As transportation projects go from idea to implementation they must go through a series of steps called the project development process. A basic overview of the process is shown below.
Overview of the basic Project Development Process
The first step of the project development process, a planning study, begins with a comprehensive evaluation of the existing and expected future transportation issues. Next, a set of alternatives is developed and screened based on a set of evaluation criteria established through an extensive public outreach effort. The study concludes with a set of recommendations to address the identified transportation issues. Many Massachusetts transportation agencies conduct these studies, including the MassDOT, the MassDOT Highway Division, the MBTA, MassPort, and the Metropolitan Planning Organizations.
In the second step of the project development process, the recommendations of the Planning Study are brought through the necessary permitting processes in an environmental study. Depending on the location and scale of the project, it may require permits at the local, state and/or federal level before it proceeds. The most common and comprehensive permitting processes are those of the Massachusetts Environmental Protection Act (MEPA)
and the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA)
. Each of these processes requires a project to avoid, minimize and/or mitigate its impacts on environmental, cultural, and historical resources. The output of the Environmental Study is a preliminary design for the project (commonly called 25% Design for roadway projects and 30% design for MBTA projects).
Once a project has been completed preliminary design, the project proponents -- the Town, MassDOT, the MBTA, or the RTA -- need to identify funding for the project. Commonly this is done through the MPO process which is described here
. Proponents may also apply funding from other federal or state grant programs. Examples of such programs include the MassWorks Infrastructure Program administered by the Massachusetts Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development and the former Transportation Investments Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant program administered by the U.S. DOT.
With funding in place, the next phase of project development is the final design. During this phase of the project the final layout of the project and the design details are determined. In addition to the necessary plans, project proponents must also prepare final specifications and estimates. The final plans, specifications, and estimates must be submitted for review by the appropriate MassDOT Division and approved. The product of this step is the Final Designs (commonly called the 100% design for both roadway and transit projects).
The final step of the project development process is implementation of the project. During this phase, the project or service is advertised for bidding, a contract is awarded and the improvements are constructed under the supervision of the responsible MassDOT division.
Special Notes on Roadway Projects
For roadway projects there is an established project initiation process outlined in the MassDOT Highway Division Project Development Guidebook. A city or town must contact the appropriate MassDOT District Office and submit a Project Needs Form (PNF) to initiate the process. Assuming the District and the community agree on the merits of the project, the district then submits a Project Initiation Form (PIF) to MassDOT’s Project Review Committee (PRC) for a determination of funding eligibility and project feasibility. If the project is approved by the PRC, it is entered into MassDOT’s internal project information system (ProjectInfo) and assigned to a project manager.
For most roadway projects, the city or town is responsible for funding and overseeing all facets of the design process, including acquisition of any necessary right-of-way. The project manager works with the community and the design consultant to shepherd the project through the process. Typical milestones in the design process include: submission and approval of the 25% design plans, a public hearing on the 25% design, submission and approval of the 75% design plans, submission and approval of the 100% design plans, and preparation of the plans, specifications and estimates (PSE). Concurrent with this process, right-of-way must be acquired and environmental requirements must be satisfied. Other roadway projects and most bridge projects are initiated by the MassDOT Highway Division. These projects are often identified through one of Department’s ongoing management systems. The Bridge Management System, the Safety Management System, the Congestion Management System, and the Pavement Management System periodically monitor roadway facilities to estimate current or future construction needs. Projects may also be identified through planning or corridor studies. Regardless of their genesis, these projects go through the design process discussed above. However, typically, for these projects, the MassDOT Highway Division oversees all facets of the design process, including the acquisition of any necessary right-of-way.
Special Notes on MBTA Projects
The primary project development process for the MBTA is their Capital Investment Program (CIP) which is a guide to the MBTA’s five-year capital budget. The CIP is a strategic planning document that authorizes funds over a five-year period to meet the MBTA’s operational objectives within its financial capacity. The document describes the MBTA’s infrastructure and the capital needs to maintain the system, outlines ongoing and programmed capital projects, and details planned projects to expand the transportation network.