Flowchart 3: Project development process NTP through PS&E approval

Full Flowchart

You can also dig more deeply into the separate pieces of the flowchart below.

When you are ready to begin a project, the first step is to notify CDOT. This must be done by the designated employee in responsible charge of the project for your agency. FHWA requires each local public agency to provide an "employee in responsible charge" for projects receiving federal funds; this includes projects that employ consultants.

This must be a full-time employee of the local agency, although he or she does not have to be an engineer or dedicated full time to a project. This person supervises all project administration activities and coordinates with CDOT based on the assignment of responsibilities.

Once CDOT has received the notification that you are ready to begin, it will take one to two weeks for CDOT to set the project up in its financial management system. CDOT will also ask you, as the subrecipient of a federal award (i.e., funds), to complete a self-risk assessment, which assists CDOT in complying with one of its requirements as an entity that passes through funds to local governments. CDOT is required to "evaluate each subrecipient's risk of noncompliance with Federal statutes, regulations, and the term and conditions of the subaward," as stated in 2 CFR 200.331(b).

Although rare, FHWA may designate your project as a project of division interest (PoDI). These projects are usually large and consequently tend to have an elevated risk, contain elements of higher risk, or present a meaningful opportunity for FHWA involvement to enhance meeting program or project objectives. If a local project is designated a PoDI, additional oversight activities will be required. Talk to your CDOT project manager or local agency coordinator, or check out FHWA's instructional videos for further information.

In order to prepare an intergovernmental agreement (IGA) for your project, you need to schedule an IGA scoping meeting. The purpose of this meeting is to assign responsibilities to CDOT and your agency (many of which can be delegated to consultants), review the project cost estimate and schedule, and refine the scope of construction as clearly as possible.

Check with your CDOT project manager regarding what information you need to gather for this meeting. Give yourself plenty of time to collect this information in advance. Note: Two of the best steps you can take to make your project successful are to be well prepared for this meeting and to have as thorough an understanding of the scope of construction as possible. The better sense you have of potential right of way, environmental and utility issues on your project—along with an understanding of the associated schedule and budget implications—the greater the likelihood your project will be completed on time and within budget.

A recommended best practice is to schedule this event to allow the person actually writing the contract to be present or attend virtually. In many cases, a solid draft of the IGA can actually be produced during the course of the meeting.

CDOT will prepare an intergovernmental agreement (IGA) detailing the responsibilities for the completion of the project. The agreement is developed in cooperation with your agency and covers all phases of project work for which funding is approved.

See Flowchart 1 for additional information on IGAs and Flowchart 2 for information on contracting with a design consultant. Flowchart 1 culminates in the execution of the IGA and issuance of a Notice to Proceed.

There are five FHWA-defined phases of a project: design, environmental, utilities, right of way, miscellaneous and construction.

These are less about the sequence of work and more about how federal funds are allocated to the elements of the project. A phase can be authorized by FHWA separately or in conjunction with other phases. For the purposes of this flowchart, the project development phase will encompass all five phases.

Project development includes project design requirements (typical sections, horizontal and vertical alignment, drainage, structures, pedestrian and bicycle features, landscaping, etc.); construction requirements; environmental issues and clearance; right of way needs and clearance; survey, utility and contract requirements and clearance; coordination with disciplines; permits, etc.

Project development can be done in-house or with consultant support. The final product of this phase is a complete set of plans, specifications and cost estimates.

Design-scoping review is an early, on-site review of a project prior to preliminary design. This enables development of a scope of work that will be consistent with the project planning and design characteristics.

The process establishes the objectives of a project, the identification of design standards, funding sources and the required resources necessary to complete a project. All projects, regardless of size, must use the scoping process. This meeting provides the information needed to develop an intergovernmental agreement (IGA) between CDOT and your agency.

It is recommended that your design scoping review meeting include the CDOT project manager and representatives from CDOT Right of Way, Environmental, Staff Bridge, Traffic and Utilities. The CDOT access coordinator should be included if an access impacts a CDOT facility. CDOT's Form 1048, Project Scoping/Clearance Record, includes a review list used to document the design scoping process, to monitor status toward PS&E approval, and to track final clearances prior to advertisement of a project.

See Flowchart 3A for more information on the design-scoping review meeting process. CDOT may also require a pre-survey conference prior to any survey activity taking place.

Involving the public throughout project development supports development of the most effective solution for the community. For your project, you can use CDOT's Public Participation Guidelines (Outreach Tools and Techniques on page 22), or your agency's guidelines for public involvement and information. It is in the best interest of the project and your agency to have a wide range of public involvement early in the project to identify community interests and potential issues.

When a significant number or proportion of the affected community needs information in a language other than English to participate in the process, you must provide notices of public meetings and project information in the other languages, and take any other reasonable steps—including providing an interpreter—appropriate for the scope of the program, and the size and concentration of the limited English proficiency population.

You should coordinate with CDOT to determine whether there are disproportionately adverse impacts to minority and low-income populations on your project. See Title VI Assurances provided in the resource section of this website, and for additional guidance, contact your CDOT project manager, or review the public participation guidelines in Chapter 7 of the CDOT NEPA Manual.

Once you have Notice to Proceed you will develop preliminary plans (30%) in conformance with federal, state and local design guidance to meet the stated objectives and scope of work in the IGA. Although it is not mandatory, depending on the period of time between the design-scoping meetings and notice to proceed, it is highly recommended that you hold a kickoff meeting with your consultant and CDOT staff.

Some of the more frequently used federal and state design guidelines include:

  • Code of Federal Regulations (23 CFR) plus FHWA/CDOT Stewardship Agreement
  • AASHTO A Policy on Geometric Design of Highways and Streets (aka Green Book) and Guide for Bike Facilities
  • Americans with Disabilities Act and Public Rights Of Way Accessibility Guidelines
  • CDOT Bridge, ROW, Drainage and Design Manuals(available in the resources section of this site)
  • AASHTO Standards (23 CFR 625.4)

Access CDOT design manuals.

You will submit the preliminary plans to CDOT's project manager for review, including review by appropriate CDOT specialty unit staff. If necessary, your engineer must prepare a Design Exception Variance Request (Form 464) and submit it to CDOT.

If your project is a bridge-replacement project, or includes a bridge, CDOT Staff Bridge will review the Structure Selection Report. If that is the case, it is recommended that you coordinate with Staff Bridge well before submitting 30% plans.

During CDOT's transition from paper to electronic documentation, please contact your CDOT project manager to determine whether electronic plans can be provided (the preferred approach), and if not, the number of plans CDOT needs for specialty staff involved in the review of your project. You should provide prints or an electronic copy of the plans to your CDOT project manager at least 14 calendar days, and preferably one month, prior to the plan-review meeting. After CDOT completes its review, it will schedule a field inspection review (FIR) meeting to review the 30% plans with CDOT staff and local agency staff.

A field inspection review (FIR) meeting is held to review the 30% plans, resolve issues identified during preliminary design, and establish the specific criteria and direction to be used in the final design. To prepare for the meeting, you should work with the CDOT project manager or local agency coordinator to develop an agenda for the meeting that includes all relevant topics, and invite the necessary CDOT and local agency staff.

The items to be reviewed may include, but are not limited to, the following disciplines:

  • Scoping and budgeting
  • Environmental
  • Traffic
  • Structures
  • Materials
  • Right of way
  • Utilities
  • Agreements, justifications and approvals status
  • Survey
  • Hydraulics
  • Others (including safety, maintenance, permitting, special reports)

If your project includes impacts to CDOT facilities, CDOT region traffic, maintenance, materials and other specialty areas may want to attend and participate in the design.

For additional information, see 2.17, "Field Inspection Review," of the CDOT Project Development Manual.

The field review is an optional visit to the project site and is typically performed to address unresolved design issues, or to understand changed field conditions compared to the 30% plans.

After the plan-review meeting and the optional field-review meeting, CDOT's project manager will prepare and distribute the minutes, noting any decisions and responses for all questions left unanswered at the plan-review meeting.

The scope of the work should not change significantly after the 30% plan-review (FIR) meeting. If it does, it may impact environmental, ROW, utility processes and others.

The need for additional right of way (ROW) on a project is the most likely cause of major delays and should be considered a critical path item in your schedule. Any ROW needed in connection with your project must be acquired in compliance with the Federal Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Property Acquisition Policies Act of 1970, commonly called the Uniform Act.

The Uniform Act applies when federal dollars are utilized in any phase of the project. The Uniform Act applies even when federal dollars are not used specifically for property acquisition or relocation activities, but are used elsewhere in the project, such as during planning, environmental assessments or construction.

The Uniform Act also applies when ROW is acquired for projects that modify state highways where no federal dollars are used in any phase (100 percent locally funded projects). Essentially, any connection to federal funding invokes the Uniform Act. Additionally, CDOT has adopted the Uniform Act as a best practice on projects without federal funds.

Before federal funding can be authorized for ROW purposes, CDOT must review and approve a set of ROW plans. The ROW plans must include legal descriptions and topographic features for all land acquisitions. You will need to submit ROW plans with an approved relocation plan, if applicable, and cost estimates for ROW acquisition. Talk to your CDOT regional ROW manager to determine the extent of ROW plans needed to obtain approval.

You should work closely with your CDOT project manager and the CDOT ROW manager during the entire acquisition process to expedite acquisition and assure that all federal and state requirements are met. CDOT forms must be used for ROW acquisition to streamline the process and provide an easy way for CDOT to concur with these actions. See this FHWA video for more information.

The environmental consequences of your project must be adequately considered, and the required mitigation measures must be completed within the time frame and budget of the project. An environmental clearance is required before final design, right-of-way acquisition and construction funds are authorized. Your CDOT project manager can provide guidance on the environmental clearance process and other considerations, such as environmental justice.

CDOT's Form 128 is used to initiate NEPA determination and certification. CDOT's environmental team will need to see the footprint of the project to assess what resources may be impacted by the project. The 30% design will usually have enough information to determine if ROW is needed, and is part of determining possible environmental impacts.

Find more information in Chapter 9.15 of the CDOT NEPA Manual, and through this FHWA video.


You should coordinate with all affected utility owners to identify existing facilities, determine where conflicts exist, and negotiate relocation requirements and payment terms. Identifying and contacting the affected utilities early will minimize delays and budget impacts.

You may not advertise your project until CDOT has provided written certification that all conflicts with the utility companies have been resolved. CDOT's region utilities engineer will help you identify and address all utilities affected by the project.

You are responsible to:

  1. Identify, verify and locate known utilities and conflicts within project limits.

  2. Coordinate necessary utility relocations, and negotiate the agreements and/or permits.

  3. Draft project utility specifications, and ensure that existing utility lines and any relocation requirements are accurately shown and identified on the project plans, specifications and estimates.

  4. Submit project utility clearance letter in electronic format to CDOT's region utilities engineer.

  5. Process utility billings.

See this FHWA video for more information.


You may encounter railroad involvement in one of two contexts:

  1. On projects specifically for the installation of safety devices at highway/rail at-grade crossings; or
  2. When the transportation project will encroach upon railroad property and/or impact railroad facilities.

On projects with railroad involvement, an agreement between the railroad and your agency is required. An application may need to be submitted to and approved by the Colorado Public Utilities Commission. The CDOT Railroad Program Office in the Project Development Branch can furnish guidance and support at your request. If your project requires coordination with a railroad, please allow a minimum of one year in your project schedule for reviews and approvals.

You should proceed with final design using the comments from the FIR as a foundation. If your project is complex, you may want to schedule additional progress meetings with your CDOT project manager. In completing your project design, you should consider the following CDOT manuals:

See more CDOT manuals.

You will need to submit 90% plans, specifications and cost estimates to CDOT for review. Plans and specifications of a project describe the location and design features with all the construction items in sufficient detail to facilitate construction. The cost estimate reflects the anticipated costs in detail to permit an effective review and comparison of the bids received. The bid items and quantities must be in the CDOT format to facilitate review and approval.

A complete plans, specifications and estimate package (PS&E) includes:

  1. CDOT Standard Specifications for Road and Bridge Construction as supplemented by CDOT Standard Special Provisions (SSP), CDOT Project Special Provisions (PSP), and approved local agency specifications. It is the recommended best practice for both on and off system projects to use CDOT's standard specifications; however, some local agencies will use their own specifications for off-system facilities. If you choose to use your agency's standard specification, please submit these for CDOT approval as soon as possible after the execution of the IGA. CDOT's Standards and Specifications Unit will review them.

  2. Plans in the form of detailed drawings.

  3. Detailed cost estimates of bid and force account items (by the local agency). CDOT's review of the final cost estimates prior to completion of the bid package will be at the discretion of the CDOT project manager. Bid item information is available on the CDOT website.

For additional information, see 2.30, "Plans, Specifications and Estimate Approval," of the CDOT Project Development Manual.

For all projects that require the preparation of design or engineering plans, you are required to have licensed professional personnel on staff or under contractual agreement in charge of the project. As appropriate, this professional may be an architect certified by the Colorado Board of Examiners of Architects, an historian, an architectural historian or a professional engineer certified by the State Board of Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors. All projects involved with the rehabilitation or preservation of historic buildings, structures or sites are coordinated with and receive written approval from the state historic preservation officer.

Construction plans must be electronically sealed by a professional engineer according to 4 CCR 730-1,  Architects, Professional Engineers and Professional Land Surveyors Rules and Regulations, and CDOT Procedural Directive 508.1 – Requirements for the Use of the Professional Engineer's Seal. Adobe Sign is the electronic professional sealing software selected by CDOT which facilitates the routing of construction plans and other project records for acknowledgement and electronic sealing. Your project manager is responsible for coordinating all project-related activities with CDOT, including the status of the project plans. CDOT has final approval authority for plans and specifications submitted for advertisement and construction.

Project plans and specifications (including special use agreements or licenses) must be completed in conformance with CDOT requirements during the project development process. Please contact the CDOT project manager to determine the number of 90 percent plan sets CDOT needs for specialty staff involved with the review of the project. You should provide an electronic copy of the plans (preferred) or prints to the CDOT project manager. CDOT reviews the final set of construction plans and specifications, and provides comments,  disadvantaged business enterprise goals, and on-the-job training (DBE/OJT) goals for the project. CDOT's review process typically takes two to three weeks.

The Final Office Review (90%) plans and specifications are final in nature. The Final Office Review (FOR) is a final review of construction plans, specifications and cost estimates for completeness and accuracy. For further information, see 2.28, "Final Office Review," of the CDOT Project Development Manual.

On smaller or less complex projects, it is not uncommon for CDOT to hold a combined FIR/FOR meeting. You should discuss this option at your kickoff meeting. If your CDOT project manager choses this option, it is highly recommended that you schedule at least one progress meeting prior to the combined meeting.

After the 90% review, you will need to submit final plans that address any comments received for review and approval. This typically takes one to three weeks for CDOT to complete and authorize. Authorization and approval forms are sent to FHWA for final approval if the project is a PoDI.

The bottom half of Form 128 will be signed after CDOT's environmental team completes its review of the plans and specification. This signature is the environmental clearance for your project. It should be noted that if one year passes after the form is signed and before it is authorized, CDOT's environmental team will need to review the project again.