How a Road Gets Built
How a Road Gets Built
Years of extensive planning, study and work occur before the N.C. Department of Transportation ever begins building a roadway.
The in-depth, six-phased process (detailed below) begins with NCDOT assisting municipalities and regions to develop long-term plans that identify area transportation needs and priorities.
Once a project is programmed for funding, NCDOT initiates studies and the project enters into a development phase – a process that includes getting feedback from the public and analyzing how a proposed road might affect people living and working in the area as well as its impact on the environment.
Once development is complete and engineers have determined how and exactly where a road will be built, NCDOT typically begins acquiring any property needed to accommodate the project and then awards a construction contract.
Only then does construction begin.
Throughout the process, NCDOT's Value Management Office ensures the department responsibly and efficiently uses resources and funding. The office oversees seven statewide programs that focus on streamlining operations, improving project quality and outcomes, reducing costs without compromising function and increasing the use of environmentally sound and energy-efficient practices and materials.
NCDOT's Planning Branch helps metropolitan planning organizations, small urban areas and counties across the state to develop comprehensive transportation plans that outline transportation priorities (usually for about a 20- to 25-year period) that are based on future land use, employment and population changes.
Each comprehensive transportation plan involves an environmental screening – to be sure the plan considers the effects of the projects on the community and environmental resources – and includes short- and long-term recommendations for improvements to the overall transportation system.
NCDOT and each metropolitan planning organization or local government then adopts the plan, which becomes the blueprint for transportation infrastructure improvements in that area.
The needs identified in the planning stage are then evaluated using a data-driven scoring process to help prioritize funding and, ultimately, construction for transportation projects. Each proposed project is reviewed, ranked and scored based on specific criteria – such as safety, congestion relief and benefit-cost.
NCDOT then uses the scores and rankings – as well as other factors – to determine which projects will be funded in NCDOT's 10-year State Transportation Improvement Program and then "programs" projects' development, design and construction schedules, based on available funding. The plan is updated every two years to be sure that it accurately reflects the state's current financial situation.
After a project is funded, NCDOT's Project Development and Environmental Analysis Branch, known as PDEA, evaluates proposed projects according to established engineering practices and guidelines set forth by federal and state laws and regulations.
The process includes specialized environmental studies and coordination with environmental regulatory agencies to ensure NCDOT gives appropriate consideration to the people and environmental resources in the area of proposed projects.
Specialists in such fields as noise and air quality, archaeology, architectural history, biology, land-use planning and sociology provide evaluations regarding the impacts of proposed road projects.
The process also involves design and traffic engineering studies, which provide an analysis of highway alternatives to safely, efficiently and economically meet future travel demands.
Public input is an important part of the process. NCDOT informs the public about proposed projects and asks for its input through mailings, news releases and meetings among other methods. NCDOT then evaluates and addresses comments from the public and its partner agencies to determine where and how proposed road projects should be built.
Information collected during the project development stage is used to determine where and how a road will be built. In many instances, NCDOT studies several options, referred to as alternatives.
Several factors go into planners and designers selecting a highway location, including public input, input from environmental agencies and aerial photography mapping to obtain reliable information on the existing physical area and the environment.
Design engineers then prepare detailed plans for the roadway within the selected location. These plans define facets of the roadway project, such as the type of highway cross-section (two-lane or multi-lane), the width of right of way required and the type of intersections and interchanges, as well as bridges, culverts and other drainage features.
Plans also identify the type of construction materials to be used and estimate the quantity of each material required to build the roadway.
These technical plans later allow NCDOT to prepare contract documents and advertisements for contractors wishing to place bids on a project.
Right of way, the process of obtaining any property needed to complete roadway projects, is the last major step before a project is released to bidders for construction.
Although NCDOT works to minimize the number of homes and businesses displaced by a road project, in many cases, NCDOT must acquire a certain amount of private property.
In the acquisition of right of way, NCDOT must treat all property owners with impartiality, fully explain all legal rights, pay just compensation in exchange for property rights and furnish relocation assistance. Legal action is initiated only when a settlement cannot be reached.
Once a road's design is complete and property is acquired, NCDOT advertises to contractors that it is accepting bids for construction. Bids are opened on the date specified in the advertisement and disclosed to the public.
Following state law, the secretary of transportation then awards the construction contract to the lowest responsible bidder, a private contractor, who is obligated to build the project according to the plan requirements and specifications upon which the bid was received.
The exception to this process is a method called "design-build." These types of contracts are awarded to a team of designers and builders based on technical presentations and cost. Having one contract for design, environmental permitting, right-of-way acquisition, utility relocation and construction reduces overall construction time, helps NCDOT avoid cost inflation and allows the contractor to make innovations that save taxpayers money, lessens environmental impact and alleviates driving delays for motorists.
NCDOT's Division of Highways administers the contract. An NCDOT resident engineer and his/her staff provide local project management, and along with project inspectors interpret plan details and contract requirements, test for quality, check for conformity with contractual requirements and document the quantity of work performed so the contractor can be paid on a monthly basis. The resident engineer and staff also make certain the environment is protected, manage traffic flow along the project, work with adjacent property owners, observe work zone safety and oversee coordination with state and federal agencies.
Before a road opens to traffic and before the project is considered complete, an NCDOT engineer not involved in the project's construction conducts a final inspection to verify that it has been completed properly.