For those not familiar with highway construction, the following is intended as an educational tool to demonstrate complexities that can increase the time and cost to complete a project. The information below lists most of the larger actions required for both DOT and contractors to design, bid and build a project. In addition to what is listed here, there are hundreds of other smaller tasks that must be completed within each of the headings identified below.

So, why does it take so long and cost so much to build, rebuild, or improve a roadway? Why is public perception all too often that construction barrels are out there, but not much progress is evident? The answer is that a lot of work must be done before the roadbed can be prepared and paved. This is often caused by the underground utilities that are being installed or upgraded. For example, cable TV, internet, phone, storm sewer, sanitary sewer, gas lines, electric cable and water lines all need to be installed before any above ground construction can begin.

Hopefully after reading this, the next time you have to put up with orange barrels, barricades and single lane traffic, you will be a little less frustrated because you know more about what it takes to get the road built.

Most transportation projects are initiated by one of or a combination of the following. Maintaining a state of good repair on a road or bridge, safety issues, emergencies, legislative direction and community feedback.

The following is a list of items that must be accomplished by WDOT to design a project.

Determine Conceptual Scope

  • Authorize design & construction project funding and ID(s)
  • Identify roadway and/or structure improvement strategy needs.
  • Develop agreements with municipality(s) for local design costs.
  • This process generally takes 1-2 months

Determine Preliminary Scope

  • Define the project purpose and need.
  • Complete project safety analysis and public involvement plan.
  • Define the project improvement type.
  • Complete risk assessment(s).
  • Begin environmental review.
  • Public involvement.
  • Business meetings.
  • Conceptual design.

Determine Final Project Scope

  • Hold public involvement meetings.
  • Complete project environmental risk assessment or draft environmental document.
  • Identify utility, R/W and railroad impacts.
  • Identify roadway and structure improvements.
  • Agreement(s) with local municipality(s) for local construction costs and maintenance.
  • Approved preliminary project reports (pavement design, soils, traffic mitigation plan.
  • Refine conceptual ideas and scope.
  • 30% design review.
    • Preliminary scope and final scope usually take 3 months to 2 years for normal projects. For major or mega projects this can take 2-5 years.

Implement Project Scope

  • Preliminary plan reviews and revisions.
  • Hold public involvement meetings.
  • Evaluate public input and reassess.
  • 60% plan review.
  • Finalize detours and or construction staging plans.
  • Final environmental document permits and coordination.
  • Purchase right of way.
  • Private utility relocations.
  • Design study report.
  • Right of way acquisition and final plat documentation.
  • Utility and railroad agreements, permits and coordination.
  • Final plan, specifications and estimates.

Implement project scope takes 6 months to 2 years for normal projects and to 4 years for major or mega projects.

Letting and Award

  • Complete biddability, plan, specifications and estimate reviews and revisions.
  • Advertise plans and specifications for bidding.
  • Review construction bids and contract awards.
  • Complete pre-construction public involvement and construction coordination.

Letting and award normally takes 3-5 months.

The time it takes WDOT to develop and bid projects is dictated by the size and complexity of the project. Below is the range of time:

  • For a normal size project the least amount of time required is 13 months while the most time necessary can be 4 years and 4 months.
  • For mega or major projects the least amount of time required is 4 years and 7 months and the most amount of time can be 9 years and 7 months.
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