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How Road Construction is Planned & Implemented in the U.S.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012 By: admin

Planning and building something as small as a single-family home takes coordination between so many people, from the homeowner to the architect to the local governments regulating the permits and the contractors involved in actual construction. How much more complex, then, do you think are the planning and construction of interstate highway systems and local roadways? Certain projects can take several years just in the planning and project development phases alone. To give you an idea of the complexity, timing and scheduling involved, let’s go over the steps that every road construction process has to go through.


During the planning phase, the original needs of a specific road construction project are developed at the state or local level. Structures are identified which may need repair or upgrading. Existing roads are identified for expansion or redesign. Safety or congestion problems are identified with existing highways or roads. Any projected problems, needs or concerns are identified and defined in detail during the planning phase, though plans will need to be open to revision as more information becomes available during the development, design and even construction phases of development.

Involving the community is essential in any project because the decisions made in the planning phase need to be informed by how the project will affect safety, health and physical beauty of the surrounding area and community.

Proper planning, to a large extent, determines much of the flexibility and options available to designers during the detailed design phase later on. The planning phase is also an opportunity to avoid obvious pitfalls and conflicts that could delay the project in later phases.

Project Development

Environmental impact is determined, including any necessary Environmental Impact Statements are developed, possibly requiring months or even years of study to determine the impact of a specific road project. Effects on the landscape, including the historical and cultural nature of the surrounding area, will also be studied during this phase.

The major design features are laid out and the overall requirements of the project are further refined and defined. Alternatives are developed in order to address budget concerns or input from the community, including businesses, residents and other stakeholders who should still be involved at this stage.

Detailed Design

After the preliminary planning and project development have produced agreed upon parameters and requirements for the project, the detailed design phase can begin work on a complete set of plans, specifications and estimates required to complete the project. In this phase, the exact amount of materials, construction services, safety equipment and logistical scheduling for the project are defined in detail.

Communication is essential between designers and planners during this phase to iron out implementation conflicts and make changes to the original concept if needed. Often, information and details arise during in the fine details of engineering such a project that simply aren’t obvious during the broader planning and development phases.

Right-of-Way Acquisition

Once the planning and design phases have generated a legitimately detailed set of plans and specifications, right-of-way needs to be purchased in order to secure the real estate necessary for the project. This can include, not just the necessary land for the project itself, but for staging areas and other space that must be used during the construction phase. Watershed areas and other land affecting or affected by the project must be acquired as well.


When construction finally begins, it usually follows a strict schedule, requiring heavy coordination between all contractors and project managers on the project. During construction, practical challenges may arise that require input from designers and project developers. Weather and other unforeseen circumstances may cause delays or damage to construction sites that may compromise safety or at least postpone certain construction phases.


Even after construction of the project is completed, procedures and guidelines need to be established for the maintenance of the new roadways. Special design elements may need to be held in supply should they be damaged by car accidents or by natural elements.

Even though all of these phases of road planning and development may seem distinct and separate, there is actually quite a bit of overlap between each phase, and the decisions made early on in the process can often have far-reaching affects throughout the rest of a construction project. It’s essential to not simply think of this process as divided into discrete steps, but as a collection of phases that overlap with and inform one another, giving feedback where needed to ensure that the project finishes on time, on budget and with the most positive impact on the surrounding community.

Written by Nick Morales.

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