8. Partnership Evaluation
The National Scenic Byways Program appears to have functioned well with its Federal-Tribal-State-local partnerships. Is there any reason to change that structure?
One of the notable successes of the National Scenic Byways Program (NSBP) is the nature of the cooperative working arrangements among the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), Federal land management agencies, State departments of transportation, planning and tourism, and local byway groups. Partnerships among these and many other agencies, offices, community groups, nonprofit organizations, and advocacy groups have greatly enhanced the quality of the Program and expanded the reach of the byways concept well beyond the original Program partners that comprised the Scenic Byways Advisory Committee in 1992-93.
Given the scope of these issues papers to assess the overall performance of the Program as it pertains to maintaining and enhancing the quality of the America's Byways® collection, and the importance of partnerships to the Program since its establishment, it is legitimate to ask what partnerships have worked well, what partnership structures and relationships may need improvement, and whether this structure will serve the Program and its potential partners well into the future.
The partnership structure has worked well.
Since the National Scenic Byways Program was established, FHWA has been the Program's formal manager as defined by Congress in Section 162 of Title 23 of United States Code. FHWA has administered the nomination and designation of routes and the funding of eligible byways projects. Finally, FHWA has provided staffing and organizational capacity for national scenic byway conferences, regional workshops, and for the provision of information and marketing resources.
At the State level, State byway coordinators work as liaisons between the NSBP and local byway leaders to shape grant applications and designation packages. In addition, depending on priorities, State coordinators work on State conferences, marketing, and other State-specific projects.
Local byway leaders and groups are involved in the full-range of daily activities that occur on byways. In other words, almost every action and activity that happens along our national byways flows from and/or through the local byway groups. Federal and State officials, staff and/or departments do not generally initiate local actions. This hands-off approach, by Program design, establishes the purview (and responsibility) of local byway organizations.
Byway partnerships within State governments have advanced the quality of the America's Byways® collection.
Some State transportation departments have been effective by sharing responsibility for the Program through partnerships with other State agencies or within different DOT divisions. In Nevada and New Mexico, the State tourism offices have been valuable Program partners. In Maryland, the State Department of Planning and Department of Natural Resources have been effective partners. Kansas DOT initiated its program by hiring a consultant. States with large landscape architecture divisions like New York, Maryland, and California have demonstrated in-house capabilities with scenic analysis and landscape management—the professional skills of their landscape architects are well-suited for identifying, developing, and maintaining byway routes. Similarly, the States with active Context Sensitive Solutions programs generally have strong byway programs. Consider, for example, the number, geographic distribution, and intrinsic quality diversity of designated byways located in Connecticut, Kentucky, Maryland, Minnesota, and Utah—the five pilot States that coordinated with FHWA and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) in the development of Context Sensitive Design programs.
The existing partnership structure has strengths and weaknesses.
With any locally-managed grassroots program the size of the NSBP, there are bound to be significant variances in coordination and communication among communities, governments, and agencies. In some States, local advocates and State programs take NSBP guidance as a threshold from which to build creative and innovative partnerships, while in other States partnerships are in name (or CMP) only, with communication on a limited basis and focused on intra-byway issues defined more by historic political divisions, local biases, and public lands management, than the overall byway corridor.
The partnership structure has demonstrated its effectiveness in a number of ways:
- Local needs and desires drive the Program; there is extensive local control with the Federal Highway Administration providing technical assistance and support.
- Competition results in the efficient allocation of byway funding; local groups must make compelling arguments to receive funds.
- The existence of the national program allows for an unusual level of cooperation among regions, States, Indian tribes and Federal agencies and localities.
The partnership structure has also demonstrates some weaknesses as well:
- Byways with weak or obsolete partnership relationships may no longer represent America's "best of the best" in an objective fashion. Many byways represent the "best of those who make the effort."
- Some State byway programs are still structured such that they work with more of a "top-down" than "grassroots" up process.
- The absence of strong, centrally, coordinated oversight and direction means there may be inefficiencies in marketing the collection. Essentially, 126 independent entities are being marketed.
Innovative partnerships have often been developed by grassroots activism and advocacy at the local, State, and International level.
The grassroots nature of the NSBP is clear with many of the multi-state routes that are now a part of the America's Byways® collection. In many of these cases, local grassroots communication with interested local byway groups in other States (and in Canada) have initiated and established partnerships, relationships, and friendships that would be difficult to coordinate at official governmental levels—thus effectively facilitating multi-State byway designations, and building new international partnerships . Consider the following examples:
- Historic National Road , AAR, Maryland, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois: Local byway groups and State byway coordinators have been leaders in multi-State coordination. For the Historic National Road, six State transportation and tourism departments have oversight for the designated byway. Recognizing different State policies, procurement procedures, and marketing campaigns, local advocates representing the byway communities communicate regularly and meet annually. Local advocates promoted, and all six States formally adopted, a uniform marketing label for the route, "The Road that Built the Nation," and designed a byway logo for use in all six States that afforded each State the opportunity to personalize part of the logo-field, and distinguish their history without impacting the recognition of the shield design to the byway traveler following the logo from State to State.
- International Selkirk Loop, AAR, Idaho and Washington, with British Columbia: Local byway advocates in Idaho and Washington saw the benefit of extending their byway experience into Canada. Working with their grassroots counterparts in the Province of British Columbia, an International loop has been designated in the US and Canada. (Similar efforts in New York have extended the Seaway Trail and the Lakes to Locks Passage byways experiences into Ontario and Quebec Provinces, respectively.)
Existing partnerships with Indian tribes have been successful.
While there have been limited byway partnerships involving Indian tribes and tribal governments to date, the partnerships that have been developed have benefited both Indian tribes and the America's Byways® collection. Active interest and staff participation at the Bureau of Indian Affairs with the Program has benefited the partnerships as well.
Successful examples of byway partnerships with Indian tribes include:
- Jemez Mountain Trail, NSB, New Mexico : Working with the New Mexico DOT and the New Mexico Tourism Department, the Jemez Pueblo has been able to showcase its history and culture to byway travelers. The Pueblo received a NSBP grant for $438,000 in 1997 to construct a visitor center and museum along the byway. The well-designed facility, evocative of traditional architecture, provides basic visitor services (clean restrooms), exhibit space, a museum shop, and an outdoor space for traditional dance and demonstrations. The center, in a partnership with the Department of the Interior, is also an official Public Lands Information Center, providing information for National Park, Forest Service, and Bureau of Land Management sites along the byway.
- Pyramid Lake Scenic Byway, NSB, Pyramid Lake Reservation/Nevada : The Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe in Nevada worked with the State byway coordinator, housed within the Nevada Commission for Tourism, and the Nevada DOT to use byway funding to renovate a visitor center at the Tribe's central community at Pyramid Lake. Using a $750,000 NSBP grant in 1999, the Tribe renovated and enhanced the existing facility to meet visitor-quality expectations for a nationally designated byway. The result was a modern facility around which the Tribe boosted their tourism promotion—with a resulting increase in tourism spending in their community.
Maintain partnership structures as they are.
Don't fix it if it's not broken. Innovative and successful partnerships have been a hallmark of the NSBP. There have been few identified problems within the partnership structure as it exists, and many exemplary models to be shared and emulated. In many ways, the National Scenic Byways Program represents a model that other Federal, Tribal, State, and local partnerships should model.
Strengthen marketing funding for the America's Byways® collection.
Marketing remains an important component of visitor awareness for the America's Byways® collection. Through the use of the COREs concept, marketing relationships by byway themes and stories could be significantly enhanced and coordinated, and new partnerships could be developed by shared themes. This aspect of the Program would be stronger with a larger marketing budget and staff.
Establish clearer program direction and guidance for multi-State byways and international efforts.
Multi-State byway and international efforts have expanded the influence of the NSBP, and reinforced the tenet that travelers focused on intrinsic qualities are unaware of political boundaries.
- Investigate multi-State byway/International needs: Consider research, meetings, or a task force to address the opportunities and needs for multi-State byways and international efforts that are unique from those of single-State byways. Such issues as cross-border funding, coordination responsibilities for State or Indian tribe byway coordinators, nomination and grant applications, de-designation for failing segments, joint marketing campaigns, and quality-control issues to ensure the integrity of byway links in Canada or Mexico could be addressed. The process may also explore options for current single-State byways that are physically proximate and complementary in theme and experience to be evaluated as new multi-State byways.
- Multi-State grant funding: NSBP grants funds for projects across State lines can be difficult to request and administer. For specific, comprehensive multi-State byway-wide projects (marketing, logo signs, regional planning), few State DOTs have the legal ability to hire consultants, acquire materials, or conduct studies for projects of which a portion will be conducted or implemented in another State. To date, multi-State byways have been resourceful in coordinating multiple requests for NSBP grant funds for their State segment of a multi-State project, or dividing labor for projects based on State procurement procedures. Such grant-funding strategies have brought favorable results, but, it can be argued, with more red-tape than ideal.
- Multi-State corridor development projects: Consider special policies for grants to multi-State byways to improve the quality of the overall corridor (regional planning, marketing initiatives, wayfinding, resource protection, and transportation and safety planning).
- Dedicated multi-State funds: Investigate using a separate pool of funds or a special priority status for States willing to work together.
- Inter-State travel support: Consider the use of NSBP grant funds to support travel for State agency representatives to gather at a central location for multi-State meetings (bans on out-of-State travel with State travel funds often hamper or prohibit the ability of State byway officials from traveling to neighboring states for coordinating meetings).
- Conduct a multi-State grants needs survey: Consider a survey or meeting with current multi-State byways and International partnerships to determine the exact needs and best options to improve grant requests. It should be noted that FHWA can facilitate this process—not change State fiscal policies. Nonetheless, experience has shown that State representatives from multi-State byways can find creative solutions in-State; having the encouragement of the FHWA for the development and management of multi-State byways and international effort grants would likely encourage greater flexibility among the State DOTs.