Road Use Agreements: How to Reduce Risk Exposure
Written by: Jay Wetmore, Sr. Infrastructure and Transportation Advisor & David Wirt, Senior Project Manager
During the construction of wind and solar energy projects when oversized vehicles and high traffic volumes are present, there is an increased potential for damage to the surrounding local roads. The amount of damage done to the roads depends on many factors, including time of year, existing road conditions, strength of the underlying soils, and the amount of average daily traffic from construction vehicles. One tool that has been successfully implemented in some parts of the country to protect affected roads is the Road Use Agreement (RUA).
WHAT IS A ROAD USE AGREEMENT?
RUAs are formal agreements of responsibility between the project developer and/or contractor and the county or other authority having jurisdiction (AHJ). RUAs were first introduced for wind projects to mitigate the damage to public roads from oversized/overweight vehicles delivering turbine components and concrete to the site. Today, RUAs are also used for solar projects due to their increase in size and effect on local roads.
RUA implementation usually begins with geotechnical investigations, existing road condition evaluations, and structural evaluations of the roadway sections. Then, the results predicting the amount of damage that could be caused by each type of construction vehicle are applied to the proposed project construction traffic for each road segment. This allows the geotechnical engineers to make recommendations for improvements, maintenance, and repairs to return the road to “as good or better” condition at the end of project construction. These recommendations can range from pre-construction upgrades (such as additional aggregate, bituminous overlay, and cement stabilization) to post-construction road repairs. It is important to note that these recommendations are not binding. The contractor’s level of effort to restore the roads to “as good or better” condition depends on factors like weather and the time of year construction occurs.
HOW A ROAD USE AGREEMENT CAN REDUCE RISK
A well-executed RUA reduces the risk exposure for all parties, protects public infrastructure, and communicates the developer’s “good neighbor” policies. The execution of an RUA also provides an effective communication channel by setting objective standards backed by engineering. These standards can reduce risk by supporting:
Thorough road condition data that can be shared and understood by all parties.
The communication of all parties’ expectations.
The developer, contractor, and design engineer in gaining local knowledge and insight from the road authority.
A better understanding of the costs and level of effort required to assure the roads are adequate for construction deliveries and returned to the pre-construction condition, or better.
By evaluating the roads, culverts, and bridges before the start of construction, we can follow the cliché of, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” It is better to improve a road than risk an expensive and time-consuming subgrade failure. Responsibly following each step from evaluation to post-construction repairs can reduce risk exposure for everyone involved.
In the end, a clear plan of action (understanding there may be some probability of change as the site is optimized) is key to establishing collaborative lines of communication with all stakeholders working together to reduce risk exposure.
Westwood advises on the development of fair and objective Road Use Agreements when needed on renewable energy projects. This includes construction activity, preparation of a delivery flow plan, geotechnical recommendation for the road network, and documentation of drainage structures and other infrastructure. Reach out to Westwood for your next road evaluation.