The National Academies

NCHRP 15-70 [Active]

Valuation and Compensation for Accommodating Utility and Communications Installations in Public Rights of Way

  Project Data
Funds: 350,000
Staff Responsibility: David M. Jared
Research Agency: Iowa State University
Principal Investigator: Roy Sturgill
Effective Date: 8/17/2020
Completion Date: 8/17/2022

State departments of transportation (DOTs) permit the use of highway right-of-way (ROW) for the installation of utility and communication facilities with varying approaches to the accommodation. For example, ROW along roadways without access control may provide for utility and communications accommodation at no cost while accommodation along limited access routes may be more complex. These complex accommodations may involve numerous agreement structures, ranges of applicable fees (or potentially other means of compensation), and varying state and/or local government legislation addressing these arrangements. The details of these accommodations can be difficult to understand, and they vary from state to state.
Accommodating communications facilities can be particularly complex. In these instances, the owner of dark fiber optic facilities may be charging or leasing carrier companies for the use of their facility. In this arrangement, the facility owner, who may have been located on public ROW at no cost, is in essence profiting from the lease of their facility to telecommunications providers as third parties. While the accommodation of utilities and communications facilities in public ROW is generally considered a public benefit, there may be instances where state DOTs could be compensated.
Some state DOTs have legal authority to assess fees or enter into lease agreements for communications and other utility accommodations on ROW. Approaches vary and may involve fee schedules that may or may not result in net revenue to the state DOT. With the rapidly expanding networks of broadband fiber optic networks and microcellular technology, investigating these approaches is necessary for determining effective practices and guidance in these accommodations.
There is a need to capture the approaches used by state DOTs to evaluate and potentially charge for the permitted use or accommodation on ROW. As mentioned, these charges may include fees, leasing, in-kind trading (such as allowing state DOTs to use or share facilities), or other compensation means. A comparison of these approaches, the associated agreements, the fee structures, and related legislation is needed along various variables and scenarios. These varying characteristics include the types of utilities or communications facilities accommodated, the location of these accommodations (urban or rural), and the access control of the roadways where these accommodations occur.
Currently state DOTs are dealing with an abundance of accommodation requests for multiple utilities but specifically relating to microcellular and broadband fiber optic facilities. Research is needed to identify successful valuation approaches. 
The objective of this research is to identify best practices and prepare guidelines for state DOTs on how to evaluate and charge for the accommodation of utility and communication installations on public ROW. The guidelines shall at least include a comparison of fees, leasing, and in-kind trading used by a majority of state DOTs. Reasons for the variance in fees, valuation methods, and other factors will be analyzed to explain the variation in approaches taken by state DOTs, and will be standardized and normalized so that the comparisons are evaluated in like terms. The guidance should provide state DOTs the means and approaches necessary to execute a fee or leasing schedule for occupancy both for general utilities and for telecommunications facilities.
Accomplishment of the project objective(s) will require at least the following tasks.
Task descriptions are intended to provide a framework for conducting the research. The NCHRP is seeking the insights of proposers on how best to achieve the research objective. Proposers are expected to describe research plans that can realistically be accomplished within the constraints of available funds and contract time. Proposals must present the proposers’ current thinking in sufficient detail to demonstrate their understanding of the issues and the soundness of their approach to meeting the research objective.
Task 1. Synthesize legislation, regulations, policies, and permitting documentation available at the state, federal, and—to the extent possible--local/municipal levels, to identify statutory and regulatory standards for utility and communications accommodation and associated fees, property valuation, and charges.
Task 2. Summarize, categorize, and analyze data from Task 1. Categories to be considered include, but are not limited to, utility types; fee structures; and permitting procedures. Highlight potential legislative constraints to be further analyzed in later tasks, e.g., in a survey (Task 3) or case studies.
Task 3. Conduct a survey of state DOTs to identify (a) state DOT approaches to accommodation of utilities and communications; (b) any associated fees, property valuation, charges, or leasing; (c) how these fees may be affected by variables such as utility type, route type, access limitation, and urbanization; and (d) potential legislative constraints. The survey may require response from different parts of the state DOT, e.g. ROW, permitting, and utilities. The survey will also be used to determine which state DOTs should serve as case studies for developing guidance, with consideration of all applicable categories from Task 2. The survey mechanism and content must be approved by NCHRP before deployment.
Task 4. Submit Interim Report 1 that summarizes findings from Tasks 1-3, along with list of potential state DOTs recommended for case studies and the rationale for each recommendation. Following NCHRP review of the report, Interim Report 1 will be presented at an in-person meeting with the NCHRP project panel, along with an outline for a pilot case study to be conducted in Task 5. The in-person meeting will be held at the TRB offices in Washington, D.C.
Task 5. Complete case studies that will document approaches used by selected state DOTs for valuation and compensation for accommodating utility and communications installations on public ROW. A pilot case study will precede the remaining ones and be approved by NCHRP before the other studies are conducted. Case studies should be completed for at least 10 state DOTs; California, Colorado, Louisiana, Maryland, and Utah may be candidates, since these states have been identified as resources on this subject. Case studies should at a minimum address the topics covered in Tasks 1-3.
Task 6. Submit Interim Report 2 that includes (1) the completed case studies; (2) an annotated outline of the guidelines; and (3) an explanation of how the case studies will be used to support and/or illustrate the guidelines. Present Interim Report 2 at an in-person meeting of the NCHRP project oversight panel. NCHRP approval of the case studies and annotated outline is required before proceeding with work on Task 7. The in-person meeting will be held at the TRB offices in Washington, D.C.
Task 7.  Develop guidelines on selecting and implementing the approaches identified for valuation and compensation for accommodating utility and communications installations on public ROW, consistent with the case studies and annotated outline approved in Task 6, and provide presentation materials that summarize the results of the research and could be used for multiple purposes and audiences.

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