Chapter 4: Right of Way Utilities

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Section 1: Right of Way and Utility Data Collection

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This section describes determining existing 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, district right of way (ROW) section, and land surveyor coordinate the work described in this section.

Above-ground and underground utility location information may need to be obtained. Above-ground utility information may be obtained by standard land surveying methods.

Underground utility locations may be determined by conventional survey methods or by Subsurface Utility Engineering (SUE). Information is available under Task 4200: Locate existing utilities. SUE is an engineering process that uses new and existing technologies to accurately identify, characterize, and map underground utilities.

This section includes the following tasks:

4000. Perform preliminary right of way research

2180. Obtain information on existing utilities

4200. Locate existing utilities

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4000: 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.

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


  • Coordinate this work with the district right of way office and identify information needed.
  • Establish existing ROW.
  • Research abutting property ownership.

Helpful Suggestions.

  • Identify property owners as soon as possible in the preliminary design phase of project development.
  • Identify property interests owned by members of the Texas Legislature. These interests must be acquired by condemnation.
  • As the project develops, identification of the rights that individuals, or entities, have in property ownership becomes important. For example, a utility owner 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).
  • If needed, perform a field survey (see 2240: Perform other surveys) of existing ROW limits. This may be useful in developing schematics for projects in urban areas with limited ROW.

Critical Sequencing.

  • This work should be done before developing a schematic on the preferred alignment.
  • Permission for right of entry (see 2150: Obtain right of entry) or other written evidence of permission must always be obtained before entering private property.

Authority Requirements. Article 3, Section 18 of the Texas Constitution

Resource Material. TxDOT Right of Way Collection.

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4200: Locate existing utilities

Description. This task involves physically locating, marking, and surveying the physical features of utilities. Topographic surveys may be adequate for project locations with few underground utilities (i.e., in rural areas). However, in urban areas or critical locations along a rural project, subsurface utility engineering (SUE) may be needed.

Some utility features could have been included in the topographic survey (see 2230: Perform topographic surveys), but 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.

Subsurface Utility Engineering (SUE) is the non-destructive process of accurately locating, identifying, and mapping underground utilities. SUE 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.

The three major activities; designating, locating, and data management involved in SUE and the four quality levels; A, B, C & D of utility data are described at the end of this task summary. (See Information on Subsurface Utility Engineering (SUE) within this task).

Pertinent Project Types. Projects with potential utility conflicts

Responsible Party. Project manager


  • Call (800) DIG-TESS before any digging is performed
  • For topographic surveying:
    • Coordinate with district land surveyor and district utility coordinator.
    • Locate, log, and survey visible features of utilities.
    • To confirm and survey locations of strategic subsurface features, it may be necessary to “pothole” or excavate down to the utility.
    • Mark and label locations of subsurface utilities with stakes, laths, or other means.
    • Survey utility locations.
  • For SUE:
    • Consult with the district utility coordinator to determine the need for SUE.
    • Develop and execute a work order for the SUE investigation with assistance from the district utility coordinator. Utility Coordination/SUE contracts are professional services contracts and must be coordinated through the Design Division.

Helpful Suggestions.

  • Prepare utility and survey data in appropriate format (e.g., electronic CADD drawing). Develop a list of all utilities to monitor their status.
  • Carefully assess the costs for SUE versus its benefits. The costs for SUE can be relatively small compared to overall savings. It has been estimated that for every $1 spent for SUE, total project savings approach $15.
  • 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.
  • Typically, utility owners are responsible for relocating their own facilities at their own expense. Therefore, it is advisable to inform utility owners (see 4610: Coordinate utility adjustment plans of the proposed construction and potential for conflicts as soon as possible. Smaller utility owners may not be able to budget for relocations without extensive notice.
  • Manhole covers and other obstructions may need to be adjusted for resurfacing projects.

Critical Sequencing.

  • 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.
  • 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.

Authority Requirements.

Resource Material.

  • TxDOT Utility Manual
  • Subsurface Utility Engineering, USDOT, FHWA, Office of Engineering, Federal-Aid & Design Division, Federal-Aid Program Branch, November 1995
  • Subsurface Utility Engineering, An Engineering Process for Obtaining Reliable Underground Utility Information – A Paper by C. Paul Scott, P.E., Office of Engineering, Federal Highway Administration, March 1998
  • Subsurface Utility Engineering – A New Standard of Care, American Society of Civil Engineers, National Standards Activity
  • TxDOT Contract Management Manual, Chapter 13, Engineering, Surveying, and Architectural Negotiated Contracts.
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Information on Subsurface Utility Engineering (SUE)

The three major activities involved in SUE are:

  • Designating – the use of surface geophysical techniques to determine the existence and horizontal position of underground utilities. Designating can be done with electromagnetics, magnetometers, terrain conductivity meters, resonant sonics, and other geophysical designating equipment.
  • Locating – the use of non-destructive digging equipment (such as vacuum excavation) at critical points along a subsurface utility’s path to determine the precise horizontal and vertical position, the size, the composition, and the condition of buried utilities.
  • Data Management – the acquisition of utility-location data by conventional and high-tech surveying methods and the reduction and documentation of the data in a format suitable to the client. This may be in the form of a set of plans or an electronic CADD format.

Four “quality levels” of data are described below. Work done for each level includes work done in lower levels. For example, work done in level B includes work done in C and D.

  • Quality Level A information provides the highest level of accuracy presently available. It involves locating (described above) utilities at critical points. When surveyed and mapped, precise plan and profile information is available for use in making final design decisions. The use of non-destructive digging equipment, particularly vacuum excavation, eliminates damage to underground utility facilities traditionally caused by backhoes. By knowing exactly where a utility is positioned, the designer can often make small adjustments in design elevations or horizontal locations and avoid the need to relocate utilities.
  • Quality Level B involves designating (described above) the horizontal position of almost all utilities within the project limits. The information obtained in this manner is surveyed to project control. 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.
  • Quality Level C information is a little less accurate than B. It involves surveying visible above ground utility facilities, such as manholes, valve boxes, posts, etc., and correlating this information with existing utility records. When using this information it is not unusual to find that many underground utilities have been either omitted or erroneously plotted on utility records. Its usefulness, therefore, should be confined to rural projects where utilities are not prevalent, or are not too expensive to repair or relocate.
  • Quality Level D is the most basic level of information. It comes solely from existing utility records. It may provide an overall understanding for the congestion of utilities, but it is often highly limited in terms of comprehensiveness and accuracy. Its usefulness should be confined to project planning and route selection activities.
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