These questions and answers are presented to help FHWA and its State and local transportation department partners better understand roles and responsibilities to provide accessible transportation facilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504). These questions and answers are derived from extensive experience and input from the FHWA Offices of Civil Rights, Infrastructure, Chief Counsel, and Planning, Environment, and Realty. Like all guidance material, these questions and answers are not, in themselves, legally binding and do not constitute regulations. These Q&As explain the FHWA's position on the implementation of the ADA and Section 504. These questions and answers have been reviewed and approved by the U.S. Department of Transportation General Counsel as consistent with applicable disability law.
The FHWA Offices of Civil Rights, Infrastructure, Chief Counsel, and Planning, Environment, and Realty developed these questions and answers and approved them as consistent with the language and intent of the ADA and Section 504. The questions and answers outlined in this document are to be applied to Federal, State, and local governmental agencies; hereafter called “public agencies” or “agencies.”
What authority requires public agencies to make public right-of-way accessible for all pedestrians with disabilities?
Public rights-of-way and facilities are required to be accessible to persons with disabilities through the following statutes: Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504) (29 U.S.C. §794) and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) (42 U.S.C. §§ 12131-12164). The laws work together to achieve this goal. (9-12-06)
What do these statutes require public agencies to do?
These statutes prohibit public agencies from discriminating against persons with disabilities by excluding them from services, programs, or activities. These statutes mean that the agency must provide pedestrian access for persons with disabilities to the agency's streets and sidewalks, whenever a pedestrian facility exists. Regulations implement this requirement by imposing standards for accessible features such as curb cuts, ramps, continuous sidewalks, and detectable warnings. (9-12-06)
Does the ADA require public agencies to provide pedestrian facilities?
No. However, when a public agency provides a pedestrian facility, it must be accessible to persons with disabilities to the extent technically feasible.
What is FHWA's responsibility for assuring access for persons with disabilities?
FHWA is responsible for ensuring access for persons with disabilities in four areas:
- For surface transportation projects under direct FHWA control (e.g., Federal Lands projects): FHWA is responsible for ensuring that project planning, design, construction, and operations adequately address pedestrian access for people who have disabilities.
- For Federally funded surface transportation projects that provide pedestrian facilities within the public right-of-way: FHWA is responsible for ensuring that the public agencies' project planning, design, and construction programs provide pedestrian access for persons with disabilities. FHWA-funded projects outside of the public right-of-way, such as Transportation Enhancement projects, must also adhere to these requirements.
- For pedestrian facilities within the public right-of-way, or any other FHWA enhancement project, regardless of funding source: FHWA is responsible for investigating complaints. 28 CFR §§ 35.170 – 35.190.
- FHWA should provide or encourage accessibility training for Federal, State, and local agencies and their contractors.
FHWA does not have ADA oversight responsibilities for projects outside of the public right-of-way that do not use Federal surface transportation program funds. (9-12-06)
What public agencies must provide accessible pedestrian walkways for persons with disabilities?
All State and local governmental agencies must provide pedestrian access for persons with disabilities in compliance with ADA Title II. 42 U.S.C. §12131(1). Federal, State, and local governments must provide pedestrian access for persons with disabilities in compliance with Section 504 standards. 29 U.S.C. §794(a). (9-12-06)
Can a public agency make private individuals or businesses responsible for ADA and Section 504 mandated pedestrian access?
No. The public agency is responsible for providing access for persons with disabilities. Private entities with joint responsibility for a public right-of-way, such as a private tenant on public property, are responsible for accessibility for persons with disabilities on the public right-of-way under Title II of ADA. The lease or other document creating this legal relationship should commit the private party to ensuring accessibility. In addition, public/private partnership relationships for the public right-of-way retain accessibility obligations to persons with disabilities under Title II. If the private entity eventually takes over the right-of-way in its entirety, then the private entity becomes responsible for accessibility for persons with disabilities under the private entity's obligations under Title III of the ADA. (9-12-06)
What United States Department of Justice (DOJ) and United States Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations govern accessibility requirements?
The DOJ ADA regulation is 28 CFR Part 35. The DOT Section 504 regulation at 49 CFR Part 27 governs public agencies, with the ADA incorporated at 49 CFR §27.19. Additional regulations drafted specifically for recipients of the Federal Transit Administration are at 49 CFR Part 37. (9-12-06)
What is FHWA's authority to implement ADA and Section 504 requirements?
The DOJ regulations designate the DOT as the agency responsible for overseeing public agencies' compliance with the ADA. 28 CFR §35.190(b)(8). The DOT has delegated to the FHWA the responsibility to ensure ADA compliance in the public right-of-way and on projects using surface transportation funds. (9-12-06)
What is the public right-of-way?
The public right-of-way consists of everything between right-of-way limits, including travel lanes, medians, planting strips, sidewalks, and other facilities. (9-12-06)
What authority requires public agencies to make transition plans?
The ADA requires public agencies with more than 50 employees to make a transition plan. 28 CFR §35.150(d). (9-12-06)
What should a transition plan include?
The transition plan must include a schedule for providing access features, including curb ramps for walkways. 28 CFR §35.150(d)(2). The schedule should first provide for pedestrian access upgrades to State and local government offices and facilities, transportation, places of public accommodation, and employers, followed by walkways serving other areas. 28 CFR §35.150(d)(2). The transition plan should accomplish the following four tasks:
identify physical obstacles in the public agency's facilities that limit the accessibility of its programs or activities to individuals with disabilities;
describe in detail the methods that will be used to make the facilities accessible;
specify the schedule for taking the steps necessary to upgrade pedestrian access to meet ADA and Section 504 requirements in each year following the transition plan; and
indicate the official responsible for implementation of the plan. 28 CFR §35.150(d)(3). (9-12-06)
How does the transition plan relate to a public agency's transportation planning process?
The ADA transition plan is intended to identify system needs and integrate them with the State's planning process. The transition plan and its identified needs should be fully integrated into the public agency's Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) and metropolitan Transportation Improvement Program (TIP). Agencies should incorporate accessibility improvements into the transportation program on an ongoing basis in a variety of ways:
Any construction project that is programmed must meet accessibility requirements when built.
Accessibility improvements identified in the transition plan that are not within the scope of an alteration project should be incorporated into the overall transportation planning process. This can be accomplished through the development of stand-alone accessibility projects.
As a means to identify ADA compliance needs, during scheduling maintenance activities, the agencies should identify ADA accessibility needs and incorporate them into the overall transportation planning process. (9-12-06)
What public agencies must make a transition plan?
The ADA requires any public agency with more than 50 employees to make a transition plan setting forth the steps necessary to make its facilities accessible to persons with disabilities. 28 CFR §35.150(d). (9-12-06)
When should the FHWA review an agency's transition plan?
DOT Section 504 regulation requires FHWA to monitor the compliance of the self-evaluation and transition plans of Federal-aid recipients (49 CFR §27.11). The FHWA Division offices should review pedestrian access compliance with the ADA and Section 504 as part of its routine oversight activities as defined in their stewardship plan. (9-12-06)
When and how should a transition plan be updated?
An agency's transition plan should have been completed by January 26, 1992, and should be based on updates of the self-evaluation conducted to comply with the requirements of Section 504. 28 CFR §35.105. The plan should be updated periodically to ensure the ongoing needs of the community continue to be met. The transition plan should be coordinated appropriately with the STIP and the TIP. Changes to the plan shall be made available to the public for comment. The public agency should specifically target any local community groups representing persons with disabilities for comment, to ensure that the agency is meeting the local priorities of the persons with disabilities in that community. If a public agency has never completed a transition plan, the Division should inform the public agency to complete a transition plan now and review that public agency's completed transition plan.
The ADA deadline for completing the improvements listed in the transition plans was January 26, 1995. For those State and localities that have not completed their self-evaluation and transition plans, it is critical that they complete this process. (9-12-06)
What projects must provide pedestrian access for persons with disabilities?
Any project for construction or alteration of a facility that provides access to pedestrians must be made accessible to persons with disabilities. 42 U.S.C. §§ 12131 - 12134; 28 CFR §§ 35.150, 35.151; Kinney v. Yerusalim, 9 F.3d 1067 (3d Cir. 1993), cert. denied, 511 U.S. 1033 (1994). (9-12-06)
What projects constitute an alteration to the public right-of-way?
An alteration is a change to a facility in the public right-of-way that affects or could affect access, circulation, or use. Projects altering the use of the public right-of-way must incorporate pedestrian access improvements within the scope of the project to meet the requirements of the ADA and Section 504. These projects have the potential to affect the structure, grade, or use of the roadway. Alterations include items such as reconstruction, rehabilitation, widening, resurfacing (see USDOJ-FHWA technical assistance dated 6-28-13 for additional clarification), signal installation and upgrades, and projects of similar scale and effect (6-28-2013).
What activities are not considered to be alterations?
The DOJ does not consider maintenance activities, such as filling potholes, to be alterations. The DOJ does consider resurfacing beyond normal maintenance to be an alteration. DOJ's ADA Title II Technical Assistance Manual, § II-6.6000, 1993, USDOJ-FHWA Technical Assistance dated 6-28-2013.
The FHWA has determined that maintenance activities include actions that are intended to preserve the system, retard future deterioration, and maintain the functional condition of the roadway without increasing the structural capacity. These activities include, but are not limited to, joint repair, pavement patching (filling potholes), shoulder repair, signing, striping, minor signal upgrades, and repairs to drainage systems. (6-28-2013)
Does a project altering a public right-of-way require simultaneous accessibility improvements?
Yes. An alteration project must be planned, designed, and constructed so that the accessibility improvements within the scope of the project occur at the same time as the alteration. 29 CFR § 35.151; Kinney v. Yerusalim, 9 F.3d 1067 (3d Cir. 1993), cert. denied, 511 U.S. 1033 (1994).
The ADA does not stipulate how to perform simultaneous accessibility improvements. For example, a public agency may select specialty contractors to perform different specialized tasks prior to completion of the alteration project or concurrently with an ongoing project. (9-12-06)
When does the scope of an alteration project trigger accessibility improvements for people with disabilities?
The scope of an alteration project is determined by the extent the alteration project directly changes or affects the public right-of-way within the project limits. The public agency must improve the accessibility of only that portion of the public right-of-way changed or affected by the alteration. If a project resurfaces the street, for accessibility purposes the curbs and pavement at the pedestrian crosswalk are in the scope of the project, but the sidewalks are not. Any of the features disturbed by the construction must be replaced so that they are accessible. All remaining access improvements within the public right-of-way shall occur within the schedule provided in the public agency's planning process. (9-12-06)
Do maintenance activities require simultaneous improvements of the facility to meet ADA standards?
No. Maintenance activities do not require simultaneous improvements to pedestrian accessibility under the ADA and Section 504. However, in the development of the maintenance scope of work identified accessibility needs should be incorporated into the transition process. (9-12-06)
When should accessible design elements be incorporated into projects in the public right-of-way?
FHWA encourages the consideration of pedestrian needs in all construction, reconstruction, and rehabilitation projects. If a public agency provides pedestrian facilities, those facilities must be accessible to persons with disabilities. A public agency is not relieved of its obligation to make its pedestrian facilities accessible if no individual with a disability is known to live in a particular area. This is true regardless of its funding source. DOJ's ADA Title II Technical Assistance Manual, § II-5.1000, 1993. (9-12-06)
How does cost factor into a public agency's decision in its transition plan concerning which existing facilities must comply with ADA and Section 504 pedestrian access requirements?
For existing facilities requiring accessibility improvements as scheduled in the transition plans, the public agency must provide accessibility improvements unless the cost of the upgrades is unduly burdensome. The test for being unduly burdensome is the proportion of the cost for accessibility improvements compared to the agency's overall budget, not simply the project cost. 28 CFR Part 35, App. A, discussion at §35.150, 4 – 7.
The decision that pedestrian access would be unduly burdensome must be made by the head of a public agency or that official's designee, accompanied by a written statement of the reasons for the decision. 28 CFR §35.150(a)(3). (9-12-06)
For a new project planned outside of the transition plan, with ADA accessibility improvements required to make the facility readily accessible and useable by individuals with disabilities, can cost be a reason not to complete an ADA-required accessibility improvement?
No. Cost may not be a reason to fail to construct or delay constructing a new facility so that the facility is readily accessible to and useable by persons with disabilities under the ADAAG standards. 28 CFR §35.151(a); see DOJ Technical Assistance Manual for Title II of the ADA, II-6.3100(3). (9-12-06)
For an alteration project planned outside of the transition plan, with ADA accessibility improvements required within the scope of the project, can cost be a reason to decide what ADA-required improvements will be completed?
No. Cost may not be a reason for a public entity to fail to complete an ADA-required improvement within the scope of an alteration project under the ADAAG standards. A public agency must complete any ADA-required accessibility improvements within the scope of an alteration project to the maximum extent feasible. 28 CFR §35.151(b); DOJ Technical Assistance Manual for Title II of the ADA, II-6.3100(4). (9-12-06)
What role does the “maximum extent feasible” standard play for ADA accessibility requirements in altered projects?
In an alteration project, the public agency must incorporate the ADA accessibility standards to the maximum extent feasible. 28 CFR §35.151(b). The feasibility meant by this standard is physical possibility only. A public agency is exempt from meeting the ADA standards in the rare instance where physical terrain or site conditions restrict constructing or altering the facility to the standard. ADA Accessibility Guidelines 4.1.6(1)(j).
Cost is not a factor in determining whether meeting standards has been completed to the maximum extent feasible. DOJ's ADA Title II Technical Assistance Manual, § II-6.3200(3)-(4), 1993. No particular decisionmaking process is required to determine that an accessibility improvement is not technically feasible, but the best practice is to document the decision to enable the public agency to explain the decision in any later compliance review. (9-12-06)
What should a public agency do when it does not control all of the public right-of-way required to provide access for persons with disabilities?
The public agency should work jointly with all others with interests in the highway, street, or walkway to ensure that pedestrian access improvements occur at the same time as any alteration or new project. The ADA encourages this cooperation by making each of the public agencies involved subject to complaints or lawsuits for failure to meet the ADA and Section 504 requirements. 28 CFR §§ 35.170 – 35.178. (9-12-06)
Can a public agency delay compliance with the ADA and Section 504 on alteration projects through a systematic approach to schedule projects?
No. All pedestrian access upgrades within the scope of the project must occur at the same time as the alteration. Kinney v. Yerusalim, 9 F.3d 1067 (3d Cir. 1993), cert. denied, 511 U.S. 1033 (1994). (9-12-06)
|NHS National Highway System
||TrE Transit Enhancements
|STP Surface Transportation Program
||BRI Bridge (HBRRP)
|HSIP Highway Safety Improvement Program
||402 State and Community Traffic Safety Program
|RHC Railway-Highway Crossing Program
||PLA State/Metropolitan Planning Funds
|TE Transportation Enhancement Activities
||TCSP Transportation and Community and System Preservation Program
|CMAQ Congestion Mitigation/Air Quality Program
||FLH Federal Lands Highways Program
|RTP Recreational Trails Program
||BYW Scenic Byways
|FTA Federal Transit Capital, Urban & Rural Funds
||SRTS Safe Routes to School
What accessibility training is available?
FHWA has the following training courses available:
National Highway Institute: Pedestrian Facility Design, Course Number 142045. See www.nhi.fhwa.dot.gov/course-search, and search for Course 142045.
Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals/FHWA: Designing Pedestrian Facilities for Accessibility. See www.apbp.org.
Resource Center Civil Rights Team: Designing Pedestrian Facilities for Accessibility.
Where is information on the criteria to be used in developing accessible facilities?
The following list of documents contains resources from several agencies and organizations
US Access Board: The Access Board is the Federal agency responsible for developing ADA design standards. The following publications on accessible pedestrian design are available on the Board's Web site at www.access-board.gov:
- Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG)
- Notice of Availability of Draft Public Rights-of-Way Guidelines
- Accessibility Guidelines Accessible Public Rights-of-Way Design Guide
- Pedestrian Access to Roundabouts
- Detectable Warnings: Synthesis of US and International Practice
- Accessible Pedestrian Signals
- Advisory Committee Report: Building a True Community
- Accessible Public Rights-of-Way
- Interfacing Accessible Pedestrian Signals and Traffic Signal
Call 1-800-872-2253, 1-800-993-2822 (TDD) to order the US Access Board Video, Accessible Sidewalks: Design Issues for Pedestrians with Disabilities
- Program 1: Pedestrians who use wheelchairs
- Program 2: Pedestrians who have ambulatory impairments
- Program 3: Pedestrians who have low vision
- Program 4: Pedestrians who are blind
The Federal Highway Administration: Pedestrian documents and reports are available at www.fhwa.dot.gov/environment/bicycle_pedestrian/publications/index.cfm.
Research and best practices design publications on pedestrian accessibility:
- Designing Sidewalks and Trails for Access, Part I, A Review of Existing Guidelines, www.fhwa.dot.gov/bicycle_pedestrian/publications/sidewalks/ (electronic formats only: hard copies out of print).
- Designing Sidewalks and Trails for Access, Part II, Best Practices Guide, www.fhwa.dot.gov/bicycle_pedestrian/publications/sidewalk2/index.cfm (electronic formats only: hard copies out of print, HTML version incorporates all the changes listed in the errata sheet: www.fhwa.dot.gov/environment/bicycle_pedestrian/publications/sidewalk2/errata.cfm).
- Design Guidance Accommodating Bicycle and Pedestrian Travel:
- A Recommended Approach, A DOT Policy Statement on Integrating Bicycling and Walking into Transportation Infrastructure.
- Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) provides the standards for traffic control devices and includes guidance on Accessible Pedestrian Signals, Chapter 4E. and Temporary Traffic Control Elements, Chapter 6D. The MUTCD is available at https://mutcd.fhwa.dot.gov/.
- Detectable Warnings Memorandum (July 30, 2004).
- Detectable Warnings Memorandum (May 6, 2002): FHWA and the US Access Board encourage the use of the latest recommended design for truncated domes.
Accessible Pedestrian Signals
Other DOT Web sites
Institute of Transportation Engineers
Informational Web sites
- Accessible Design for the Blind: information and research on making travel safer and accessible for pedestrians with disabilities, accessforblind.org/.
- The Pedestrian/Bicycle Information Center (sponsored by FHWA):