BY: Cheryl DeMucci, SR/WA, R-W/RAC

IRWA Transportation Committee Chairperson & Vice President at Paragon Partners, Ltd.

To do their jobs successfully, construction managers have to rely on the work performed by right of way agents. I interviewed a team from Los Angeles Metro Crenshaw/LAX Transit Corridor Project to gain a better understanding of this relationship between the two roles. The Crenshaw/LAX Transit Corridor is an 8.5-mile light rail line currently under construction that extends from Metro’s Green Line Station near LAX to its Expo Station in Los Angeles. Stephanie Leslie (SL), Metro’s deputy executive officer, provides project management for the project; Ramiro Reyes (RR) is an assistant resident engineer with Stantec, Inc.; and Anne Nolan (AN) is a right of way project manager with Mott MacDonald. We have worked together over the past several years throughout various phases of the project.  The following are the insights they provided me about the relationship between construction managers and right of way agents.

  1. As a construction manager, we know that your priorities involve ensuring that construction is executed according to all design requirements. What do you wish right of way agents understood about your job as a construction manager?
  2. (SL) Similar for our construction relations people, it really helps if they understand what we’re building, not just what parcels we need to acquire, and how we’re going to use those parcels. With that frame of mind, agents could help by making sure we’re obtaining the correct rights and all of the rights needed. It’s helpful for the agents to understand the project design and construction process in order to talk about the project in laymen’s terms, and its impact on the owners and tenants.
  3. Projects like the Crenshaw project can last for many years—in this case over ten years. For projects of this duration, the original staff that initiated the project eventually move on and are replaced by new team members. How do you think agent turnover impacts your job as a construction manager?
  4. (SL) It’s very helpful when the same agent who negotiated and obtained the rights of a property is available to the project as needed during construction also. Short of that, agents must keep good records on what was and was not included in the various agreements. Yes, we have a document that states what dollar value the property owner agreed to, but we need to know more in some cases. For example, does Metro reinstall fencing at the new property line, etc.? It helps when the agent explicitly explains in file notes what is and is not in the agreement, what Metro’s responsibility is, and what the responsibility of the property owner is. Sometimes we have to go back to the same property owner as other project needs arise, and we have to keep going back to other team members to confirm the intent of the agreement.

(RR) When a new agent takes over a parcel, they may not know that there is an existing agreement in place with Metro and thus not notice when the property owner is asking for extra compensation or extra work to be done on their property.

  1. What suggestions do you have for right of way agents who are beginning a new project?
  2. (SL) At the beginning of the project, maybe go over the preliminary engineering with the team. Even though you have been given “x” number of parcels to acquire, based on your real estate experience and understanding of the project, try to anticipate and suggest to the team if there are additional takes or other types of right of way needs that the team may have missed. Maybe the duration needs to be longer, maybe we missed a parcel all together. Evaluate the project from a right of way perspective to see what may have been missed.
  3. What are some issues that you have had with managing the contractor when it comes to right of way issues?
  4. (RR) Sometimes the contractor doesn’t have the staff or time to research property information or to contact property owners in order to obtain additional rights to enter their property. They rely on Metro, and we usually rely on the agent.

(AN) Ten years is a very long project life. The players and priorities change, so it’s critically important to maintain excellent records in order to provide a solid information as the project progresses. In the long run, disputes can be reduced with the facts easily at hand.

  1. Give the challenges of the long duration of the Crenshaw project, how would you say the right of way tasks have been carried out?
  2. (SL) It has been great for us to have consistency with our right of way team. They have been a wonderful resource to us through construction. I’ve been on the project for six years. It’s been a positive and consistent team who has really delivered. From the time we established the right of way schedule, our agents were always able to stay ahead of the contractor.

(AN) Our team enjoyed early success by establishing a good rapport with the contractor, collaborating on schedule, and setting realistic possession dates in order to best serve the property owners and the contract. This allowed us to obtain properties within a reasonable window relative to construction needs and minimized premature interruption to owners.