Behind-the-scenes: road projects before construction begins

Road construction – a roadway improvement or expansion – is a sign of changing times, and it’s impossible to miss an orange cone zone when you’re driving through one. But what does it take to get to the shovel-ready construction phase of a roadway corridor project in the 2006 voter-approved Regional Transportation Authority’s 20-year plan?

The process is full of details that must be sorted out before you see construction cones and barricades on the road. Preparation can take several years, depending on the size and complexity of the work that needs to be done and the impact to surrounding areas.

Here’s a summary of how a road project comes to fruition.

Project agreement: First, the Regional Transportation Authority contracts with the local government agency that will implement the project. The RTA Board and the jurisdiction’s elected council or board agree on the overall scope of work and all the specific administration requirements, along with the amount of RTA funding, as well as any local funding contribution. Once this agreement is finalized, all remaining work is the responsibility of the local jurisdiction, with close support from the RTA staff.

Establish project goals: Typically, RTA projects are designed to improve safety, reduce congestion and improve traffic flow for many types of users, plus add or enhance infrastructure for alternative modes of transportation and contribute to improved economic vitality for the corridor.

Document the baseline: Conduct a detailed assessment of the existing road or the new corridor to capture how it is currently functioning. This includes the roadway’s condition, safety elements, intended traffic capacity compared to existing volume, whether/how it serves multimodal users, and more.

Initial design: Plan the road. This means giving attention to what it will look like and how it will serve users, including multimodal users. In this step, the alignment, intersection configuration and right-of-way are determined, always with an eye to functionality and project goals.

This step is collaborative and can be detailed, driven by data and technical analysis, and combined with public feedback to focus on the big items such as roadway alignment, drainage, public art, and right-of-way needs, etc.

Detailed design: After the initial design provides answers to the major questions, the project moves into a more detailed design with formal documents including a Design Concept Report, environmental analyses and approvals, technical reports such as traffic counts, noise impacts and drainage details. This step also includes design and location of traffic signals, sidewalks, pedestrian access, landscaping, minor and major drainage, artwork, signs, specifications, etc.

Implementation: As the design efforts near completion, the agency begins preparing for the actual implementation. This includes finalizing the construction plans, identifying how the work will be phased, purchasing right-of-way, coordinating with utility companies that may need to move their underground conduits, obtaining permits and other necessary government approvals.

The final step before the construction activities begin is for the agency to choose a contractor to build the project, typically using a competitive process to select the lowest responsible bidder that is qualified to do the work.

At this point, the work behind the scenes is done, the cones and barricades come out, and as always, we ask that you pay close attention, and please drive with caution!