For years, we’ve been working with our public agency clients during the environmental and design-phase to minimize right-of-way impacts with new infrastructure projects. Yet for many agencies, property acquisitions are an afterthought, as the costs of construction and environmental impacts headline agencies’ concerns. That thought process is slowly beginning to change, as agencies are starting to recognize that right-of-way acquisition can significantly delay projects, resulting in construction delay claims, change orders, loss of project funding, and in extreme cases, prevent the project from being built. Moreover, acquiring private property is a sensitive subject and is one many Board members would prefer to avoid if possible.
As an example of this paradigm shift, an article from the Orange County Register, New alternative for widening 55 freeway reduces right-of-way impact, demonstrates the new focus on minimizing property acquisitions and the benefits such planning can provide. The article reports that OCTA has decided to move forward with a new build option for the 55 freeway widening which would minimize property acquisitions by reducing the standard shoulder and lane widths. OCTA board member Lisa Bartlett called the new alternative “genius” for creating additional traffic flow without taking away too much right-of-way:
I really think this is a much better project. We get one shot in this corridor to make improvements for greater throughput. Construction on the project will be done in one time, not in multiple years in multiple projects.”
While other alternatives exist and are still being evaluated, we should be encouraged that agencies such as OCTA are looking more closely at right of way impacts along with the other major project issues they face during the environmental review and design phases. Indeed, looking for alternatives to minimize property acquisitions could lead to significant savings and also assist in keeping projects on schedule. While not all such efforts will lead to any actual decrease in right of way impacts — environmental concerns and construction costs will also continue to be drivers in the design process — we nonetheless hope that in the future, more agencies will focus additional attention on right of way impacts early in the planning process.