but they all emphasize formal training and continuous employee development. Programs focus on college curriculums leading to a degree in right-of-way and internal training courses, including small workshops and mentoring.
The team visited the Agricultural University of Norway in As, which offers a five-year degree program covering property rights and land law. The university began offering a program in land use planning in 1898, and has offered a curriculum leading to a career in right-of-way and land consolidation since 1960. Most top-ranking staff members in the Norwegian Public Roads Administration's Land Acquisition and Real Estate Division are graduates of this program.
No universities in the other countries the team visited offer a right-of-way curriculum, but each country has qualification requirements for right-of-way staff. Right-of-way personnel the team met with in Germany were trained as economists, attorneys, and engineers. The Netherlands requires a university degree in almost any subject area, and England normally requires entry-level staff to meet the minimum academic qualifications for recruitment to the civil service. Both the Netherlands and England have developed strong in-house training and continuing education programs.
It is universally recognized in the countries visited that, along with appropriate education, a good right-of-way agent must be mature and have strong people skills. In the Netherlands, employees must demonstrate these traits before being deemed eligible for the two-year in-house training for right-of-way agents.
Team members were impressed with the strategies used in each country for accommodating and relocating utilities on or near highway rights-of-way. Most of the countries make special efforts to enhance relationships between highway and utilities officials by improving coordination, cooperation, and communication. In several countries, jurisdiction-wide master agreements with each utility company are used to avoid having to develop new utility agreements for every project. Germany tries to avoid the need to relocate utilities during highway construction through design measures.
Roadside safety in Europe has been greatly improved by placing most utilities underground. Team members were impressed not only by the added safety of underground utilities, but also by the enhanced landscape aesthetics. In the Netherlands, all utilities except high-voltage transmission lines are underground.
The team also was intrigued by the Netherlands' concept of recognizing utilities as a mode of transportation, joining highway, air, water, and rail transportation. Although the Dutch policy focuses on gas pipelines, this concept may have broader applicability in moving other liquids or slurries now transported by truck in the United States.
Several countries have established utility corridors for highway crossings. In some cases they have established corridors for longitudinal installations to consolidate utility locations, maximize use of limited available land, and minimize or eliminate road openings. These corridors may include empty conduit for future installations and joint trenching.
Utilities are included as essential components of design-build contracts in England. This is advantageous to the Highways Agency because it transfers the risk of utility-related delays to the highway contractor, reducing claims for delays and large cost overruns.
Several countries have adopted the project management approach to project development, including the use of multidisciplinary teams. Practices include right-of-way participation that begins at the planning stage, budget and schedule commitments with a sign-off by functional representatives and project managers, and accountability for delivery on those commitments.
England uses design-build practices extensively in its program. Although right-of-way acquisition remains the responsibility of the Highways Agency, officials believe the potential for delegating some or all acquisition activities to design-build contractors merits evaluation.
Each country has an extensive planning process that includes significant input from affected property owners, community members, and local authorities. In several countries, zoning and land use plans prepared at the local or regional level govern decisions about the location of the transportation infrastructure.
During the planning process, the European countries define specifically the problems the project will address and describe how it will achieve intended results. Several countries also perform broad feasibility reviews before acquisition. The delegation noted that all of the countries budget enough time and funding for projects to allow appropriately timed and scoped acquisitions and relocations.
The countries appeared to engage in more extensive public coordination than is typical in the United States. Particularly useful practices are:
- Field reviews by the project manager or designer and right-of-way team member to meet with affected property owners early in the development of the project.
- Encouraging owner participation in design issues at early stages of project development.
Each country has a method for facilitating early possession or acquisition. These methods, including advance payment and right-of-entry, provide a great deal of flexibility.
Each country is developing a system for managing data relevant to right-of-way functions. In addition to project file data management, several use geographic information systems (GIS) technology for tracking all land use, including right-of-way.
Some countries also establish standard right-of-way acquisition limits, such as minimums of one meter from the back slope of the ditch and three meters from the edge of pavement.
The host countries provided the U.S. delegation with a wealth of information on their right-of-way and utilities practices. The team developed the following list of practices with potential for implementation in the United States to help ensure timely procurement and clearance of highway right-of-way and adjustment of utilities. The findings, observations, conclusions, and recommendations are those of the scanning team and not FHWA.
Early Involvement of Property Owners in Design Process
The scanning team recommends that FHWA encourage States to consult affected property owners before project design is completed to assess the impact of the proposed design and to determine if revisions are warranted. Appropriate use of this practice could result in more timely purchases and reduce damages to affected properties.
Property Owner Interviews
The team recommends that FHWA encourage States to use a more extensive interview process to discuss the project's impact with property owners and gain an understanding of how property owners use their property. Information obtained will be used to determine if further investigation of possible damages is necessary.
Limited Use of Appraisal Reviews
The team recommends that FHWA develop a risk management-based appraisal review system to use on pilot projects in several States. The results will be used to recommend regulatory changes necessary 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 instance, 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.
Appraisal and Negotiation Functions Performed by Same Person
The team recommends that FHWA implement a pilot program allowing several States to use the same agent to conduct both the appraisal and negotiation functions on a parcel.
Voluntary Land Consolidation Pilot Program
The team recommends that FHWA research the ability of States to accomplish voluntary land consolidation and implement a pilot program to evaluate the benefits.
Business Reestablishment and Relocation
The team suggests that FHWA evaluate items eligible for business reestablishment and relocation reimbursement in the Netherlands and England. The European experience and the results of the recent FHWA-sponsored "Business Payments and Services" research can be used to support changes in Federal legislation and regulations.
Pre-Employment and Employee Education and Training
The team recommends evaluating development of a pre-employment and employee education and training program. This includes exploring the potential for recruiting one or more colleges to provide this service, which would include a degree program in right-of-way careers and a continuing education program using distance-learning techniques. This proposal expands on the possibility of the Federal Government establishing an academy for real estate services.
A panel of representatives from FHWA, IRWA, AASHTO, and a private consultant will 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 suggests that FHWA evaluate mentoring activities in each State through AASHTO's Internet site, summarize mentoring methods in the United States and Europe, and recommend adoption to the States.
Cooperation, Coordination, and Communication
The team recommends that FHWA and AASHTO's Subcommittee on Right-of-Way and Utilities encourage State DOTs to enhance cooperation, coordination, and communication with utility companies.
The team recommends that State DOTs continue to develop or enhance utility pole safety programs, including considering underground utilities as a possible countermeasure. Although locating utilities underground can be costly, States are encouraged to give appropriate weight to factors such as safety, environmental impact, and community effects in their decision-making process.
The team recommends that State DOTs consider establishing utility corridors, including placing conduit for future use and using joint trenching techniques, and requiring utility companies to coordinate installation of facilities within these corridors.
Recognize Pipelines as a Transportation Mode
The team suggests that State DOTs encourage use of pipelines as a transportation mode by facilitating research and developing methods to exploit pipeline transport. This may include establishing routes and corridors for pipeline companies or funding construction and operation of pipelines.
Avoiding Unnecessary Utility Relocations
The team recommends that State DOTs avoid unnecessary relocation of utilities during highway construction by identifying all utilities early in the project development process and designing around them wherever possible.
Utilities in Design-Build Contracts
The team suggests that States not already doing so consider including utilities in contracts for design-build projects, thereby transferring risks of utility-related delays to highway contractors.
Master Utility Agreements
The AASHTO Subcommittee on Right-of-Way and Utilities has established master agreements as a best practice to eliminate the need for approvals on each individual contract. The team recommends that States not already using master utility agreements consider doing so. AASHTO and/or FHWA should consider developing model master agreements or distributing sample master agreements from States that use them.
Incorporate Right-of-Way and Utilities Functions in Design-Build Process
The team suggests that FHWA and AASHTO continue to encourage State right-of-way and utilities personnel to study the advantages of design-build contracting, which include shortening the project development process by eliminating many procedural procurement processes.
The team recommends that FHWA initiate a work group to reevaluate methods for corridor preservation and create one or more pilot projects to test corridor preservation and land consolidation techniques.
Rights of Entry and Early Acquisition Methods
The team believes FHWA and State DOTs should evaluate methods 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.
Information Clearinghouse on Right-of-Way and Utilities Databases
The team encourages the AASHTO Subcommittee on Right-of-Way and Utilities to establish an information clearinghouse on right-of-way and utilities databases, including GIS, for project development, tracking, and management.
Implementation efforts are under way on many of the scanning team's recommendations. Some activities of special interest are noted below. A summary of implementation activities is included in Chapter Eight.
In December 2000, FHWA issued a national policy on land consolidation. Several States along the proposed Interstate 69 route indicated interest in this concept, and Mississippi is actively considering using the land consolidation policy.
The Virginia DOT, in cooperation with FHWA, used an experimental tenant relocation incentive program to maintain the project schedule on the new Woodrow Wilson Bridge construction. This program allowed successful relocation of tenants from four buildings in time for subsequent construction activities to continue as planned. The Virginia DOT Woodrow Wilson Bridge Project report entitled "Cost and Schedule Savings from the Early Move Incentive Program for the Hunting Tower and Terrace Buildings" is included in Appendix D.
Initiatives are under way with Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland; Delaware Technical and Community College in Stanton, Delaware; and Marylhurst University in Portland, Oregon, to develop right-of-way training, including degree programs and capabilities for distance learning.
The Virginia DOT began a pilot program in September 2000 to determine the feasibility of paying preliminary engineering costs for all utility relocations. Early indications are that the benefits of this practice outweigh the cost.
The North Carolina State University Center for Transportation and the Environment initiated a literature search on the feasibility of recognizing pipelines as a mode of transportation. The center found that the Texas Transportation Institute has designed a system in which pipelines would be used to carry freight from Dallas, Texas, to Laredo, Mexico. The institute is looking for a funding source to build a prototype.
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