U.S. Department of Transportation
Federal Highway Administration
1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
Washington, DC 20590
Federal Highway Administration Research and Technology
Coordinating, Developing, and Delivering Highway Transportation Innovations
This magazine is an archived publication and may contain dated technical, contact, and link information.
|Publication Number: Date: Summer 1995|
Issue No: Vol. 59 No. 1
Date: Summer 1995
The Local Technical Assistance Program: Key Areas of Accomplishment by Patsy Pratt Anderson The Local Technical Assistance Program (LTAP) has been very successful in making transportation systems safer and more efficient. LTAP, which began as the Rural Technical Assistance Program (RTAP) in 1982, has steadily grown from 10 technology transfer (T²) centers to 55 centers in a nationwide network that provides state-of-the-art technical assistance. Today's LTAP provides a variety of services to rural, urban, and American Indian tribal governments.
Many of the successful elements of the program are explained in A Study of the Benefits, Accomplishments, and Resource Needs of the Local Technical Assistance Program, released in January 1994. The study reveals the most beneficial aspects of this local T² program, as identified by a random survey of local transportation officials in 39 states and by numerous interviews with local agency personnel in 15 states. The study also documents cost savings in areas where it is possible to assign a dollar value. However, survey respondents found it very difficult to assign a value to the many intangible benefits and services such as mailing lists, training, and library information and services provided by the T² centers. A prime example is safety training. This area was identified as the greatest cost-saver since it is credited for a drastic reduction in the number of vehicle crashes and lawsuits. Nevertheless, an accurate dollar value of savings is rarely available.
Occasionally, a situation occurs in which the benefits of safety training are obvious. Jim Hague of Dickinson County, Kan., explains: "Yes, I can identify a benefit. The county had a $2.5 million lawsuit that was thrown out because the traffic controls within the work zone where the accident happened were done right. T² training on this subject could certainly be given major credit." Improved self-esteem and enhanced productivity of workers fall into the same category. The benefit is obvious, but it is difficult to specify a monetary value. "Because of T², our roads are safer, our employees are happier, and we are better able to satisfy the citizens. I'm sure we have saved thousands of dollars, but we don't have actual documentation," said Frank Thompson of Putnam County, Fla. LTAP offers training, technical assistance, newsletters, and a multimedia lending library. Training is the principal function of the T² centers. Prior to LTAP, there was little opportunity for local agencies to receive training or assistance designed to meet their needs. But, in the past five years, the centers presented more than 1 million person-days of training (based on a six-hour training day). The most popular subject area was safety, followed by management and pavements.
Training provided by the T² program has enhanced productivity and saved money. The following achievements were attributed to the training program:
Some states legally require cities and counties to employ registered professional engineers to administer local road programs, but the road and street departments of most local governments are directed by officials who have practical experience but little formal technical education or training. Particularly in these states, low-cost, readily available training is the key to learning proper techniques and staying abreast of rapidly changing transportation technologies.
Developing managerial skills has also been an important focus area for T² centers. In fact, 22 percent of the centers' efforts have been devoted to enhancing the knowledge of local government transportation managers in six areas: road surface, equipment, safety, personnel, tort liability and risk, and public relations training. While all of these areas were helpful according to survey respondents, safety management and equipment management stand out.
Safety management systems, which are new to local governments, showed the highest level of approval with 97 percent of the respondents rating this training as highly beneficial. Equipment management training, which includes effective methods for maintaining, scheduling, and replacing equipment, received "very or somewhat helpful" scores from 92 percent of respondents. Management skills gained through the LTAP have frequently accounted for significant changes in local transportation systems. Al Brewer of Ruston, La., agrees: "This small city has had a pavement management system since 1988 Ä the first in the state. T² provided the training and technical support to get this system operational. The improved street-rating program allows priority-setting that helps take the politics out of the street department."
The importance of familiarization with computers has grown along with the development of various management systems. Ten years ago, in the early days of RTAP, computer use in road departments was almost nonexistent. Today, there are many computer-based management systems available, and LTAP has been influential in familiarizing road and street managers with the benefits of these systems.
Documentation available through computer management systems is likely to become increasingly important as the nation's attention focuses on reducing the national debt. With government spending at all levels under close scrutiny, written documentation on accomplishments and benefits will be necessary for programs receiving federal funds.
Documenting the cost savings of the T² program is important for the same reason. In personal interviews conducted in 15 states, local government officials were asked to estimate a per year dollar savings. Considering the areas of pavements, safety, bridges, reduced training fees, equipment maintenance, and "other," total savings were placed at almost $20 million annually for the 15 reporting states Ä an average per state savings of more than $1.3 million per year. The LTAP Benefits, Accomplishments, and Resource Needs Study report extrapolates savings for the 41 states that have been offering services for more than four years to be $54.6 million. This is a conservative estimate since it does not include the savings of centers in operation for fewer than four years. Also, while many local centers lack specific documentation to illustrate their actual savings, it is clear that the T² program is saving money. Measurable or not, the program is clearly a success. Since its beginning, it has been heralded by local governments as the only program of its kind to assist them in providing safe and efficient local roads. Perhaps the key to this success lies in LTAP's unique structure. While each T² center provides similar services, programs are tailored to meet local demands and are structured to encourage communication between T² centers. For local transportation agencies, the latest technical information is within easy reach literally only a phone call away.
Patsy Pratt Anderson is the director of the Kentucky Exchange Program at the University of Kentucky in Lexington. She conducted the study described in this article, and she served in an Interagency Personnel Act assignment with the Federal Highway Administration during 1993.