Roadway infrastructure, particularly large, multilane highways which bisect natural areas, create a significant barrier for wildlife movement and often result in vehicular/ animal collisions, causing wildlife injury and death, vehicular damage, accident-related congestion, and in some cases motorist injury and death. Implementation of novel or creative solutions to facilitate wildlife movement requires a focus on ecological needs and design, but as I will discuss in this presentation, creative solutions also depend on the approval processes through State Departments of Transportation (DOTs). Approving projects within State DOTs jurisdictions requires a thorough understanding of the DOT approval processes, design standards, and constructability. While approval processes vary state to state, a focus on California’s DOT (Caltrans) approval process illuminates the full gamut of approval process needs, as Caltrans has one of the more stringent and lengthy processes for project approvals. Caltrans process requires the sequential approval of a project Scoping Document (Project Initiation Document), Project Approval & Environmental Document, and Plans, Specifications, and Estimate in order to construct improvements within the State right of way. Approval of projects within the Caltrans system requires adherence to California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and, in many cases, National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requirements. In addition, improvements within Caltrans right of way requires adherence to Caltrans design requirements and standard plans. Issues such as shoulder and lane width, horizontal and vertical clearance, sight distance, drainage design, bridge structure type, concrete median barriers, and other design features must meet Caltrans standards or the project team must justify the use of non-standard designs and gain approval therefore. In this discussion, I will explore the overall Caltrans project development process and identify where other States’ processes differ or are consistent with Caltrans’ process. Some states have their own environmental quality regulations (Washington), while other states also include development of scoping documents (South Carolina). I will discuss strategies for accelerating the process through local project sponsorship, environmental clearance strategy, and design “at-risk.” I will also discuss the hierarchy of design standards and standard plans and how a thorough understanding of the design standards (and reasons for the standards) can enable creative design solutions to be developed which both meet standards and achieve project objectives. Finally, I will discuss the need for thorough constructability analysis to be conducted throughout the project development process, from identification of potential design locations, design types, environmental clearance, and final design. Bringing more than 25 years of practical project delivery experience on a wide range of projects, I will explore how the project approval process on the State highway system process can be successfully navigated to meet the project objectives and be approved through Caltrans and other State DOTs.
State Department of Transportation (DOT) Approval Process
Project Development Process