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Perspectives on the Partnership

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Municipal Project Guide

A quality project requires a successful partnership between the Municipality, MassDOT and the Municipality's Design Consultant. Through this partnership, a combination of local, state and federal funds can be used to plan, design and construct significant transportation improvement projects on locally owned roadways.

In many instances, the Municipality needs to bear the cost of a project's planning and design. Municipalities can fund the design phase of a project using local funds, Chapter 90 funds, or other funds that may be available. At some point in the planning and design process, the services of a Design Consultant most likely will be needed by the Municipality. The result is a three-way project partnership consisting of the Municipality, its Design Consultant, and MassDOT. It is through this collaboration that successful transportation improvement projects are realized.

As in any partnership, it is important to understand the roles of each member of the partnership and the relationships between them. Key aspects of roles are as follows:


MassDOT is the partner that guides and assists a Municipality by discussing the planning, design and construction process with municipal officials for state or federally funded projects. For federally funded projects, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) requires that MassDOT review the design of the project and oversee the construction process.

MassDOT's role includes reviewing and approving design and environmental documents, advertising the project for competitive contractor bids, awarding the construction contract and overseeing the work of the construction contractor. Because these projects must be designed and built in conformance with applicable state and federal design standards, the design process includes various design submittals to MassDOT for review and comment prior to advertising for construction.


The Municipality is the partner with the need for the improvements. It must initiate the project and be an active proponent seeking project funding and inclusion on the State's Transportation Improvement Program (TIP). This initiation includes communications/requests to the Regional Planning Agencies (RPAs), the Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) and MassDOT. More importantly, it includes defining what the project is and what the construction costs are likely to be. These are important because MassDOT needs to know what it is agreeing to do and why it needs to be done.

The Municipality needs to develop the project and be responsible for acquiring right-of-way, garnering the necessary community support, and preparing the design plans and associated environmental documents. It may choose to do this with in-house staff but in many instances the Municipality will seek the services of a qualified Design Consultant. The Municipality will be responsible for selecting, engaging and bearing the cost of the Design Consultant services. The selection of a consultant is an important action by the Municipality as the Design Consultant will become a key member of the partnership. It is important to the success of the project that this solicitation and engagement process be a Qualifications Based Selection (QBS). QBS is the established procurement practice adopted by the federal government and most state agencies, including MassDOT. There are specific benefits to be gained by the Municipality from using a QBS process. They are as follows:

  • QBS facilitates selection of the most qualified firm for the project.
  • QBS avoids a forced relationship with a consultant that can result from using a lowest bid approach.
  • QBS allows designs to be completed in the most competent and cost-effective manner.
  • QBS allows for a detailed statement of the scope of services along with a justification for the fee prior to commitment.
  • QBS allows the scope of services to be tailored to meet all project objectives.
Design Consultant

The Design Consultant selected by the Municipality needs to be familiar with the policies, practices and protocols of MassDOT. To help assure this, MassDOT requires that the Design Consultant be prequalified by MassDOT in the specific disciplines for the project.

The Design Consultant's role is to address the technical deficiencies of the transportation infrastructure, incorporate (to the degree possible) the objectives of the Municipality, develop the project in accordance with the procedures and accepted standards of MassDOT and provide advice to MassDOT and the Municipality during construction. The Municipality must recognize that MassDOT requirements need to be met and that the Design Consultant's scope of services will depend on the specific needs of the project.

Design Consultants strive to develop reasonable scopes of services, prepare the schedule for performing the services including time for right-of-way plans and environmental permitting, and estimate the fees for professional services based upon the available information. However, the Municipality needs to recognize that some design-related requirements of the project may not be known until later in the design process. Items dealing with public or abutter concerns, subsurface conditions, the environmental review process, utility coordination, right-of-way acquisition, or updates in design standards or funding requirements may arise as the project becomes better defined. Project modifications to reflect these unknown items may occur through the course of the project and may result in the need for additional design services and fees and may have an impact on the project's schedule. These modifications can be minimized by understanding and following the process outlined in the next section.

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