How a Road Gets Built
How a Road Gets Built
Extensive long-term planning goes into the building of each North Carolina highway. As the first major step in the process, the NCDOT Transportation Planning Branch assists Metropolitan Planning Organizations, small urban areas and counties across North Carolina in the development of comprehensive transportation plans, which outline transportation priorities for the next 20-25 years based on future land use, employment and population changes in an area. An environmental screening takes place during this process to ensure that the plan considers important environmental resources. The final plan includes short- and long-term recommendations for improvements to the overall transportation system.
Each comprehensive transportation plan is mutually adopted by its respective Metropolitan Planning Organization or local government and NCDOT, and becomes the blueprint for transportation infrastructure improvements in that area.
The transportation needs identified through the development of the comprehensive transportation plan are prioritized by each local planning organization and presented to the N.C. Board of Transportation for programming during the biannual update of the State Transportation Improvement Program. The STIP is a seven-year outline of the state’s transportation priorities.
Based on technical information, priorities from metropolitan and rural planning organizations and local governments, and public input, the Board of Transportation programs projects into the STIP every two years. To view the latest STIP, click here.
Before any road construction can begin, the Project Development and Environmental Analysis Branch, or PDEA, is responsible for the development and preparation of planning and environmental documents for all highway projects in the STIP.
PDEA staff evaluates proposed highway projects according to established engineering practices and guidelines set forth by federal and state laws and regulations. The process includes specialized environmental studies and coordination with the environmental regulatory agencies to ensure appropriate consideration is given to environmental matters. Specialists in such fields as noise and air quality, archaeology, architectural history, biology, land-use planning and sociology provide evaluations regarding the environmental impacts of proposed highway projects. The process also involves design and traffic engineering studies, which provide an analysis of highway alternatives to safely, efficiently and economically meet future travel demands.
Citizens are encouraged to participate in this process by attending informational workshops and hearings held to obtain public comment and input on proposed highway projects. Public input is evaluated and addressed during the development of highway improvements.
Information collected during the planning stages is used to determine the location and type of proposed highway to be constructed. In many instances, several alternatives will be studied. On the basis of citizen input obtained through public meetings, input from coordination with environmental agencies, and the use of available aerial photography mapping to obtain reliable information on the existing physical area and the environment, planners and designers select a highway location.
Design engineers prepare detailed plans for the highway within the selected location. These plans define the type of highway cross-section (two-lane or multi-lane), the width of right-of-way required, and the type of intersections and interchanges, as well as bridges, culverts and other drainage features.
Plans also identify the type of materials to be used and estimate the quantity of each material required to construct the highway. These technical plans allow preparation of contract documents and advertisements for contractors wishing to place bids. Contractors must meet criteria specified by NCDOT. The successful low bid is presented to the Board of Transportation for award.
Right-of-way is the process NCDOT goes through to obtain the land needed to complete highway projects. This is the last major activity to occur between the completion of design and the release of the project to bidders for construction.
In many cases, it is inevitable that a certain amount of private property must be acquired. The displacement of homes and businesses is minimized to the extent practicable. In the acquisition of right-of-way, the NCDOT must treat all property owners with impartiality, fully explain all legal rights, pay just compensation in exchange for property rights, furnish relocation assistance and initiate legal action should a settlement not be reached.
Once the road design is complete, bids are received for construction on the identified date and are publicly disclosed. The Board of Transportation awards the contract to the lowest responsible bidder. The bidder (private contractor) is then obligated to construct the project in accordance with plan requirements and specifications upon which the bid was received.
NCDOT staff in the Division of Highways administer the contract and provide inspection and testing functions to assure the project is properly constructed. An NCDOT resident engineer and his/her staff interpret plan details and contract requirements, test for quality, check for conformity with contractual requirements and document the quantity of work performed so the contractor can be paid on a monthly basis. The resident engineer and staff also make certain the environment is protected, manage traffic flow along the project, work with adjacent property owners, observe work zone safety and oversee coordination with state and federal agencies.
Once the project is complete, a final inspection is made by an engineer not involved in the project's construction to verify it has been completed properly. The highway is then opened to traffic.