Chapter 4: Right of Way and Utilities

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Section 1: Right of Way and Utility Data Collection

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This section describes determining existing right of way (ROW) limits, restrictions to State ROW ownership, ownership of the properties that abut State ROW, and ownership of any properties to be acquired. It also includes identification of owners of any utilities that are in the existing ROW or on the proposed ROW. The Project Manager, Regional ROW Project Delivery Workforce, District ROW Utility Coordinator, District Mapping Coordinator, and District Survey Coordinator manage the work described in this section.

Above ground utility information may be obtained by standard land surveying methods.

Underground utility locations may be determined by conventional survey methods, newer technologies, or by Subsurface Utility Engineering (SUE). The SUE process combines surveying, civil engineering, and geophysics to accurately identify, characterize, and map underground utilities.

To avoid design issues and delays that create cost overruns, the designer should AVOID, MITIGATE, or ADJUST for project utility conflicts. Early design and planning phases should include subsurface site characterization of various geologic, environmental, and utility features.

This section includes the following tasks:

40100. Perform preliminary right of way research

40110. Locate existing utilities

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40100: Perform preliminary right of way research

Description. Determining existing right of way (ROW) limits, restrictions to State ownership (e.g. easements), and actual property owners is a necessary first step in the identification of property interests. Property records and other records maintained by local public entities should be researched for this information. This preliminary ROW data can be used in refining a preferred alignment to minimize ROW impacts to properties. Schematics for public view can also show data collected, such as names of property owners and approximate locations of existing ROW limits.

A utility owner may occupy compensable property that may be affected by the proposed project ROW. The utility may own an easement or fee title to the property they occupy, which may determine who would pay for any necessary utility adjustments. As another example, a local governmental entity may own an easement, which would otherwise appear to be privately held (e.g., a drainage canal).

ROW maps may be obtained from TxDOT records. Tax assessor maps may be obtained from city, county, and appraisal district offices. Deed and easement records may be obtained from the County Clerk’s office.

Pertinent Project Types. All projects except preventive maintenance and restoration

Responsible Party. Project manager and Regional ROW Project Delivery Workforce


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  • Coordinate with District ROW Mapping, Survey, and Utility Coordinators to manage specialized tasks and identify information needed.
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  • Establish existing ROW.
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  • Research abutting property ownership.
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  • Perform site reconnaissance to confirm maps of utilities that may be associated with adjacent facilities.
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  • Determine method for subsurface location survey, if required.

Helpful Suggestions.

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  • Identify property owners as soon as possible in the preliminary design phase of project development.
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  • Identify property interests owned by members of the Texas Legislature. These interests must be acquired by condemnation.
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  • As the project develops, identification of the rights that individuals, or entities, have in property ownership becomes important.
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  • Perform a field survey of existing ROW limits. This is useful in developing schematics for projects in urban areas with limited ROW. See Task 20290: Perform other surveys.

Critical Sequencing.

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  • This work should be done before developing a schematic for the preferred alignment.
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  • Permission for right of entry or other written evidence of permission must always be obtained before entering private property. See Task 20230: Obtain right of entry.


Resource Material.

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40110: Locate existing utilities

Description. This task involves physically locating, marking, and surveying the physical features of utilities. If utility maps are not available, knowledge and survey of the aboveground structure types can indicate the complexity.

This task identifies utilities specifically and determines elevations as well as horizontal positions. Examples might include manhole covers, gas pipes, overhead lines, and fiber-optic cables. There are standard location methods and newer technologies used for underground utility locating survey, such as subsurface utility engineering (SUE), metal detection (MD), ground-penetrating radar (GPR), and electromagnetic line location (EMLL). Topographic surveys may be adequate for project locations with few underground utilities (i.e., in rural areas).

Undocumented utilities may have been installed without a record of their location. EMLL or GPR should be used to mark locations on the ground followed by invasive potholing or excavation to determine the utility type. GPR can detect non-metallic targets without tracer wire.

Within the public right of way, a department employee or a contractor working under contract with the Texas Department of Transportation are not required to place a “locate request” through One‑Call Board of Texas (OCB) prior to excavation work. Outside of right of way, a 48-hour notice to the One‑Call system is required.

SUE is an established method with large cost benefits on individual projects. SUE may be needed in urban areas, critical locations along a rural project, or locations near a Class A underground facility that is used to store, produce, transmit, or distribute electrical energy, gases, petroleum products, steam, or any telecommunications transmission.

SUE is a non-destructive utility investigation to accurately locate, identify, and map underground utilities. It is an interdisciplinary service, involving professional engineers, geologists, and licensed land surveyors. They can provide comprehensive and reliable information in the format of the client’s choosing. SUE is a professional service resulting in signed and sealed deliverables.

See Subsurface Utility Engineering (SUE) at the end of Section 1 for the five major SUE activities: scope of work, designating, locating, data management, and conflict analysis. Four SUE Quality Levels (QL-A, QL-B, QL-C, and QL-D) are summarized.

Pertinent Project Types. Projects with potential utility conflicts

Responsible Party. Project manager and Regional ROW Project Delivery Workforce


For topographic surveying:

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  • Coordinate with District ROW Survey and Utility Coordinators.
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  • Locate, log, and survey visible features of utilities.
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  • To confirm and survey locations of strategic subsurface features, it may be necessary to “pothole” or excavate down to the utility after using MD, GPR, or EMLL.
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  • Mark and label locations of subsurface utilities on the ground with stakes, laths, or other means.
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  • Survey utility locations.
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  • Consult with the District ROW Utility Coordinator to determine the need for SUE.
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  • Contact the Contract Services Office to prepare a work authorization for the SUE engineering services.

Helpful Suggestions.

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  • Prepare utility and survey data in appropriate format (i.e., electronic, MicroStation, ArcGIS, EOPAK, etc.).
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  • Develop a list of all utilities to monitor their status.
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  • Obtain department engineering and survey services information from Contracts and Purchasing Division - Contract Services office.
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  • Carefully assess the costs for SUE versus its benefits. For some projects, costs for SUE can be relatively small compared to overall savings.
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  • Work closely with utility owners. They will often supply copies of maps and as-built construction plans, and also do the potholing. It is in their interest to avoid relocating the utility and avoid damage by construction activities.
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  • Typically, utility owners are responsible for relocating their own facilities at their own expense; therefore, it is advisable to meet with and inform utility owners of the proposed construction and potential for conflicts early in the planning phase. Smaller utility owners may not be able to budget for relocations without extensive notice. See Task 40400: Coordinate utility adjustment plans.
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  • Manhole covers and other obstructions may need to be adjusted for resurfacing projects.

Critical Sequencing.

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  • While developing preliminary or geometric schematics, there may be times when it is preferable to obtain some of the utility location data (i.e., for potentially very costly conflicts). Otherwise, most of this data is collected before beginning detailed design.
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  • Utility data is needed before establishing final alignments of the roadway and related features (e.g., storm drains, other excavation work) so that the roadway design engineer may avoid or design around some conflicts.


Resource Material.

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Subsurface Utility Engineering (SUE)

SUE providers should be competent and knowledgeable, experienced, insured, timely, and have the equipment and financial capacity to provide the service. Software systems should be compatible with those of the department. Major activities involved in SUE are:

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  • Scope of Work: A project-specific work plan for scope of work, level of service vs. risk allocation, schedule, and delivery method. SUE provider and project sponsor agree on work plan describing the SUE work to be performed.
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  • Designating: Surface geophysical techniques to determine the existence and horizontal position of subsurface utilities. Above ground surface markers (stakes, flags, etc.) or on the ground surface marking (paint) mark the location.
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  • Locating: Process of exposing precise horizontal and vertical position, size, and configuration of subsurface utilities.
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  • Data Management: Process of locating, surveying, and designating information and transferring it into project GIS files, plans, or CAD system.
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  • Conflict Analysis: Using a conflict matrix to do an engineering evaluation and compare designating information with proposed plans to inform all stakeholders of potential conflicts, possible resolutions, and costs to resolve.
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  • Quality Level D (QL-D). The most basic level of information. It comes from existing utility records or oral recollections. Its usefulness should be confined to project planning and route selection activities.
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  • Quality Level C (QL-C). It involves surveying visible aboveground utility facilities, such as manholes, valve boxes, posts, etc., and correlating this information to Quality Level D. Its usefulness should be confined to rural projects where utilities are not prevalent, or are not too expensive to repair or relocate.
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  • Quality Level B (QL-B). Using appropriate surface geophysical methods to determine the existence and approximate horizontal position of subsurface utilities. This two-dimensional horizontal mapping information is usually sufficient to accomplish preliminary engineering goals. Decisions can be made on where to place storm drainage systems and other design features in order to avoid conflicts with existing utilities. Slight adjustments in the design can produce substantial cost savings by eliminating utility relocations.
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  • Quality Level A (QL-A). Precise vertical and horizontal location of subsurface utilities obtained by exposure and subsequent measurement, usually at a specific point. Information provides the highest level of accuracy presently available. When surveyed and mapped, precise plan and profile information is available for use in making final design decisions. The use of nondestructive digging equipment, particularly vacuum excavation, eliminates damage to underground utility facilities traditionally caused by backhoes.
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