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Section 2: Phases of a Boundary Survey

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Information contained within this section is excerpted in its entirety and/or adapted for this manual from the Texas Board of Professional Land Surveying (TBPLS).

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Preliminary Research

The foundation of any land survey is record research. According to the current rules of the Texas Board of Professional Land Surveying (TBPLS), the land surveyor must perform research adequate for the assignment.

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22 Texas Administrative Code §663.16 (c). Boundary Construction

A land surveyor assuming the responsibility of performing a land survey also assumes the responsibility for such research of adequate thoroughness to support the determination of the location of intended boundaries of the land parcel surveyed. The surveyor may rely on record data related to the determination of boundaries furnished for the registrants’ use by a qualified provider, provided the registrant reasonably believes such data to be sufficient and notes, references, or credits the documentation by which it is furnished.

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Related Boundary Construction Information

Some sources of record data are:

  • Texas General Land Office – Field Notes, Roll Sketches, County Maps, Working Sketches, Correspondence, Survey Reports, Patents
  • County Clerk - Deed Records, Plat Records, Commissioner’s Court minutes, Patent Records, County Surveyor’s Records
  • County Central Appraisal District – Tax Parcel Maps
  • District Court Clerk
  • River Authorities
  • Irrigation Districts
  • Utility Companies
  • Municipal – Planning, Public Works, Engineering, GIS
  • Oil Companies, Lumber Companies, Railroads
  • Private Surveyors.

An abstract of title or a title run sheet may be of great assistance in determining which conveyances affect the land. The purpose of the title search for the land surveyor is not to determine title from a legal standpoint; it is to retrace the history of the land as it affects the boundaries. The title must be searched back in time sufficiently far enough to uncover all of the pertinent information. In many cases, this will be to the sovereignty of the soil.

After assembling the record information, a working sketch is prepared (Surveying Wildcat Lease Blocks in Texas, F.D. Smith, Proceedings of the Third Annual Texas Surveyors Association Short Course, 1954). A working sketch of the patent notes will assist in determining how the original cadastre was formed from the public domain. Careful plotting of the original and corrected field notes will reveal data about junior/senior rights, conflicts and vacancies, original monuments, and other information vital to the retracement of the footsteps of the original surveyor. This is the paramount duty of the modern boundary surveyor.

According to the 22 TAC §663.16 (a), when delineating a property or boundary line as an integral portion of a survey, the surveyor shall respect junior/senior property rights, footsteps of the original surveyor, intent of the parties involved, the proper application of the rules of dignity or the priority of calls, and applicable statutory and case law of Texas.

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Draft Deed Record Sketch

In densely populated areas of the state, the original grants have frequently been subdivided into numerous small tracts. It may be necessary to draft a subsequent deed record sketch of the deeds inside each original grant. This plot will contain information similar to the working sketch. The subject tract, description of corners called for in the deed, conflicting elements of the deeds (if any) and easements affecting the subject tract are shown on the deed record sketch.

A preliminary report shall be written analyzing the construction of the working sketches. The preliminary report is a supplement to the graphic depiction and analyses shown in the working sketches. The report will list the sources of the records used to prepare the maps. A summary of the history of surveys affecting the subject lands will generally be best prepared in a chronological sequence. Any potential title problems discovered by the analysis of the records will be emphasized in the report.

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Field Work

All fieldwork will be related to the NAD 83 datum through a control network of TxDOT survey points established before the commencement of the boundary survey. Surveys may be performed by GPS techniques, such as real-time kinematic methods in terrain suitable for their employment.

Conventional survey methods may be needed in wooded, urban, or mountainous environments, or a mixture of GPS receivers and conventional total stations. Survey techniques shall comply with the procedures specified in Chapter 3, Preliminary Surveying, of this manual. The surveyor will compute state plane coordinates on the Texas Plane Coordinate System for all survey measurements. Surface coordinates will be computed using methods acceptable to TxDOT.

After the preliminary office research is complete, the surveyor will plan the field work based upon the results of the preliminary report. The working sketch will indicate what original corners may be recovered. An original corner that is well known and its use accepted by the local surveying profession is often the most effective beginning point. A careful inspection of the working sketch will frequently reveal the footsteps of the original surveyor that must be retraced for a defensible survey.

The courts have established the duty of the modern boundary surveyor to be the retracement of the footsteps of the original locating surveyor (Vanishing Footsteps of the Original Surveyor, Clayton Orn, Report of the Fifth Texas Surveyors Short Course Conference, 1952). The surveyor shall exert every reasonable effort to recover the corners established by the original surveyors of the grants included in the project area.

The question is not where an entirely accurate survey would locate the lines, but where did the original survey locate such lines (A Treatise on the Law of Surveying and Boundaries, F.E. Clark, 1939). This may require multiple visits to the vicinity to search for the best remaining evidence.

The surveyor will begin by locating or retracing as many corners of the original grants as required to construct the boundaries of the lands included in the project for future takings. Subsequent to locating the original grant boundaries and preparing a boundary construction, the surveyor may locate corners and lines of any junior survey interior to the original grants. In this manner, the surveyor will build up a logical scheme of boundary construction.

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Final Survey

Upon completion of the retracement survey, a boundary construction map shall be prepared. This map will depict all survey evidence recovered in the survey. The surveyor will prepare a survey map showing the corners recovered, the courses, and distances of the boundaries and areas of lands considered in the project.

A survey report will be written summarizing the findings of the surveyor and particularly the boundary construction of the surveyed properties. Any boundary discrepancies or survey problems found during the survey shall be analyzed and reported. These will also be shown on the survey map.

The survey map will show record and calculated dimensions to facilitate the comparison of deeds with the survey construction. A background map of available aerial photography and digital orthophotographs will aid in delineating lines of occupation and natural terrain features having a locative effect.

A final determination of boundaries and construction of surveys in the project area will be made in consultation with the TxDOT surveyor. A final report shall be written giving details of the boundary construction of properties involved in the ROW project.

Once the boundary construction of the lands affected by the project has been finalized, the location of the proposed acquisitions may proceed. At this stage, an initial overlay of the proposed takings may point out areas where the proposed right-of-way may be rationalized.

The surveyor will consult with TxDOT staff to minimize uneconomic remainders and the taking of small slivers of land. The cost of acquiring miniscule gores of land from a parent tract can far exceed the value of the property. If possible, these parcels will be eliminated from the final ROW footprint. In addition, the review should examine the mitigation of utility adjustments through possible modification of the proposed ROW.

After the ROW is approved, the surveyor will prepare parcel plats with metes and bounds descriptions. The plats and field notes comprise together the property description. Permanent parcel corners will be set in compliance with TBPLS rules and TxDOT policy.

Aluminum caps stamped “TxDOT ROW” with 1/2'' or 5/8'' diameter rebar will be set at all property corners, angle points, and points of curvature and tangency. Relative locations of the corner monuments set shall comply with the positional tolerance established by the TBPLS rules. A Preliminary ROW Map will be prepared from the property descriptions.

The Preliminary Right of Way Map will satisfy the requirements of the current edition of the TxDOT ROW Manual Volume 1 - Procedures Preliminary to Release. The map will utilize computer graphics software currently required by the department.

The Preliminary Right of Way (ROW) Map is not a survey plat certified by a Registered Professional Land Surveyor (RPLS). It is a graphic representation of ROW conveyances in relation to the proposed roadway alignment.

Appraisers, negotiators, ROW administrators and attorneys and other staff involved in the acquisition of ROW will use the Preliminary ROW Map. The surveyor must take into consideration this fact in the preparation of the ROW map. As such, the ROW map functions not as a survey plat, but as a graphic index map to the parcels to be acquired by the state.

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