Chapter 2: Preliminary Design

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Section 1: Preliminary Design Concept Conference

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This section describes preliminary activities to define the general project location, design concepts, and activities to establish parameters for the final design.

The Preliminary Design Concept Conference is a meeting of key individuals for establishing fundamental aspects of a project. The conference facilitates agreement to basic project features by concerned parties and enhances relationships among those parties. Preliminary design activities undertaken prior to the NEPA clearance should not materially undermine consideration of project alternatives.

This section includes the following tasks:

20100. Conduct a Preliminary Design Concept Conference

20110. Analysis of environmental impacts and mitigation

20120. Right of way determination

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20100: Conduct a Preliminary Design Concept Conference


A Preliminary Design Concept Conference (DCC) is a meeting to establish and agree on fundamental aspects, concepts, and preliminary design criteria of a project. Supporting documents constitute an understanding of basic features of the project by FHWA, TxDOT divisions, TxDOT district office, and local government agencies.

The Design Summary Report (DSR) is a dynamic document. It contains the record of project development and design. Used as a preliminary DCC guide, the DSR will help ensure that the project team does not overlook potentially critical issues. While all items will not be applicable to all projects, overlooking any item may significantly delay the project. Although the project is in a preliminary phase and fundamental aspects have not reached detailed development, the DSR should be updated with known data; information detail can be added as the project progresses to the detailed Plans, Specifications, and Estimate (PS&E) level of development. The DSR remains with the project records from creation to eventual archival or destruction. See 50110: Conduct Design Conference.

Pertinent Project Types.

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  • New construction, reconstruction, and special transportation projects
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  • Other projects that the Director of Transportation Planning and Development determines would benefit

Responsible Party. Project manager


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  • Identify and invite participants with sufficient lead time.
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  • Extend an invitation to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), if the project will involve Interstate access or is a Federal Aid Highway Program (FAHP) project, which will exceed one million dollars.
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  • Schedule field visit to review existing conditions with a team of experienced staff from traffic operations, design, construction, and maintenance prior to the Preliminary Design Concept Conference. Document the site visit dates and participants on the DSR.
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  • Complete parts of DSR and circulate to all parties invited to the conference for review.
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  • Obtain concurrence or disagreement by approval entities listed in the DSR.
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  • Update DSR as project progresses, and make updated DSRs available to approval entities and other parties with a need-to-know.
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  • Retain the DSR in the Project File of Record.

Helpful Suggestions.

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  • The primary purpose of the Preliminary Design Concept Conference is to establish and agree on fundamental aspects, concepts, and design criteria for a project.
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  • Appoint an individual to take conference notes.

Critical Sequencing.

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  • Conduct the conference before preparing schematics or performing other preliminary design.

Resource Material.

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20110: Analysis of environmental impacts and mitigation

Description. The department has review responsibilities for the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Assignment for projects funded by the Federal Aid Highway Program (FAHP) and any other Federal environmental law with respect to transportation projects.

Environmental review responsibilities should be started at the earliest possible stage to eliminate delays. This comprehensive assessment of potential and existing human and natural environmental risks for a proposed federal action starts with a defined needs and objectives of the project and alternatives. The completed NEPA document is a detailed single source of information for project decision makers.

The NEPA decision occurs when a Categorical Exclusion (CE), finding of no significant impacts (FONSI), or record of decision (ROD) is issued. Final design activities may not be advanced until a NEPA decision has been issued.

The following Classes of Projects briefly explain NEPA documents:

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  • Class I - environmental impact statement (EIS) is very detailed. It begins with a Notice of Intent (NOI) and is complete when a ROD has been signed; this is a very lengthy process.
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    • New access control freeway
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    • Highway of four or more lanes on new location
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    • New construction or extension of a separate roadway for buses or high occupancy vehicles not located within an existing highway facility
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  • Class II – Categorically Excluded (CE). Projects which do not have a cumulative or significant effect on the human environment normally do not require further NEPA approvals. Applies to projects on or off the state highway system and funded by FHWA or projects that require FHWA approval.
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  • Class III – Environmental Assessment (EA). Projects funded by FHWA or require FHWA approval. Projects in this category are not Class I or Class II and can be on or off the state highway system. The EA provides a written report of the project need and alternatives, environmental impact of the proposed project and alternatives, and agencies consulted in the assessment. The EA is complete when a FONSI is issued; however, if an impact appears to be significant and mitigation will not reduce an adverse impact, a NOI should be prepared and a draft EIS should begin.

Contact district or division environmental coordinator to determine the appropriate required environmental documentation or if there are any problems with a cooperating agency. Create and maintain an Environmental Affairs Division - Advanced Project Development Stage Gate Checklist, Form 2442.

Environmental Stage Gate documentation is required throughout the plan development, PS&E, and construction processes. Evaluate and document the transportation project analysis for other Federal environmental review responsibilities. Provide project environmental information on the Environmental Permits, Issues and Commitments (EPIC) standard for Federal environmental laws other than NEPA. Ensure early coordination for permits and timely environmental document approval.

For State funded projects, review the “FHWA and State EA Comparison Chart” under Resource Material below. Contact the district environmental office for assistance.

Use of available advanced modeling technology, including 3-dimensional digital modeling, may accelerate and improve the environmental review process.

Pertinent Project Types. All projects.

Responsible Party. Project manager

Resource Material.

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20120: Right of way determination

Description. Right of way is a function of project development. The project team needs a method to incorporate and control factors affecting right of way determination. During a Preliminary Design Concept Conference, proposed project limits, impacts, and physical and financial constraints should be studied.

The advance planning risk analysis (APRA) tool was developed under TxDOT Research Project 0-5478 to meet this need. It offers a method to measure project scope definition for completeness and identify potential risks early in the project. With this tool, users identify the critical elements of the project scope across all disciplines. A high level assessment of the project is recommended at this stage of project development. Results should be recorded for benchmarking purposes.

Pertinent Project Types.

Responsible Party. Director of Transportation Planning and Development


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  • Utilize the APRA tool to align project objectives and stakeholders' needs, identify high priority project deliverables, and facilitate communication
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  • Work with the district survey coordinator on a plan to evaluate properties to be surveyed and acquired to establish project right of way. See Task 20230: Obtain right of entry.

Critical Sequencing. Determine planned right of way before preparing preliminary schematics or other preliminary design.

Resource Material.

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