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Project Schedule and Development of Milestones

Project Schedule and Development of Milestones Project Classification
Capital Improvement Projects Safety Projects Asset Management Projects Maintenance Projects
1.0 Is My Project on Schedule? x x x x
2.0 Project Schedule x x x x
3.0 Project Milestones x
3.1 Common Milestones Applicable to Most Capital Projects x
3.2 Other Project Types x x x
4.0 Time Management for Highway Project Development x
5.0 Track and Manage Work Progress x
6.0 Sources of Project Delays x
x = Information from the topic may be applicable for the project classification.


The full definitions for terms included in this article (listed below) can be found in the HKP Glossary.

  • Milestone
  • Statewide Transportation Improvement Plan (STIP)
  • Critical Path Method (CPM)
  • Transportation Improvement Program (TIP)

1. Introduction 

The application of sound time management principles helps preconstruction Project Managers (PMs) and Project Development Teams (PDTs) develop accurate project timelines and deliver projects to the letting on time and on budget. Activities that PMs are responsible for include sequencing project development activities, which entails collecting project requirements and defining a scope, and estimating activity resources and durations to establish a realistic schedule and keep activity sequences flowing smoothly and without interruption. Failing to meet a project’s schedule lowers KYTC’s success rate in delivering the Enacted Highway Plan and hampers the agency’s ability to fulfill its mission.

2. Project Schedule

A successful preconstruction project meets the defined scope with quality solutions and deliverables on the schedule given and within the budget specified in the Enacted Highway Plan. At the start of a project, once the scope is developed, the PM develops a schedule that includes anticipated milestones to illustrate the sequencing and allocation of project tasks.

When developing a schedule, the PM needs to account for project type and complexity. Items found on a schedule include planned start and finish dates, assignments, and the resources needed to complete the plan development process. A good starting point for developing a schedule is to review the fiscal years a project is programmed for in the Enacted Highway Plan.

The PM also needs to develop the project development critical path. The critical path is the longest sequence of activities in the project schedule. These activities must be completed within the estimated time for the project to be finished on time. If any task on the critical path is late, the entire project will be delayed. Identifying the critical path lets the PM prioritize all essential steps, milestones, and risks on the schedule as well as pinpoint interconnections between all project activities.

When estimating the duration of each task, the PM should draw on:

  • Experience and knowledge of the PM and the subject-matter experts (SMEs). PMs should discuss tasks with SMEs to get an idea of how long they might take. Good communication is essential!
  • Knowledge of the project corridor and potential issues.
  • Historical data
  • For large or complex activities, it is beneficial to break down them into smaller tasks.

3. Project Milestones

A project milestone denotes the completion of a major phase of work. Milestones must be completed for the project to progress into the next phase of project development. During project initiation, the PM should identify anticipated milestones.

Because all projects are unique, the PM must assess the project scope, budget, and fiscal years programmed in the Enacted Highway Plan to develop a set of milestones and a schedule. Refer to the Interactive Project Process Maps in the HKP article Project Time Management for more detailed information.

3.1 Common Milestones Applicable to Most Capital Improvement Projects:

PM uses milestones to measure progress on a project. Milestones that are applicable to most Capital Improvement Projects include:

  • Design Funding Authorization (usually Phase I Design only/then a Contract Modification for Phase II Design after Preliminary Line and Grade [PL&G])
  • Scope Verification Meeting (when needed to determine proposed environmental document type)
  • Notice to Proceed (for consultant projects)
  • PL&G/Identify Selected Alternative
  • Design Executive Summary Approval
  • Environmental Approval
  • Design Funding Authorization for Phase II Design
  • Contract Modification Approval for Phase II Design (for consultant projects)
  • Final Joint Inspection
  • Right-of-Way (ROW) Plan Submittal
    • ROW Funding Authorization
    • ROW Official Order, Notice-to-Proceed and Notice of Acquisition
  • Utility Funding Authorization
    • Engineering Agreements and Authorizations
    • Utility Relocation Agreements and Authorizations
  • Environmental Clearances
    • Finalize Archeology, Permits Issued, HAZMAT (if applicable)
  • ROW Certification
  • Utility and Rail Certification Note
  • Final Contract Plans and Documentation Submitted for Letting.
  • Letting

Additional milestones may be added based on project complexity. Some milestones listed above may not apply to smaller projects, such as a bridge replacement, where you may want to combine the preliminary and final inspections into one meeting. See the HKP Article Time Management and various chapters within  KYTC’s Highway Design Manual for more details. Section 8 also links to agency guidebooks and HKP articles that provide more information.

Red Flag

Where a PM locates milestones on a timeline will vary based on project type. Seek guidance from SMEs and the PDT when developing project milestones and a schedule.

Roadway Plans should be at an approximate percentage complete stage when reaching some of the more common milestones in order to make an informed decision concerning the goals and objectives set for each milestone. Below is a guide to what should be included in the roadway plans, along with supporting documents, at various percentage complete stages.

Guide To What Should Be Included in Roadway Plans, Supporting Documents at Various Percentage Complete Stages
Milestone Approximate Plans % Complete
Planning: 0-15%

Includes initial project identification, screening, prioritization, planning studies, draft P&N statement, and planning-level estimates for P, D, R, U, and C.
Scoping/PL&G/Identify Recommended Alternative: 30%

Develop the project alternatives in order to define scope and estimate and establish a baseline cost. The PM or consultant, if applicable, should submit enough information for the PDT to make an informed decision on a recommended alternative. The selected alternative information will be updated in PDP (Program Delivery Platform) and added to the STIP (Statewide Transportation Improvement Plan). The baseline cost approved here will be used as the project budget.

Preliminary alternatives presented should address the project purpose and need. At a minimum alternative’s should include:
  • Traffic operations and safety data.
  • Typical Sections for each alternative.
  • Horizontal and vertical alignments.
  • Critical cross sections.
  • Preliminary ROW, including existing ROW and property owners.
  • Location of existing utilities and possible impacts.
  • Potential environmental issues for each alternative.
  • If a public meeting has been conducted, a discussion of public comments.
  • A discussion of potential traffic control schemes for each alternative along with possible issues or concerns.
  • Preliminary R, U, and C estimates for each alternative.
Design Executive Summary Submittal/Approval: 30-40%

Once the PL&G has been held and changes or additional studies from the meeting have been completed, the PM should submit the DES for review and approval. Estimates created throughout final design should be used to manage project budgets against the baseline established when the final alternative was selected.
Environmental Studies and Approvals: 15-40%

The environmental process begins prior to the PL&G Inspection with an overview of the area impacted and identification of environmental constraints. These should be discussed for each alternative presented at the PL&G.

When alternatives are evaluated and an alternative is recommended, the District Environmental Coordinator or consultant, if applicable, submits a draft environmental document for review and approval. This document records the project decision-making process.

Scope of project impacts dictates which of the following environmental documents is prepared, pursuant to NEPA:
  • Categorical Exclusion (CE)
  • Environmental Assessment (EA) and Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI)
  • Draft and Final Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS and FEIS) and Record of Decision (ROD)
Request Geotechnical Investigation This should occur as early as possible in the project development stage. If a project corridor has known geological features, such as Karst areas, the PM needs to get Geotech involved early in the process. Typically, the Geotechnical Branch needs plan/profile sheets in order to develop their boring layout.
Final Joint Inspection/Drainage Inspection: 80%

Plans should contain more detailed information on the recommended alignment, including:
  • Typical sections that reflect the template and other approved decisions from the DES.
  • Changes and/or additions from the PL&G Inspection.
  • General notes.
  • Summary of quantities sheets.
  • Detailed plan and profile sheets for the roadways involved, along with detailed cross sections and pipe sections.
  • Proposed ROW and easements, along with relocations.
  • ROW summary sheets and strip maps.
  • Erosion control plans.
  • Detailed traffic control and maintenance of traffic plans.
  • Permanent signing and pavement marking plans.
  • Detailed plans for drainage ditches, pipes, and structures.
  • Further discussion of utility impacts and whether any utility plans will be included with the final roadway plans.
  • More detailed estimates for R, U, and C.
  • Advanced Situation Folders should be submitted by the drainage engineer for any structural designs once changes from the inspection have been made.
  • The PM or consultant working through the PM should submit critical cross sections to Geotechnical Branch to obtain backslope recommendations.
ROW Plan Submittal: 80-85%

Once comments and changes from the Final Joint Inspection have been addressed, ROW Plans are usually submitted. These plans should include:
  • Layout sheet
  • Typical sections
  • Plan sheets with existing and proposed ROW and easements.
  • Profile sheets
  • ROW strip maps and summary sheets
  • Coordinate Control Sheet (when available)
  • A set of cross sections

NOTE: Under special circumstances and with the approval from Director of the Division of Highway Design, ROW Plans can be submitted prior to the Final Inspection to accelerate the process. If this is considered, ensure plans are at a stage where the impacts are mostly worked out, in particular side slopes, utilities, drainage ditches, and pipes running along a parcel.
Final Contract Plans and Documentation Submitted for Letting: 90-100%

The PM submits detailed contract plans and estimates that include roadway, structures, traffic, and/or utility relocation plans. Along with this the project CAP, Project Development Checklist (PDC)(for federally funded projects only) and a Google Earth (.kmz or .kml) file should also be submitted. Submitting the final plans on time is essential to meeting the established project letting date. The PM advises the Plan Processing Branch of outstanding information not included in the submittal and what will need to be inserted into the plans when they are available.

Appropriate permits and/or certifications are required prior to construction.

3.2 Other Project Types:

In addition to Capital Improvement Projects, KYTC undertakes:

  • Safety Projects
  • Asset Management Projects
  • Maintenance Projects

These projects require different forms of project management oversight. However, because their schedules emphasize streamlined delivery, the milestones listed in Section 3.1 do not apply or would apply on an abbreviated basis. For instance, on Maintenance Projects schedules and milestones are measured in days (rather than months or years) because they must be completed quickly. For more information on the four project types, see the PMGB Article Intro and General Overview (coming soon).

Safety Projects:  These are typically Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP) projects. The intent is for these type projects to be designed and constructed expeditiously. They can require proposal-type work or the development of construction plans, which is usually done by District design personnel or a consultant. If plan development is necessary, HSIP staff establish the schedule and milestones. Typically, HSIP projects include the common milestones listed in Section 3.1. Figure 1 shows a typical HSIP project life cycle:

Typical HSIP Project Cycle

Figure 1: Typical HSIP Project Life Cycle (Recreated from the KYTC Traffic Operations Manual Section TO-301, Exhibit 2)

Asset Management Projects: KTYC has adopted a Fix It First philosophy that prioritizes using available funds to invest aggressively in the maintenance and preservation of pavements and bridges. Projects listed in the Transportation Asset Management Plan are selected based on performance monitoring and reporting. Projects that fall under this heading include pavement preservation and bridge preventive maintenance. They are generally contained within the Cabinet’s existing ROW. Figure 2 shows a flowchart for a typical Asset Management Project.

Typical Asset Management Project

Figure 2: Typical Asset Management Project

Maintenance Projects: The Maintenance Division houses five branches:

  • Permits
  • Bridge Preservation
  • Operations and Pavement Management
  • Roadside Maintenance
  • Roadway Maintenance

Maintenance Projects maintain — but generally do not improve to a significant degree — roads, streets, and bridges on the State Highway System. The executive budget allocates funds for critical maintenance activities (e.g., patching potholes, removing snow and ice, removing roadway obstructions, fixing bridge or pipe failures) and preventive maintenance (e.g., pavement resurfacing, ditching, pipe clean outs). Many maintenance tasks are urgent and must be completed quickly to keep roadways open. Thus, most project schedules last just a few days. Figure 3 is a flowchart for a typical Maintenance Project.

Typical Maintenance Project Flowchart

Figure 3: Typical Maintenance Project

For more information on these project types, see the PMGB article Project Management Intro and General Overview (coming soon) and relevant KYTC guidance manuals.

4. Time Management for Highway Project Developmet 

PMs must use project time management tools (e.g., Gantt Charts, PDP PreCon System, Project Managers Toolbox) to schedule and track project development. To facilitate scheduling, critical path method (CPM) templates have been created for typical project contexts and common project phases. For more information see the HKP article Project Time Management, Section 6 of this article, the PMGB article Tools and Technology (coming soon), and the KYTC Project Managers Toolbox.

To determine a project’s duration, the PM identifies the critical path. The CPM schedule is normally created using Microsoft Project. PMs must create a project schedule which (1) includes required project activities and (2) meets the legislatively prescribed schedule. If a consultant is used for design, verify hours are included for development of the CPM diagram.

Red Flag

Environmental issues may require significant time to study and address. Communicate with Division of Environmental Analysis staff early and continuously throughout project development. PMs may also need to dedicate significant time coordinating with the Divisions of Right of Way and Utilities to ensure that all tasks can be completed within the project schedule.

5. Track and Manage Work Progress 

The PM and PDT should use the CPM schedule to track and manage work progress. The CPM schedule helps the PM allocate resources to work activities and provide updates on the schedule status and progress to the PDT and KYTC management. Monitoring and reporting work focuses the team on getting work done on the scheduled timeline. The more projects a PM has in their portfolio, the more important CPM schedules become for time management across all their projects.  The PM and PDT must frequently review and discuss the project schedule. Conducting reviews and discussions is especially critical when preparing for District Quarterly Project Reviews and at each Project Milestone Meeting, where any variance from the baseline schedule should be recorded.

The PM must continuously monitor the critical path. Any changes to work-activity durations on the critical path will affect a project’s finish date. The critical path informs the PM of where they do and do not have flexibility. The PM should also monitor activities located off the critical path to determine if potential delays would shift them onto the critical path.

If a work-activity duration begins to slip and exceed the baseline, the PM (and appropriate members of the PDT) must investigate the root causes. Possible sources of delay include overscheduled resources or complexity in an activity that was not originally detected. In some cases, original schedule estimates may have been inaccurate.

To resolve a problem, the PM and PDT must understand the actual root cause(s) of a schedule delay. Once the root cause(s) of a delay are identified, the PM and PDT brainstorm solutions (e.g., acquiring additional resources, improving coordination between team members, extending the project schedule). Major schedule modifications that change the project milestone dates must be approved by the appropriate Central Office cabinet personnel, depending upon the project type.

Project delays that result from KYTC’s priorities shifting do occur. If possible, projects should be paused at a completed milestone. For example, if a project can be paused at the end of the PL&G milestone, the alternative chosen at this milestone can be carried forward once the project recommences.

On Federal-aid projects, PMs should build additional time into the schedule for FHWA reviews and approvals of activities the agency oversees.

When developing a project timeline, PMs can build in flexibility, save time, and increase the likelihood of a project remaining on schedule by:

  • Adding resources to critical path activities.
  • Starting activities on the critical path earlier, shortening their duration, and overlapping them where possible.
  • Eliminating activities that add time but not value.
  • Allowing some flexibility in the work schedules of activities not on the critical path.
  • Gathering existing project data before project funds are authorized (if overhead funds allow).
  • Avoiding changes in project scope during project development. It is acceptable and common to refine the scope as the process unfolds, but changing the scope will most likely cause delays.
  • Combining the Preliminary and Final Inspections into one meeting on small projects (e.g., bridge replacement). Discuss this possibility with the PDT early in the process so plans can be developed accordingly.
  • Considering the time and effort involved in utilities and rails coordination and utility relocations. Utility coordination and relocations can be included in the construction contract as an option to meet the established letting schedule. This places additional risk on the contractor and thus increases construction costs.

6. Sources of Project Delays

When developing a project schedule and establishing milestones, PMs should be mindful of activities that could result in delays.

*When consultant services are needed on a project, submit the appropriate information as soon as possible to allow time for the advertisement, selection, and negotiation process. For more information refer to HD-205 in the Highway Design Guidance Manual.

*Design Funding Authorizations require time for approval. Since approval dictates when consultant contracts can proceed (Notice to Proceed), submit the funding request as soon as possible.

Red Flag

If the project is in a Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) Area and requires the Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) to be modified, this will take some time and must be done prior to funding authorization.

* Determine early in project development whether additional aerial mapping is needed. Aerial surveys can only be flown from December through March.

* The environmental process can be drawn out. Table 1 lists the amount of time required to complete different environmental documents.

Table 1: Timeline for Environmental Documents
Environmental Document Timeline for Completion
Categorical Exclusion (CE) for Minor Projects Several days up to 2 – 3 months
CE Level 1 2 – 6 months
CE Level 2 6 – 24 months
Environmental Assessment (EA) 18 – 36 months
Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI):
Additional 6 – 15 months after EA
Environmental Impact Statement Minimum 3 years (2 additional years possible)

Obtaining a US Army Corps of Engineers Nationwide Permit (NWP) requires up to 6 months, while an Individual Permit (IP) takes 12 – 18 months.

On state-funded projects, if any project activity will impact features such as streams or wetlands, endangered species habitat, or historic or culturally significant properties, PMs need to work through processes related to Section 404 of the Clean Water Act, Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act, Section 4(f) for park and recreational lands, Section 6(f) of Land and Water Conservation Funds, or Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, respectively. For more information refer to HD-500 of the Highway Design Guidance Manual.

Red Flag

Some threatened and endangered species can only be identified during a short window, and this could potentially slow the environmental process if they are found in the project area.

For more information on the environmental process, refer to HD-400 of the Highway Design Guidance Manual, Environmental Analysis Guidance Manual, KYTC Environmental Handbook, and the following HKP articles: Division of Environmental Analysis, Hazmat/Additional Archaeology, Biological Assessment, and Environmental Approval.

Involve the Geotechnical Branch as early as possible in the design process. Geotechnical investigations and drilling take time to prepare and initiate in the field. See the HKP article Geotechnical Requests for more information (coming soon).

Red Flag

Geotechnical Reports must be completed before design work on structures can begin. When a project includes structures, make sure the Advanced Situation Folder is submitted in a timely manner to initiate this process.

* Public Involvement: Public meetings, public hearings, stakeholder meetings and citizens advisory groups (when needed) take time to set up, schedule, and convene. Account for public involvement for when developing the project schedule. For more information refer to HD-600 of the Highway Design Guidance Manual.

* ROW Process: Complications related to ROW acquisition (e.g., suits, unknown heirs, cemeteries, federal lands, railroad involvement) can stretch out the timeline for the ROW Clearance Milestone. For more information refer to HD-1300 of the Highway Design Guidance Manual. Also refer to the following HKP articles: Division of Right-of-Way & Utilities and Right-of-Way Acquisition.

 * Utility Coordination/ Relocation and Rails: Begin this process as early in the project as possible. Historically, utility relocation has taken a long time to complete. The PM and Utility Supervisor must verify which utilities are located on the project. Gas transmission lines in rural areas warrant close attention.

Red Flag

Notify the Central Office Railroad Coordinator of railroad involvement early in the project as coordinating and communicating with the railroad companies can take an extended period.

For additional information refer to HD-1400 in the Highway Design Guidance Manual, the Utilities and Rails Guidance Manual and the HKP article Utility Engineering and Coordination.

7. Associated Articles 

8. Reference Documentation 

Project Management Guidebook Knowledge Book:

Access the complete Knowledge Book here:  Project Management Guidebook

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