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U.S. Department of Transportation U.S. Department of Transportation Icon United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation
September/October 2015
Issue No:
Vol. 79 No. 2
Publication Number:
Table of Contents

Check Out Your Latest FP

by Charles Luedders and David Green

Every few years, FHWA’s Office of Federal Lands Highway updates the specs for building roads and bridges to access Federal and tribal lands. Here’s the news.

A crew is placing warm-mix asphalt on a steep grade on Conzelman Road at Golden Gate National Recreation Area in California. Specifications for warm-mix asphalt, an innovation encouraged under FHWA’s Every Day Counts initiative, are covered under section 401 in the new FP-14.

From the frigid tundra of Alaska to the humid tropics of the Virgin Islands, the Federal Highway Administration’s Office of Federal Lands Highway (FLH) designs and constructs roadways within Federal and tribal lands and to access those lands. The need to incorporate practices from all areas of the country and meet the expectations of a wide range of users creates a number of challenges for FLH. To facilitate its work with Federal land management agencies and tribal governments, FLH recently continued its 98-year tradition of providing a nationwide set of standard construction specifications.

As it closed in on its century milestone, FLH published its latest edition of the Standard Specifications for Construction of Roads and Bridges on Federal Highway Projects (FP) in 2014. Known as the FP-14, the document covers use of construction techniques and materials from all parts of the country, supports FHWA-led innovation programs such as Every Day Counts, and provides a single source to promote the consistency of highway construction across the Nation on Federal lands and even beyond with its use with the Federal Lands Access Program.

The agency issued the new specifications 11 years after its predecessor, the FP-03. Maintaining the FP presents two challenges for FLH: (1)the specifications must allow a wide variety of construction techniques and materials from across the country, and (2)the specifications must be constantly up to date. During the decade in between editions, FLH kept its project specifications current by issuing supplemental specifications. In addition to including those 11 years of innovations in the FP-14, the office developed solutions for addressing the problems associated with updating the FP and created a process to make the next one a less time-consuming task.

Seth Greenwell, a senior transportation engineer with the National Park Service’s Denver Service Center, Transportation Division, who has been involved in projects that used the FP, says, “As it evolves from one edition to the next, the FP has always been a foundation for the projects delivered in support of our Park Roads and Parkways Program. It represents the leading edge of technology and defines the state of the practice for highway and bridge construction.” Greenwell cites, for example, the current paving projects in Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, where some of the recent innovations played a crucial role.

A Century of Innovative Specifications

The first FP was a green booklet consisting of 28 pages. This document included an outline of the items to include in a construction contract, but it did not contain specifications as they are known today. As the parent agency of the Bureau of Public Roads, the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued the booklet on April 28, 1917, and, like today, the U.S. Government Printing Office printed it. The Secretary of Agriculture made this new standard effective September 30, 1917.

Over the years, the document grew to the 746 pages contained in today’s FP-14. The content of the specifications also have changed. The 1917 version provided only the format for a construction contract. This bare-bones edition progressed to include very prescriptive specifications for contracting methods. Today, the FP continues to move toward performance-based specifications.

Two anomalies over the 98 years were the FP-74 and FP-85 versions, which were produced in Spanish for work in Spanish-speaking territories such as Puerto Rico. Spanish editions are no longer produced due to the cost of printing an additional version.

Responsibility for the FP

The Office of Federal Lands Highway oversees the Federal Lands Transportation Program from its headquarters in Washington, DC, and three geographic division offices develop and administer FLH construction projects. The Western Federal Lands Highway Division in Vancouver, WA, oversees projects in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska; the Central Federal Lands Highway Division in Lakewood, CO, manages projects in the rest of the western States and Hawaii; and the Eastern Federal Lands Highway Division in Sterling, VA, administers projects in the eastern States, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. An FLH specification coordination group is responsible for producing the FP and consists of a representative from each division and headquarters.

The 13 editions of the FP are shown here, starting with the first version (lower row, far left), published in 1917.

The DC office and the three division offices all have discipline teams consisting of individuals from various functional areas. One of the duties of these discipline teams is to provide technical input for FLH specifications. Each section of the FP-14 is assigned to one of the following discipline teams: construction, environment, geotechnical, highway design, hydraulics, materials, pavements, procurement, safety, and structures.

For most of its construction projects, FLH uses theFP-14 as part of a hierarchy of contract documents. At the head ofthis hierarchy is the Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR), issued by the U.S. General Services Administration, U.S. Department of Defense, and National Aeronautics and Space Administration. This document codifies the uniform policies and procedures for acquisition by all executive agencies. The next document in the hierarchy is the Transportation Acquisition Regulations. It supplements the FAR by addressing specific transportation issues. The FP-14 supplements these regulations but does not amend them.

Some of the innovations in the FP-14 edition played a significant role in the repaving of roads, like this curving one in Shenandoah National Park in Virginia.

Next in precedence come the special contract requirements and then the plans, which supplement and amend the FP-14. The relevant division office develops special contract requirements and plans specifically for each project, and the FP is in place for general control of the work. The FP-14 is at the bottom of the hierarchy of nonspecific contract documents, but it serves as the governing contract document when not changed by special contract requirements or plans.

How the FP Works

The FP is divided into the following 10 divisions or categories of work:

  • Division 100: General contract requirements, such as measurement and payment. The requirements contained in Division 100 are applicable to all contracts.
  • Division 150: Project contract requirements, such as mobilization, that are applicable to all contracts and may be paid for directly or indirectly.
  • Division 200: Earthwork construction requirements.
  • Division 250: Slope reinforcement and retaining wall requirements.
  • Division 300: Aggregate and base course requirements.
  • Division 400: Asphalt pavement and surface treatment requirements.
  • Division 500: Rigid pavement requirements.
  • Division 550: Bridge requirements.
  • Division 600: Incidental construction requirements not covered in the previous sections.
  • Division 700: Material requirements for divisions 150 through600.

Taken together, these 10 categories provide a general description of the labor, materials, equipment, and incidentals necessary to construct a roadway or bridge anywhere in the country when used by the Federal agency administering the project.


Because the construction world never stands still and nothing can cover every detailed aspect of future construction, FLH uses three other types of specifications to supplement and amend the FP. These include FLH supplemental specifications, division supplemental specifications, and unique project specifications.

FLH supplemental specifications are additions and revisions to the FP recommended by the specification coordination group and approved by FLH for use on all of its projects. Division supplemental specifications are additions and revisions to the FP or FLH supplemental specifications approved by an FLH division for use on that division’s projects. Unique project specifications are additions and revisions to the contract documents used to address unique requirements of a specific project.

Each FLH division maintains a library of specifications that includes these supplements and amendments to the FP. For each contract, the FLH division includes the applicable specifications from its library and writes the unique project-specific specifications to produce the project’s special contract requirements, which become part of that contract.

Updating the FP

FLH does not have a set timetable for publishing a new FP, because external factors--such as the requirement for adding metric specifications--often dictate the time between publications. In the past, FLH has published new FPs in as short a timespan as 4 years and as long as 18 years. The average is 8.1 years between publications, with a median timespan of 6.5 years.

In theory, updating the FP should be a continuous process. With innovations constantly affecting construction, the specifications must keep pace with new equipment, new processes, and enhanced materials.

Within FLH, the specification coordination group oversees a process for developing specifications. The group receives proposed FP changes from the FLH divisions, the FLH discipline teams, other employees, contractors, material suppliers, and Federal and tribal partners. The specification coordination group then reviews the proposed changes, in cooperation with the applicable discipline team, and conducts an FLH multidisciplinary review.

Based on the results of this review, the group recommends one of three dispositions for the proposed change: (1) The specification coordination group adopts the change as an editorial improvement for the FP and inserts it into the draft for the next FP. (2) The group recommends the proposed change for adoption as an FLH supplemental specification; in which case, if approved, it is adopted for immediate use on FLH contracts and is inserted into each division’s library of specifications and the draft for the next FP. (3) The group rejects the proposed change; in which case, a division can use it as a supplemental specification or as a unique project specification. Theoretically, the next FP should be the marked-up draft of the current FP generated through this specification development process.

However, past experience shows that an announcement to publish a new FP is required to initiate the desired focus on specifications within FLH. With such an announcement, FLH divisions conduct internal reviews and submit proposed changes for the new FP. The FLH discipline teams review the FP sections for which they are responsible and often submit complete rewrites. Contractors, material suppliers, and Federal and tribal partners also submit their desired changes. Often, the submissions are received at or after the deadline. All of these last-minute proposals for changes can overwhelm the process for developing specifications and result in major delays in publishing a new FP.

Once all of the change proposals are reviewed and responded to and an FLH internal draft of the next FP is reviewed, a draft is prepared for review by other FHWA offices and outside the agency. Comments are solicited from the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, American Road & Transportation Builders Association, Associated General Contractors of America, and other Federal and tribal partner agencies.

Work is underway here to reestablish turf at Guanella Pass in Colorado, an effort that resulted in an environmental award for the project. Information about reestablishing turf and relocating native plants is in section 625 in the FP-14.

For the FP-14, these outside agencies submitted few comments, but reviewers within FLH generated an overwhelming number. After the discipline teams and the specification coordinating group addressed these comments and an editorial review was completed, the FP-14 was published 2 years behind the original schedule.

Innovations Included In the FP-14

The FP incorporates innovations from the road and bridge construction industry. This process takes time, as most innovations begin as supplemental specifications and are incorporated into the FP only after they become mainstream. A review of specifications included in FP-14 that did not appear in FP-03 provides examples of innovations and reveals the time it takes for innovations to move through this process.

Section 252 of FP-14 includes rockeries for the first time. Rockeries are an engineered system of dry, stacked, angular rocks placed without mortar, concrete, or steel reinforcement. This technology dates back to historic dry stacked walls but adds an engineered aspect to the design and construction of these slope support systems. Rockeries are visible today on many projects in mountainous terrain due to their aesthetic characteristics and use of standard construction equipment and onsite material.

Section 257, contractor-designed retaining walls, is an innovation that illustrates the movement toward performance specifications. Instead of detailing the retaining wall to be constructed, this specification allows the contractor to design and construct the type of wall most suited to the firm’s knowledge and equipment, as long as the wall meets certain design parameters for retaining walls. This flexibility essentially enables the contractor to value-engineer the retaining wall, minimizing costs.

Crews constructed this roundabout at Golden Gate National Recreation Area in California, a project covered under sections 401 and 609 of the FP-14. Roundabouts are a traffic management system that can help reduce vehicle conflicts and fuel consumption.

Sections 304 through 306 add several processes for full-depth pavement reclamation. These processes allow paving crews to mill the existing pavement and incorporate that material into a new base course. Reusing the entire existing pavement reduces transportation costs and eliminates wasted materials. This approach contributes to FHWA’s goals of reducing greenhouse gases and accelerating construction of new roadways.

Section 409, microsurfacing, reflects the addition of preservation and maintenance activities as eligible for Federal-aid funding. This innovation, used in the United States since the 1980s, provides another technique in the toolbox for extending the life of existing pavements.

Structural innovations that appear in the FP-14 include concrete injection and high-performance concrete. These specifications reflect advancements in materials related to the concrete industry. Section 561, structural concrete injection and crack repair, is made possible by low-viscosity epoxies capable of penetrating the narrowest of cracks and providing excellent bonding capabilities. Section 568, high-performance concrete, is made possible by advances in admixtures and other enhancements that make better use of cement particles, reduce permeability, and increase the strength and durability of concrete.

Section 708, plastic pipe, illustrates the evolution of innovations and how construction materials and methods change over the years. The FP-74 included section 706 for concrete, clay, and fiber pipe. This change evolved into concrete, clay, plastic, and fiber pipe in the FP-79, which continued through the FP-85. The FP-92 changed this section to concrete and plastic pipe, dropping the specifications for clay and fiber pipe. This designation continued through FP-03 until FP-14, in which plastic pipe receives its own section.

Innovation in Writing Specifications

Innovation and change also affect specification writing. Most older specifications were method specifications. That is, the specification writer tried to ensure quality by telling the contractor how to construct something, and an inspector was charged with ensuring that the item was built according to the specification. This approach placed responsibility for quality control on FLH.

The FP-14 progresses away from method specifications toward performance specifications. A performance specification provides parameters for the end product that the contractor must meet and measures used to verify the contractor’s performance. The methods and many material issues are left to the contractor’s discretion, and the contractor assumes the responsibility for quality control.

Performance specifications led to the use of statistical acceptance. Statistical acceptance first appeared in the FP-85 and relied on the premise that a bell curve represents the distribution of sample populations. Using statistical concepts, FLH calculates the percentage of material within the established limits. This information enables FLH to provide a bonus to the contractor for constructing superior work and to penalize or reject the contractor’s work when it does not conform to the specification. The FP-14 continues the progression toward statistical acceptance.

How To Obtain the FP-14 And Related Publications

Electronic copies of the FP-14, Specification Writers’ Guide for Federal Lands Highway, and Federal Lands Highway Specification Procedures are available at Multiple paper copies of the FP-14 (GPO Stock Number 050-001-00346-5, ISBN 9780160923937) are available from the Government Printing Office at To receive a single paper copy of the FP-14, contact the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Research and Technology Product Distribution Center by email at, phone 814–239–1160, or fax 814–239–2156.

Making specifications easier to interpret is an ongoing process. FLH started incorporating the concepts presented in National Highway Institute course 134001, Principles of Writing Highway Construction Specifications, in the FP-92. The objective was to make the FP conform to the five C’s of specification writing: clear, concise, complete, correct, and consistent.

The need to promote this objective throughout FLH led to the publication of two additional documents in 2008. Specification Writers’ Guide for Federal Lands Highway (FHWA-CFL/TD-08-001) addresses specification writing style, organization and format, proper terminology and phrasing, capitalization and abbreviation, and punctuation and grammar. Federal Lands Highway Specification Procedures documents the procedures FLH uses to develop and maintain specifications, including the FP. Both of these documents are being updated to incorporate lessons learned from the FP-14.

The FP-92 also initiated the use of active voice and imperative mood with the subject--the contractor--being implied. Efforts continue to make the FP understandable at an elementary grade level. Sentences are intentionally kept short, and tables and lists are used extensively to convey the message. The goal is to deliver each message once, so the subsections on acceptance generally send the reader to section 106, which concerns the requirements for acceptance, whether they be visual, by certification, or by testing. The subsections for measurement and payment send the reader to section 109, which focuses on the methods and units of measurement, along with the units of payment.

Another FP-14 change is the adoption of dual units. FLH produced U.S. customary and metric versions of the FP-03. This required the publication of two books. The FP-14 combines this effort into one book, providing U.S. customary units followed by metric units in parentheses.

Innovation and changing work types have another outcome. Some specifications disappeared from the FP-14. Items removed since the FP-03 include crib walls, previously in section 254, and cutback asphalt, in subsection 702.02. Mechanically stabilized earth walls and other wall types replaced the need for crib walls, which require more material and are more expensive to construct. Cutback asphalt disappeared because of its use of solvents that evaporate and are detrimental to the environment. Emulsified asphalt, using water as the workability agent, replaces cutbacks.

Future Vision for the FP

Producing the FP-14 took nearly 6years. The involvement of the discipline teams and a renewed push for the five C’s resulted in major changes and rewrites of many of the FP-14 sections. FLH’s goal is to use the development process to update specifications continually. This process should help to avoid some of the delays associated with the FP-14 and should maintain a current draft of the next FP that can be published with minimal effort.

But is another printed version of the FP required? An electronic copy of the FP-14 is available online, and each FLH division maintains an electronic library with all updated supplemental specifications. FLH is continuing the move to e-Construction, and the use of electronic specifications is most likely the future. The U.S. Government Printing Office kept only 350 copies of the FP-14 for its sales inventory, with a total production run of 12,000 copies that were shipped to FHWA and other agencies. The future may see FLH providing electronic specifications and contracts that list specifications and their versions, just like Federal Acquisition Regulations clauses are inserted in today’s contracts. The FP-14 just might be the last printed copy of a document that started with humble beginnings back in 1917.

An FP You Can Use

The FP-14 provides a source of information on road and bridge construction for anywhere in the country. It draws upon specifications refined and matured overnearly 100 years.

The FP-14 resource is available to all who have an interest in the construction of roads and bridges on Federal lands or providing access to those lands. Other sources include the specifications used by the 50 State departments of transportation.

“FP-14 gives Federal Lands [Highway] a resource to manage construction work as diverse as an interchange on the George Washington Memorial Parkway [in northern Virginia] to a boardwalk for a subsistence village in Alaska,” says Bob Arnold, acting associate administrator of Federal Lands Highway. “It is a valuable tool for us.”

Charles Luedders, P.E., is the special assistant to the associate administrator of FHWA’s Office of Federal Lands Highway. Luedders serves in an advisement capacity, performs reviews of critical issues, and provides administrative support. He has a B.S. in civil engineering from the University of Nebraska.

David Green, P.E., was the construction standards engineer in FLH in Washington, DC, for 26 years and was responsible for maintaining and publishing the FP-92, FP-96, FP-03, and FP-14. He retired in 1999, but continued this work on a reemployed part-time basis until his full-time retirement in 2015. He holds a B.S. in forestry from Pennsylvania State University.

For more information, contact Charles Luedders at 202–366–9631 or