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Right-of-Way Local Public Agency Program - Best Management Practices

Introduction

Our nation's cars and trucks overwhelmingly start their journeys on a street or road that has been built and maintained by a city, township, or county. Over 75% of our nations' highway system is the responsibility of a local unit of government. Maintaining and improving this system is of national importance.

The Federal-aid highway program is built upon a strong State-Federal partnership. Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) program funds go to the states and a portion of these funds are then used for local roadway programs. How these programs are carried out through relationships and processes is the topic of this paper. To develop this paper, a close look was taken at the Washington State Department of Transportation's (WSDOT) method of administering its local roads program. WSDOT's program is effective, and encompasses a wide variety of challenges and situations that are found in varying degrees in most other States. In the introductory part of this paper, it addresses a more intensive overview of the background of the governmental relationships that shape a local roads assistance program. The middle section shares as series overviews on how State and local agency office function. The final part highlights the factors that have contributed to success and provides concepts that may assist in further program improvements.

The goal of the research was not to evaluate the how-to processes of completing right-of-way projects, but to understand how WSDOT and its Local Public Agencies (local agencies) developed a mutually beneficial working relationship that resulted in maximizing Federal funds. The Highways & Local Programs Service Center provides technical support staff, a Local Programs engineer (engineer) in each of WSDOT's six regional offices. The Real Estate Services (RES) division provides technical support staff, a local agency coordinator (coordinator) who is also located in each regional office. The regional coordinator and engineer are supported by staff in each region and by management at Headquarters located in their respective Olympia Service Centers. These two positions, the coordinator and engineer, are just one key component to the successful right-of-way program between WSDOT and its local agencies.

Another key component is the interaction between the local agencies and the state-provided engineers and coordinators. WSDOT trains and advises the local agencies. The coordinators assist local agencies with project certifications, right-of-way plans, relocation plans and other right of way assistance as needed. The regional engineers and management staff from the Olympia Service Center provide local agencies with preliminary engineering reviews, project management and oversight, administrative support and grant preparation. WSDOT's RES and Highway and Local Programs Divisions are focused on customer satisfaction and long-term relationships. The relationships may have begun, as a necessity, to obtain federal funds, but was it state and Federal policies and programs that was the catalyst of this positive relationship?

It is true that state and Federal policies and procedures have been implemented to foster the improvement of our highway system, from local streets and roads on through the Interstate System. The Federal-Aid Highway Program has included these local streets and roads in many forms, simply because of the overall importance they hold in our daily lives. The most recent major highway funding legislation, the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) of 1991 and the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) of 1998, both continue a high level of financial support for local projects. The funding of these projects through the Federal-Aid Highway Program delivery system brought with it programmatic requirements in areas such as Civil Rights (Civil Rights Act of 1964), Environment (National Environmental Policy Act), and acquisition of right-of-way (Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Property Acquisition Policies Act of 1970).

The FHWA pledged to assist State Transportation Departments (STDs) establish opportunities to use TEA-21 federal funds. FHWA listened to its partners and customers (the STDs and local agencies), to assist with the development of streamlined guidance documents for right-of-way transactions. The FHWA envisioned this relationship as a partnership among the federal government, STDs and local agencies.

Washington State embodies such a partnership. Instead of adversarial interagency relationships among FHWA, STDs and local agencies, the relationships observed were based on mutual respect, trust and shared visions and goals. A new era of empowerment has arrived with the millennium. This new attitude leads each organization to meets its goals of providing the most cost efficient, quality transportation system possible.

Why would any organization that already has too many tasks to complete without sufficient funding elect to invest so much time and resources into training another organizations' employees? Most would say, "We don't have enough resources to complete state projects, let alone assist the local agencies." Perhaps if sharing of process knowledge leads to increased revenue for your organizations, then the investment would be a "win-win" for all involved. This sharing of right-of-way process knowledge and production tools, such as the Local Agency Guidelines (LAG) Manual and many training programs, has lead to positive professional working relationships between WSDOT and its local agencies.

What was the mechanism that changed the public perception and relationship between WSDOT and its local agencies from foe to friend? One answer is the mutually beneficial need that both STDs and local agencies have for obtaining federal funds for transportation improvement projects. STDs and local agencies working together on common goals to obtain maximum Federal funding was the catalyst these organizations needed for the relationship to develop. Common visions formed a comprehensive and cohesive process that would direct how WSDOT and its local agencies communicate, share process knowledge and work together to meet common goals. WSDOT employees realized that communication and training for local agencies on ROW processes made everyone's job easier. The upfront investment of time resulted in a big picture payoff in time, money and, something money cannot buy, partnerships.

The study was conducted by Quality Environmental Professionals, Incorporated (QEPI), of Indianapolis, Indiana, under contract with the Federal Highway Administration Office of Real Estate Services. Principal Investigator for QEPI was Deborah E. Peters.

The cooperation of the Washington State Department of Transportation and their local public agencies is gratefully acknowledged.

This document is disseminated under the sponsorship of the Department of Transportation in the interest of information exchange. The United States Government assumes no liability for its contents or use thereof. This report does not constitute a standard, specification, or regulation.

Updated: 04/02/2013
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