When a transportation construction project involves the relocation of utility facilities, a state department of transportation (DOT) or other responsible agency must engage in complex negotiations involving utility companies and often other property owners, which may include acquisition of rights-of-way (ROW) or easements to facilitate the relocation and compensation to affected parties. (For purposes of this research, “ROW” refers to any real property interests associated with utility relocations.) These negotiations are subject to state and—when federal financial assistance contributes to project costs—federal statutes and regulation as well as agency and utility business practices, and they add cost, time, and sometimes delay to project delivery.
Federal regulations bring some uniformity to the processes of ROW acquisition and provision of compensation, but state and local statutes, policies, and tradition introduce substantial variation in how DOTs deal with utility relocations. Anecdotal evidence indicates that agencies differ in their practices for ROW acquisition and how they compensate utilities for relocations. Examples include when utility relocations are addressed during the project development process, if the DOT or the utility is expected to obtain the required replacement real property interests, if condemnation is employed to facilitate utility relocations, if utilities have statutory rights to be located within the highway ROW, and if such occupancy is secured by permit or transfer of real property interest. Agencies differ also in their use of shared utility easements, master agreements with utility companies, permitting rather than transfer of property rights, or incentive payments for prompt utility relocation. Some agencies may acquire ROW in anticipation of transferring it to a utility while others may be prohibited by statute from doing so.
While the statutory and regulatory environment of ROW acquisition and compensation differs from state to state, the project development process is relatively uniform among DOTs. Characterizing when and how DOTs take steps to deal with acquisition of ROW to facilitate utility relocations and analysis of agency experience with time delay and cost that these steps—or failure to take them—may add to project development can offer lessons for improving ROW acquisition and compensation practices as they relate to utility relocations.
The objective of this research is to identify effective statutory means, agency policies, and project development procedures state departments of transportation (DOTs) use to acquire rights of way (ROW) and compensate for utility relocations and to develop guidance DOTs and others may use to enhance the effectiveness of their own practices. The product of this research shall be a report, helpful to utility companies as well as DOTs, describing the primary factors influencing policies and practices, a framework for assessing effectiveness of an agency’s policies and practices, and examples of very effective policies and practices that agencies might adapt to control risks of project delay and cost increases attributable to utility relocations.
The research will entail several major tasks products and milestones:
1. A critical review of state statutes, case law, and policies establishing or limiting DOTs’ authority and practices for acquiring ROW and compensating for utility relocations and development of a preliminary framework for classifying states into meaningful categories regarding the legal opportunities and constraints under which they operate to acquire ROW and compensate for utility relocations. Targeted interviews with selected state agency personnel will supplement the review.
2. Characterization of representative approaches or strategies of state DOT practices for acquiring ROW and compensating for utility relocations influencing timely and cost-effective project delivery.
3. Development of representative examples or case studies of particular practices of DOTs that other agencies might adapt to control the risks of time delay and cost increases associated with acquiring ROW and compensating for utility relocations.
4. Preparation of a guidebook or similar resource for DOT practitioners, describing factors affecting project delivery delays and added costs associated with acquiring ROW and compensating for utility relocations, strategies for controlling risks of delays and added costs, and exemplary practices DOTs may be able to adapt to reduce risks of delays and added costs.