First published on December 5, 2012

Counties typically require an agreement with developers of large energy projects prior to hauling on roads impacted by heavy loads. The surface of a road does not tell the complete story of its overall condition, nor does a county’s ordinance plan always adequately outline the process for completing a Road Maintenance Agreement (RMA). The process to complete a RMA can be smooth or bumpy with unexpected turns, but with the help of a few engineering studies, energy developers can have the tools that they need to negotiate a fair and cost-effective agreement.

An engineer’s process begins with a visual review and categorization of the existing roads and culverts. This information is used for the preliminary design and project layout. Once the preliminary design is complete, a nondestructive geotechnical study consisting of Falling Weight Deflectometer (FWD), Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR), and shallow soil borings is conducted. This testing will show the complete picture of the existing road section, which is then used to determine its actual condition prior to construction. The resulting information, along with an analysis of the project’s estimated traffic loading, is used to estimate the project’s impacts to the road. Whether the road should be upgraded prior to construction, after construction, or not all, is a determination made on a road-by-road basis and the tool for negotiations with the county prior to construction.

Often times, initial RMA negotiations begin with seemingly unreasonable requests by the county to upgrade all of the roads at the developer’s expense.  Armed with the engineering studies and a plan for development, a more equitable approach can typically be negotiated. For example, roads that need to be upgraded prior to construction are often exempt from additional fees assuming that the post construction condition will be an improvement. Roads that require upgrading after construction are often returned to the preconstruction condition, as determined by the engineer’s road study, rather than to a new county road standard. And finally, fees for the use of roads that do not require upgrades can be negotiated based on the life removed from the road as determined by the engineering road studies.

The completion of a RMA does not need to be a road block and should not delay project construction.  By completing a couple of engineering studies, the developer can have the information needed to successfully navigate the process and ensure that both the county and developer are satisfied at the end of the project.