Third-party Utility Coordination
Title: Third-party Utility Coordination
Phase: Design, Construction
Date: August 2023
Description of Tempe Streetcar Project – Valley Metro (VM) is responsible for the development and operation of the Phoenix region’s light rail transit (LRT) and streetcar system. The initial 20-mile LRT line opened in December 2008 and has since been expanded to 28 miles. Two (2) additional LRT expansions totaling 7 miles are in the construction phase. VM and the City of Tempe initiated construction on the Tempe Streetcar Project (TSC) in June 2017 and opened the TSC to revenue service in May 2022. VM received FTA participation in the amount of $75.0 million through a Small Starts Grant Agreement (SSGA) to construct the TSC. The total project budget for the TSC is $192.4 million.
The TSC is 3.0 miles in length from the first station on Rio Salado Parkway to the last station on Apache Boulevard and includes 3.6 miles of single and double track located at-grade in the medians and the outside lanes of existing streets. Six (6) 112-passenger streetcars serve the route, operating in a combination of exclusive guideway and mixed traffic flow. The TSC intersects the existing LRT network at two (2) locations along the streetcar alignment where patrons may ingress and egress the LRT and streetcar networks. A portion of the TSC runs off-wire and operates using on-board batteries. Fourteen (14) stations have been constructed and are similar to Valley Metro bus stops. Station amenities include a shelter, level boarding platform, lighting, trash receptacle, map, advertising panel and public art. The TSC links Tempe Town Lake, Downtown Tempe, several destinations around Arizona State University’s (ASU) campus and existing and future employment and activity centers. The City of Tempe is very transit-oriented, in part due to Arizona State University student ridership. The City is also home to various sporting and cultural events held throughout the year.
Valley Metro Responsibility for 3rd Party Utility Relocations – The State of Arizona has placed the financial responsibility on Valley Metro, and ultimately the transit project itself, for the relocation of utilities conducted on transit projects. That requirement applies even if the utility provider does not have established prior rights. The cost of designing the relocation is also the responsibility of VM and the transit project. Per legislation enacted by the State of Arizona, Utility providers include public service corporations, agricultural improvement districts, licensed cable television systems, telephone line or telegraph line corporations or persons engaged in the generation, transmission or delivery of electricity, natural gas, telephone, cable television, telegraph or water services, including any political subdivision or agency of the State of Arizona.
2. Lessons Learned
Early coordination - VM’s preferred project delivery method on its major transit projects is the Construction Manager at Risk (CMAR) method. That method allows VM to engage the CMAR contractor early in the design effort which has helped in coordinating designs and in prioritizing utility relocations. VM also coordinates with its CMAR and utility providers to conduct advance potholing during design to verify utility locations and depths.
VM recommends initiating coordination efforts with party utility providers at the 30% design milestone and having utility providers begin their relocation design when the alignment is at the 60% completion level. VM closely coordinates the utility relocation design with utility providers so any needed design changes to the utility provider’s design can be made early. VM’s goal is to coordinate the design efforts so the utility relocation design is complete when Issued for Construction (IFC) plans are ready to be issued.
Master Agreements – In order to define working relationships between VM and utility providers, VM has entered into master agreements with each utility provider to define general roles and responsibilities of each party. The master agreements provide for work orders to be executed on each project to further define the scope and estimated cost of the relocation. The cost estimate prepared by the utility provider is reviewed by VM for reasonableness. Master agreements require utility providers to comply with FTA Buy America requirements/guidance. VM finds that execution of master agreements with utility providers is beneficial in establishing the responsibilities of each party and in streamlining the utility relocation process. VM’s procedure of issuing subsequent individual work orders to define the specific work scope and estimated cost has also been successful.
Frequent Coordination – VM does not have the ability to place schedule completion requirements for utility relocations within the master agreements or work orders, thus, VM has found that frequent coordination between VM’s project teams and utility providers during the design phase and throughout construction is critical to minimize construction and relocation delays. Coordination meetings are regularly held for each project and target completion dates for utility relocations are established and tracked within the coordination meetings. VM has found that complex projects typically require more frequent coordination. Weekly meetings have worked well.
Use of Construction Phasing/VM Contractor – VM has encountered requests for compensation related to 3rd party delays from some of its construction contractors on its transit projects that resulted from schedule delays by 3rd party utility providers. VM has considered separating its future construction projects into a utility relocation phase and a construction phase to minimize the potential for schedule delay claims. VM expressed uncertainty whether this approach would accelerate the overall construction project and result in an earlier RSD.
VM is also discussing with utility providers the potential use of VM contractors to perform relocation work in lieu of utility providers using their own contractors. The advantage to VM in taking on that role is more efficient scheduling and less cost risk to VM. Historically, utility providers on VM transit projects have been reluctant to allow VM’s contractor to perform the relocation work. Areas where utility providers have allowed limited approval thus far have been in trenching and conduit placement.
These lessons can be beneficial to those transit agencies that engage with utility providers on utility relocation work.
- Valley Metro
Brian Mason, P.E., Project Manager