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Several components contribute to the specific success of the WSDOT/local agency-partnering model. These factors include:
For Washington State, these elements result in empowered and successful WSDOT/local agency relationships.
An indispensable component of the relationships between WSDOT and its local agencies is shared vision of service to each other, both as organizations and as individuals. In a significant number of cases, relationships between organizations can become impersonal, resulting in missed opportunities for understanding and a greater chance for breakdown in communication between the parties. These communication breakdowns lead to barriers between organizations and individuals, decreasing the effectiveness of the process in question.
In Washington State, the catchphrase "How can I help you?" is intrinsic to the way WSDOT and the local agencies work together. This shared vision of service, as well as communicating it to the other key stakeholders in the process, is evident in individuals throughout various levels of each organization. The values that lead to this vision are not just a part of a mission statement. Nor are the values just a written list that is never referred to by the people in question. Instead, they are written on the hearts and attitudes of the individuals who carry out the process.
When this is the case, communication between organizations and individuals becomes more personal. Barriers are removed between WSDOT and its local public agencies, which increase the effectiveness of the processes between the two parties.
It was obvious that the local agencies and WSDOT were focused on the needs of their customers, the citizens of Washington State. Both entities had shared vision of building the best transportation system in the most cost-effective and time-efficient manner. The local agencies and WSDOT staff understood that Federal funding was necessary in order to enhance city, county, and state transportation needs, therefore they first listened and learned the most efficient means of obtaining Federal funds to assist with project efforts. WSDOT adopted the Federal regulations and developed a user-friendly Local Agency Guideline Manual to assist its partners and clients (local agencies) with knowledge and authority when using Federal funds. WSDOT trained and openly communicated with local agencies until such point that the agencies were self-sufficient. WSDOT illustrated that it is much better to teach an agency to fish for itself than to provide the agency with fish. Independence and knowledge are power.
It is not possible to evaluate this partnership without considering the impact and contribution from FHWA. It is apparent that WSDOT enjoys a strong partnership relationship with not only their local FHWA staff but also with other technical experts available to them through the Western Resource Center. The individual contributions from FHWA staff are important, but the most important element is the mutual respect and shared vision among the various players.
Another key element of the WSDOT/local agency model is the coordination mechanism built in between headquarters divisions and the regional offices. The coordinators work closely with the Local Agency Engineer in each region and with The Olympia Service Center Real Estate Services Office. As a result of this cohesive coordination, communication flows smoothly between the Environmental & Engineering and the Highways & Local Programs despite the fact that the coordinator is working in a regional office, rather than at OSC headquarters. Issues identified by these cross-center staff can readily be incorporated into the training programs offered, and into Local Agency Guidelines Manual. The OSC Coordination Manager located in RES Olympia at headquarters bears primary responsibility for these functions.
WSDOT produces a number of tools to assist with transportation improvement/construction process. These tools include ROW manuals that lay out specific steps and processes required by Federal and State law, the FHWA and WSDOT in clear, easily understandable language. The ROW manual identifies the technical aspects involved in securing ROW when required. The Local Agency Guidelines manual provides the authority delegation options available to local agencies, and the steps required to apply for certification. Examples and state forms are included throughout the manuals and are updated regularly. WSDOT maintains a distribution list of all manual holders and distributes updates and interim policy changes to the manual holders, as these issues are brought forth. Manuals can be provided on CD-ROM for those wanting the information in this format. Specific staff members are responsible for updating each chapter in the manuals, and these responsibilities are included in the staff's job descriptions. The manuals describe all project processes and provide direction and clarification for the end users.
Transportation projects, though important and necessary both locally and nationally, are usually time-consuming and expensive. Federal funding is available to underwrite many of the costs associated with projects, provided the projects are consistent with national goals and priorities. However, securing this funding is complicated and requires adherence to Federal law and policies. Failure to do so may result in non-receipt of expected funding and obvious public relations problems. WSDOT has created a division, three types of staff positions, and a defined coordination role to simplify and streamline this process for local agencies. This technical assistant position is located at the regional offices for ready local agency access. By creating a method to maximize potential Federal funding and ensuring that eligibility requirements are not forsaken, WSDOT greatly increases local agency options for highway construction projects.
The Certification Acceptance (CA) program permits FHWA delegation of authority to WSDOT for approving project development and construction administration. WSDOT further has the option of delegating some of this authority through the FHWA Stewardship Agreement to qualified local agencies, other state and federal agencies, and/or Indian Tribes. An agency with CA can be the approving authority for administering FHWA funded projects in the following areas:
WSDOT has overall responsibility for local agencies using Federal funding and is responsible for guiding local agencies through the requirements of the Uniform Relocation Act. When WSDOT does work for local agencies, a government contract agreement for aid (GCA) is used. The GCA is general and each project is defined by a specific task assignment. Any time agencies want to perform services for one another; this GCA must be in place. Local agencies benefit from the Certification Acceptance program by time and money savings from developing, advertising, awarding, and managing its own projects.
As previously discussed, a local agency that applies to be certified for acquisition of right-of-way submits its acquisition procedures to its regional engineer. The regional engineer reviews the procedures and then forwards the procedures through the regional coordinator to the OSC Coordination Manager for approval. If the local agency procedures are approved, then the local agency will be approved to acquire right-of-way. The level of approval will be dependent on the local agency's staff qualifications. If the local agency has a minimal staff, then it may be approved to acquire a single project with direct supervision from the regional coordinator. The OSC Highways & Local Programs Engineer will write a right-of-way procedures letter to the local agency, with a copy provided to the regional coordinator. The regional engineer and coordinator then conduct periodic reviews of the local agency procedures on all Federal-aid projects.
By clearly delineating the areas of delegated responsibility, WSDOT has virtually eliminated the possibility of misunderstanding and confusion in conversations between WSDOT and its local agency.
In summary, the relationship between WSDOT and its local agencies is truly a partnership, with mentoring and support provided every step of the way. This nurturing and supportive relationship is available on an as-needed basis and is built on a solid foundation of mutual trust and respect. The relationship began in a more authoritative manner, consistent with WSDOT's overall responsibility for the local agencies using Federal funding and ensuring they meet the requirements of the Uniform Relocation Act. As local agency competence grew, local agency autonomy also grew, further fostering the relationship between these partnering entities.
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.