Steps in a Road Project

We all tend to get impatient when things don't get done as fast as we think they should. If any level of government is involved, we tend to blame bureaucracy and bureaucratic red tape.

Road improvements sometimes take longer than we think they should, but sometimes that is simply due to all the complex steps involved in getting the project done. The following are some typical steps involved in RCOC road construction projects.

Project Concept Determination

A construction project doesn't just occur because somebody thought it was a good idea. Often a lot of background work has gone on.

For example, if it is a safety project, there has already been an extensive analysis of accident data and a possible field review of the location.

Funding Identification

Everyone operates within budgets of some type. If there are no funds available in the current budget for a project, then it may be delayed and included in next year's budget. If more than one agency is to participate, then several budgets may be affected. If federal funds are to be used (which is the case for most major RCOC projects), there is an application process that must be followed, and the project may have to compete against other projects around the state or county for those limited federal funds. If the project loses out, it may have to be delayed until more federal funds are available.

Preliminary Engineering

This is where the surveys are taken and the design work is completed. In Oakland County, this is not always as straight forward as one might expect, since some roads must be designed to wind safely around lakes and wetlands.

Alternative designs may have to be considered, and methods must be chosen to deal with adverse soils (muck, for instance), existing traffic and other special conditions.

Environmental Review

Depending on the size of the project and type of funding involved, documentation of the impact of the project on the environment may be required. If it is a very large federally funded project with significant impact, a full statement may have to be prepared with an official public hearing and federal review.

Public Hearings/Informational Meetings

Again, depending on the size and type of project, there may be either a public hearing or informational meeting to solicit comments and concerns and let the local residents and business people know what is being proposed.

Grade Inspection

If federal funds are involved, staff of the Federal Highway Administration will schedule an inspection of the site and review of the plans. They sometimes require changes to the plans, usually involving more design time and higher project costs.

Right of Way Acquisition

Once the design work is far enough along to indicate what additional land is required, personnel from the RCOC Right of Way Division begin negotiating with the adjacent property owners for the needed land. Independent appraisals may be required. If the property owner holds out for more money, action through condemnation procedures may be required.

​Tree Removal

The Road Commission for Oakland County (RCOC) will address trees on a case by case basis. The RCOC policy is to preserve as many trees as is possible. However, trees in the road right of way may be removed for a number of reasons.

Prior to a road construction project, RCOC may remove trees in the right of way for safety, drainage or road widening or if the tree is dead or dying. When it is determined that specific trees must be removed, they are typically removed during the months of October through late March so as not to negatively impact the Indiana Bat that is protected by the federal Endangered Species Act.

Indiana Bats tend to migrate south for the fall and winter months before returning north to mate in the spring. Because the bats sometimes nest in trees, removing or trimming trees during the winter lessens the potential impact on the species.

In addition, the Northern Long-Eared Bat is on the federal threatened species list and trees cannot be removed from June 1 through July 30 to protect that species. For more information, visit: Bat facts

Bid Letting

All projects are advertised for bids. Contractors bid on the work, and generally, the work is let to the lowest qualified bidder. Projects involving federal aid are bid by the Michigan Department of Transportation (per federal rules).   


The project could probably be built pretty fast if we could just close the road and turn the contractor loose. However, we are seldom able to do that. Most of the time, the project must be built while traffic continues to move through the area. Sometimes a temporary road must be built to handle the traffic while the construction of the main road is under way. All of this means time and additional money.

During construction, the Road Commission will be inspecting and testing materials being used. Obviously, weather can also delay the construction of the project. Keep the above in mind the next time you hear that a road is supposed to be improved, and it doesn't seem to happen quite as quickly as you expected.