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Section 2: Project Authorization

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All projects must be approved by the Texas Transportation Commission, either by inclusion in the Unified Transportation Program (UTP) or through a project specific minute order, before beginning project development. Projects are authorized as either a Feasibility Study, or one of three levels of authority - PLAN, DEVELOP or CONSTRUCT, as described in the Transportation Programming and Scheduling Manual. To obtain PLAN authority for a project, submit a request to the director of the Transportation Planning and Programming Division.

This section includes the following tasks listed in chronological order.

1200. Prepare cost estimate

1230. Obtain approval of PLAN authority.

1235. Obtain project specific minute order, if required

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1200: Prepare cost estimate

Description. To obtain adequate funding for a project, prepare construction cost estimate and separate right of way (ROW) cost estimate, and enter the estimates into the Design and Construction Information System ( DCIS). It is important for this information to be correct in DCIS so that the Project funding data will be correct in the Financial Information Management Systems (FIMS).

It is important to clearly define the project scope when a project is first considered for programming. An accurate scope of work ensures the design addresses the project purpose and need and is also needed to develop a high-quality preliminary cost estimate. Some issues that should be considered when developing the scope are:

1. Type of work proposed (2R, 3R or 4R)

2. Proposed typical section

3. For existing geometry - meets appropriate design criteria or consider realignment

4. Specify safety improvements indicated by accident analysis

5. Existing and proposed pavement

6. Bridges (size and complexity) (see ‘Considerations for Estimating Cost of Bridge Projects’ on the Bridge Project Development intranet page)

7. Earthwork and retaining walls or sloped embankments

8. Drainage issues and possible solutions

9. Accessibility improvements and/or sidewalks and/or bicycle facilities

10. Potential environmental issues and mitigation

11. Traffic control plans including detours

12. Specialized designs and technology incentives

Reasonable and accurate cost estimating, and intermittent updating of these costs, helps maintain public confidence and trust throughout the life of a project. When a project cost estimate escalates, it impacts the funding for other needed projects and requires that the department has a record to explain the reason for rising estimated costs.

The Annual Scope and Estimate Documentation form and related information is available on the FIN intranet site.

The Advance Planning Risk Analysis (APRA) tool developed under TxDOT research project 0-5478 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. This tool is suggested for use throughout the project’s life cycle and is referenced at several key stages in this manual. The APRA User Guide is available here.

An AASHTO cost estimating program, Estimator®, is available for preparing estimates on a personal computer. Check with your automation administrator for access to the program. Estimator® requires a ‘catalog’ of bid items and bid prices. The latest catalogs are posted on the TxDOT Internet website. For more information on Estimator®, refer to the PS&E Preparation Manual, Chapter 4, Section 2, Estimator® Software or contact the Field Coordination Section of the Design Division.

Pertinent Project Types. All projects.

Responsible Party. Director of Transportation Planning and Development


  • Obtain design information about the project, such as: project length, proposed bridges and major drainage structures, proposed typical sections, expected pavement structure, and required ROW widths.
  • Include significant traffic control/detour costs.
  • Research major costs likely because of environmental protection/mitigation measures.
  • Although not included in the construction estimate, research major costs associated with utility adjustments/relocations because they are ultimately paid for by the public.
  • For programming estimates, note project items to be paid for by others (e.g., sidewalk to be paid for by city), and write down assumptions for future reference (e.g., project does not include illumination).
  • Obtain recent unit bid prices for similar projects from TxDOT sources including TxDOT's Internet and Intranet (crossroads) sites. Unit bid prices shown at these sites are updated every month by the Construction Division. Using accurate bid prices is very important to calculating a reasonable estimate.
  • Prepare the construction cost estimate in a chart with column headings in order of: Bid Item Number, Item Description, Unit (of measure), Quantity, and Price. In a programming estimate, bid item numbers are optional - but still helpful.
  • Add additional costs in the range of 10% to 20% for miscellaneous, minor items such as erosion control measures, striping, pavement markings and signs.
  • Include approximately 6% to 11% for engineering and contingencies to arrive at an estimated total cost.
  • Prepare a separate right of way cost estimate, including eligible utility adjustment costs. ROW project limits should be the same as the construction project limits for the corresponding project.
  • Review cost estimates with project manager or other staff knowledgeable about the project.
  • Enter the construction and ROW cost estimates into DCIS. Refer to the DCIS User Manual.

Helpful Suggestions.

  • A listing of 8-character bid item numbers, brief item descriptions, and units of measure are contained in the Universal Spec File (USF). The USF is available on ROSCOE and at the TxDOT Internet website.
  • Detailed descriptions of work (and/or materials) included in bid items are available in TxDOT’s “spec book” - the Standard Specifications For Construction and Maintenance of Highways, Streets, and Bridges and in TxDOT’s Special Specifications (available through ROSCOE). Bid item numbers will correspond to standard specification item numbers and special specification item numbers.
  • Relocating major utilities (e.g., fiber optic lines) or providing environmental mitigation measures (e.g., filtration basins) can be major project costs that usually can be identified early with minimal effort and making a field visit.
  • As a rough check, compare the estimate to cost per mile for similar projects in the area.
  • It is better to slightly overestimate than underestimate. Generally, a preliminary estimate is considered reasonable if, later, it is found to be within +/- ten percent of the final cost estimate.
  • Do not prepare overly high estimates because they will tie up funds that could be allocated to other projects.

Resource Material.

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1230: Obtain approval of PLAN authority

Description. The Transportation Planning and Programming Division (TPP) authorizes projects for TxDOT’s PLAN authority status. PLAN authority permits the conduct of advanced planning, preliminary design, environmental studies, right of way determination, route studies, and public involvement activities.

  • To obtain PLAN authority, send request to the director of the Transportation Planning and Programming Division.
  • With PLAN authority, work should proceed to complete right of way maps and identify necessary environmental permits, clearances and coordination.

Pertinent Project Types. Projects in the following UTP categories:

  • Category 2 - Metropolitan Area (TMA) Corridor Projects;
  • Category 3 - Urban Area (non-TMA) Corridor Projects; and
  • Category 4 - Statewide Connectivity Corridor Projects.

Responsible parties. Director of Transportation Planning and Development.

Helpful suggestions.

  • At this time, the programming and scheduling manager should obtain a valid TxDOT control-section-job (CSJ) number from TPP for project development. A 900 series job number means that the project is not authorized for project development work, and the programming and scheduling manager should contact TPP to resolve the situation.
  • PLAN authority is controlled by TPP because these projects are not officially part of the UTP.
  • When approved for PLAN authority, the district should verify that the project fund authorization has been properly set up in the Financial Information Management System (FIMS). Contact the district accounting office for assistance. This generally includes function codes 102- 150. The project should be set up in FIMS before proceeding with any work.

Resource Material. TxDOT Transportation Programming and Scheduling Manual.

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1235: Obtain project specific minute order, if required

Description. A minute order (MO) for project authorization is requested by district staff through the Transportation Planning and Programming Division (TPP).

An MO is needed in the following situations:

  • Project authorization. An MO is needed if a project is not authorized in the current Unified Transportation Program (UTP) or in a Bank Balance Allocation Program.
  • Control of access. All projects are assumed to be non-controlled access unless the district sends a request to TPP for an MO to be passed designating the facility, or a portion of the facility, as controlled access under Transportation Code, §203.031 (HB 179, 55th Legislature, 1957.) The control of access line on schematics, ROW maps and plans should be coincident with the back of curb or property (ROW) line and clearly depicts the locations where access to the highway is denied.
  • Route designation. If the project is on new location, the district may want to request route designation in the same MO.
  • Donations. A MO is needed for accepting donations, such as right of way.
  • Authority to contract. For TxDOT, the authority to contract for the project is in the form of a MO. The MO may be a specific MO authorizing a project.

Pertinent Project Types. All projects.

Responsible Party. Director of Transportation Planning and Development

Helpful Suggestions.

  • Assistance with minute orders is available from TPP.
  • Copies of minute orders are available from the Texas Transportation Commission Minute Clerk.

Critical Sequencing. Obtain project authorization before starting project development or executing an agreement with outside entities.

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