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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), Statewide Transportation Improvement Plan (STIP) or through a project specific minute order, before beginning project development.

Projects are authorized as one of three levels of authority - PLAN, DEVELOP or CONSTRUCT. To obtain PLAN authority for a project, submit a request to the director of the Transportation Planning and Programming Division (TPP).

This section includes the following tasks listed in chronological order.

10200. Prepare cost estimate.

10210. Obtain approval of PLAN authority.

10215. Project File of Record.

10220. Obtain project specific minute order, if required.

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10200: 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 and funding data will be correct in the Financial Management Division (FIN) PeopleSoft project information.

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:

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 have a record to explain the reason for rising estimated costs.

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.

For more information on AASHTO Estimator®, refer to the PS&E Preparation Manual, Chapter 4, Section 2, “ Preparation of Project Estimate” or contact the Design Division.

Pertinent Project Types. All projects.

Responsible Party. District Director of Transportation Planning and Development


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  • 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.
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  • Include significant traffic control and detour costs.
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  • Research possible major costs for environmental protection and mitigation measures.
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  • Although not included in the construction estimate, research major costs associated with utility adjustments and relocations because they are ultimately paid by the public.
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  • For programming estimates, note project items to be paid by others (e.g., sidewalk to be paid by city), write down assumptions for future reference (e.g., project does not include illumination).
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  • Obtain average low bid unit prices from TxDOT website under Business - Letting and Bids. Unit bid prices are updated every month by the Construction Division. Using accurate bid prices is very important for calculating a reasonable estimate.
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  • 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 helpful.
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  • Add additional costs in the range of 10% to 20% for miscellaneous items such as erosion control measures, striping, pavement markings, and signs.
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  • Include approximately 6% to 11% for engineering and contingencies to arrive at an estimated total cost.
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  • Add estimate special accounts for Force Accounts: law enforcement; safety contingency, and environmental maintenance.
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  • Prepare a separate right of way cost estimate, including eligible utility adjustment costs. ROW project limits should be the same as construction project limits for the corresponding project.
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  • Review cost estimates with project manager or other staff knowledgeable about the project.
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  • Enter the construction and ROW cost estimates into DCIS. Refer to the TxDOT DCIS User Manual.

Helpful Suggestions.

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  • Detailed descriptions of bid item work and materials are available online in TxDOT's specification book, Standard Specifications For Construction and Maintenance of Highways, Streets, and Bridges.
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  • A list of 8-character bid codes, brief item descriptions, and units of measure are available online at TxDOT - Business>Resources>Standard Specifications>Bid Codes.
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  • Bid item numbers correspond to standard specification item numbers and special specification item numbers.
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  • 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.
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  • As a rough check, compare the estimate to cost per mile for similar projects in the area.
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  • 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.
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  • Do not prepare overly high estimates that tie up funds that could be allocated to other projects.
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  • Separately list federal "Non-Participating" items in the estimate.

Resource Material.

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10210: Obtain approval of PLAN authority

Description. The Statewide Planning & Programming Management Section of the Transportation Planning & Programming Division (TPP) approves projects for the PLAN Authority Phase. PLAN authority is reserved for mobility or high capital cost projects. Planning, route studies, preliminary design, environmental impact studies, right of way determination, and public involvement activities are performed.

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  • To obtain PLAN authority, send request to the director of the Transportation Planning and Programming Division.
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  • 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:

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Category Number



Preventive Maintenance and Rehabilitation


Metro and Urban Area Corridor Projects


Non-traditionally Funded Transportation Projects


Statewide Connectivity Corridor Projects


Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement


Structures Replacement and Rehabilitation


Metropolitan Mobility and Rehabilitation




Transportation Alternative Program


Supplemental Transportation Projects


District Discretionary


Strategic Priority

Responsible party. District Director of Transportation Planning and Development.

Helpful suggestions.

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  • PLAN authority is controlled by TPP because these projects are not officially part of the UTP.
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  • Set up a Control Section Job (900 Series) then request TPP approval to convert the 900 number to an assigned job number. FIN will convert the 900 number and submit to PeopleSoft.
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  • When approved for PLAN authority, the district should verify that the project fund authorization has been properly set up in PeopleSoft. Contact the district accounting office for assistance.
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  • The project should be set up in PeopleSoft before proceeding with any work.

Resource Material.

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10215: Project File of Record

Description. An audit trail should be maintained in the event of a legal challenge or audits by state or federal auditors. TxDOT refers to the official location as the “File of Record”. Securely store the File of Record. For department projects, districts must maintain a complete and orderly project File of Record that is not cluttered with unnecessary information. Documents should support decision making for the plans, methods, and procedures used to meet the mission, goals, and objectives of the project.

The file should provide guidance to where electronic files are maintained. Project email, voicemail, desktop or portable device files should be retained according to department policy. Files should be complete, accurate, consistent, and held for the life of the project then archived for retention period according to department policy.

A file can be storage equipment such as a filing cabinet, electronic media, or electronic recordkeeping arranged into logical records stored together and treated as a unit.

Design Exception files. Permanently retained for legal reference. Design Exception files are stored in designated filing location used exclusively for these files.

Preliminary engineering files. Retain primary records, which typically support the financial record of a project and as applicable to a state or a federal project.

Construction files. Preliminary engineering files can be transferred to a construction file at close of project preliminary engineering phase. Records of further project development and construction, in addition to those listed as “preliminary engineering”, are documents to close the project as listed below. List is not all inclusive and as applicable to state or federal projects.

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10220: 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). A Minute Order is needed in the following situations:

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  • 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.
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  • 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 right of way line and clearly depicts the locations where access to the highway is denied.
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  • Route designation. If the project is on new location, the district may want to request route designation in the same MO or separate MO. New locations must be designated by an MO and will need to be removed from the state system by a subsequent MO.
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  • Donations. An MO is needed for accepting donations, such as right of way.
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  • Authority to contract. For TxDOT, the authority to contract for the project is in the form of an MO. The MO may be a specific MO authorizing a project.

Pertinent Project Types. All projects.

Responsible Party. District Director of Transportation Planning and Development

Helpful Suggestions.

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

Critical Sequencing.

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