The National Academies

NCHRP 15-70 [Completed]

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

  Project Data
Funds: 350,000
Research Agency: Iowa State University
Principal Investigator: Roy Sturgill
Effective Date: 8/17/2020
Completion Date: 11/17/2022


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 was 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 were to 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 were analyzed to explain the variation in approaches taken by state DOTs, and were to be standardized and normalized so that the comparisons are evaluated in like terms. The guidelines were to 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. 
STATUS: Research is complete; publication of final deliverables is pending. 

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