- AB 1012 Implementation
- CADD Resource Files
- Construction Manager/ General Contractor (CMGC)
- Cost Estimating
- District Liaisons
- Innovative Contracting
- Manuals & Guidance
- Metric to English Transition/ Program
- Project Acceleration
- Quality Management
- Resolutions of Necessity
- Resource Conservation
- Storm Water
- Value Analysis
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
VA studies are a function-oriented, systematic team approach to analyze and improve the value in a project, product, or process. They provide a powerful tool for solving problems, reaching consensus, and reducing costs while improving performance and maintaining the objectives of the proposed project, product, or process.
Federal law requires that all projects on the Federal-aid-system (NHS and Interstate) with a total cost (Construction, Right of Way, and Support) of $50 million or more must have a VA study conducted prior to construction. In addition, all Bridge Projects over $40 million are required.
There are no exceptions to this mandate. At the risk of losing future federal funding, it is recommended that VA studies be performed for projects over $15 million. History has proven that project's over $15 million can benefit greatly from a VA study.
See Chapter 19 of the Project Development Procedures manual (PDPM) for more details.
MAP21 changed the SAFETEA-LU mandate by doubling the current thresholds to projects costing $50 million or more and on bridge projects costing $40 million or more using federal funding on the NHS. Other provisions exclude a VA study for design-build projects and bridge projects off the NHS. There are no exceptions to the federal mandate.
DD-92-r1 was revised December 2012 to reflect the threshold change. However, due to current conditions, VA studies are still required for design-build projects. Although the threshold has increased, it is recommended that project managers use VA as a tool for project's not meeting the new threshold. History has proven that VA is a powerful tool for solving problems, building consensus, and controlling cost and schedule.
The project is defined by the Environmental Document (ED). It may consist of several construction contracts or phases. Corridor studies, which involve several ED’s, must be approved by FHWA. If the VA Team studies the entire corridor, studies are typically justified.
A bridge project is one whose main scope is the bridge (e.g. Bridge replacement or build new bridge). Interchange projects do not meet this criterion although a bridge might be built.
As defined by federal regulations a bridge is a structure over a depression or an obstruction, such as water, highway, or railway, and having an opening measured along the center of the roadway of more than 20 feet.
Federal law only requires a VA study for Federally aided projects. However, Caltrans encourages the use of VA when feasible. History has shown great success when applied correctly. Also, many locally funded projects request federal funds late in the design stage or for construction. If requested, FHWA will require the VA study if it meets the mandate.
The Department is not in compliance with federal law and is at risk of losing federal funding for this or other NHS projects. Also, at Ready to List (RTL), federal compliance is certified. If not in compliance, the project is at risk to not meet its schedule.
Caltrans has had many successful VA studies at all stages of project development. “The earlier the better” has become an infamous saying in the VA world. However, due to funding constraints and limitations in Caltrans, the VA study must be done in the PA&ED or PS&E phase (0 or 1 respectively) for Caltrans projects. Therefore, VA studies should be considered early in the PA&ED phase using the project information from the project initiation document (PSR, PID, PIR, etc...) as the starting point and primary source for project information.
VA studies held at this stage provide greater opportunities to benefit the project as major project decisions have not yet been made and things such as alignment options, structure type, etc. can be evaluated to improve the focus of the environmental technical studies. VA studies that occur later in PA&ED should be held prior to the draft document dates so that recommendations can be integrated into the PA&ED package. Such studies may be more constrained in terms of scope, however, the focus can shift more toward refining the final alternatives considered for PA&ED and often resolve stakeholder issues to realize significant benefits.
Although not ideal with respect to timing, VA studies that occur in PS&E can also benefit from a VA study. Studies in PS&E can focus on refining the approved concept, improving technical aspects of the project, and addressing innovative approaches to traffic handling, construction phasing, material types, etc... Such studies will be more constrained, but when applied properly, many benefits can be realized.
Larger projects should considered conducting multiple VA studies at different points in project delivery. On large projects (i.e. Corridor Projects) in addition to studies in the PA&ED phase, multiple studies should be conducted early in the PS&E phase and be focused on portions of the project based on the planned project phasing.
FHWA mandates that studies be performed before Ready to List (RTL). VA studies in Construction do not meet the Federal mandate.
The VA job plan is divided into three separate meetings; a Pre-study Meeting, a Workshop, and an Implementation Meeting. The job plan is designed to perform a VA Study efficiently and effectively. Each meeting is designed to have a specific outcome. They can be broken down as follows:
- Pre-Study Meeting (typically 4hrs) - Initiate Study, Organize Study, and Prepare Data for the VA team
- Workshop (typically 6 Days) - Inform Team, Analyze Functions, Create Ideas, Evaluate Ideas, Develop Alternatives, Critique Alternatives, and Present Alternatives
- Implementation Meeting - Assess Alternatives, Resolve Conditionally Accepted Alternatives, and Publish Results
For more information, take a look at the VA Activities Chart. It has a more detailed explanation of each step in the VA Process.
The VA process consists of a 40-hour Workshop which has been pre-approved by FHWA. The time it takes to accomplish the Workshop depends on the complexity of the project. For a typical project (over $15 mil), it may take over the 40 hours prescribed. Typically in Caltrans, we spread the workshop over two weeks. Two three-day sessions (Tues-Thur) are typically scheduled for good reasons. This allows team members to do their normal job (Mon and Fri) and also allows for a mid-point review of the team’s progress. Between sessions, ideas are evaluated by Technical Reviewer/SME to find any fatal flaws, and/or time is used to research ideas.
Although the times are typical, at the discretion of the Team Leader and management, the study may be shortened if the workshop is progressing rapidly.
Some less complicated projects (e.g. CAPM) may justify a shortened study. Because of the format of the VA process, the minimum workshop length is 24 hours (3-days). One day studies do not meet the FHWA requirement. In cooperation with the District VA Coordinator (DVAC), a “Modified Job plan justification” form may be filled out and sent to the HQ VA program manager. If the VA program manager feels that the study is within compliance of the law, the shortened study will be granted.
Although staff time is saved, the Team Leader cost of a 3-day study is about the same as a 5-day study. Because of the extra time it takes the team leader to prepare the presentation by the 3rd day. For this reason, it is recommended that the Presentation section of the workshop be scheduled for either the 4th day or better yet, the following week.
Throughout the life of the project, VA alternatives can be dropped or modified to meet the project's purpose and need. FHWA realizes that many factors can change the original decision to accept a VA alternative. However, since VA is a federally mandated program, FHWA only allows original decision makers (or current management personnel) to override the original decision to implement the VA alternative. They look at the VA alternative as saving federal dollars, so they need ample justification to not save those dollars.
If an accepted VA alternative is modified or rejected throughout the project development, the Project Engineer and /or Project Manager should document the new decision and place a memo in the project file along with the VA final report. The memo to the original decision maker of the alternative should include reasoning for the modification to the project. FHWA audits the VA program regularly and looks for "why" accepted VA alternatives don't make it to RTL and/or construction.
Depends on the Project Sponsor:
First, we need to define the Sponsor. The sponsor is any partner that accepts the responsibility to establish scope of the project and the obligation to secure financial resources to fund the project. The sponsor is responsible for adjusting the project scope to match committed funds or securing additional funds to fully fund the project scope. If a project has more than one sponsor, funding adjustments will be made by percentage (as outlined in Responsibilities). Scope adjustments must be developed through the project development process and must be approved by Caltans as the owner/operator of the SHS.
For Caltrans sponsored projects, the Team Leader cost will be paid by the HQ VA Program, at no cost to the project, and the team member support cost will be funded as a project’s support cost. Typical Caltrans VA studies resource about 500 hours of staff time.
For Local Agency sponsored projects, the cost of the VA study will be paid by the Local Agency. Caltrans can participate as VA team members on a reimbursed basis (through a co-op agreement) or CALTRANS may participate at no cost to the project providing appropriate funds are programmed to cover the support costs.
The levels of support include:
Full Participation: Caltrans supplies the entire team of Subject Matter Experts (SME) to participate as full time Team Members. This would include several SME from various functional units depending on the study scope. These members would be actively developing alternatives and participating in the entire 40 hour workshop. Typical Caltrans VA studies resource about 500 hours of staff time. This work would be considered as “reimbursable” work.
Part-time Participation: Caltrans supplies just one or two Subject Matter Experts (SME) to participate as full time Team Members. These members would be actively developing alternatives and participating in the entire 40 hour workshop. This work would be considered as “reimbursable” work.
Stakeholder and Decision Making Participation: Caltrans would not participate as full time Team Members. These members would be attending pre and post meetings (Kick-off and presentation phases), perform technical reviews on alternatives, review for federal compliance, and make recommendations for acceptance or rejection of alternatives. This participation would be considered as a project’s Independent Quality Assurance (IQA) at no cost to the project.
This is really a project specific question. At the discretion of the Project Manager, Caltrans Management and Local Agency officials, the level of participation should be agreed upon during the planning phase of the project. Depending upon the issues and complexity of the project, Caltrans team members may or may not be needed for the VA study.
There are several advantages to having Caltrans team members involved in the study. Advantages include: streamlining the review process, use of expert highway design professionals familiar with the Caltrans policies and procedures, designs that conform to the existing and planned highway system, increased number of alternatives that meet Caltrans standards, policies and procedures, greater chance for Caltrans buy-in of VA alternatives, and streamlining the project delivery process.
This page last updated September 25, 2014