U.S. Department of Transportation
Federal Highway Administration
1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
Washington, DC 20590

Skip to content
Facebook iconYouTube iconTwitter iconFlickr iconLinkedInInstagram

Federal Highway Administration Research and Technology
Coordinating, Developing, and Delivering Highway Transportation Innovations

Public Roads
This magazine is an archived publication and may contain dated technical, contact, and link information.
Public Roads Home | Current Issue | Past Issues | Subscriptions | Article Reprints | Guidelines for Authors: Public Roads Magazine | Sign Up for E-Version of Public Roads | Search Public Roads
Back to Publication List        
Publication Number:  FHWA-HRT-10-001 Vol. 73 No. 3    Date:  Nov/Dec 2009
Publication Number: FHWA-HRT-10-001 Vol. 73 No. 3
Date: Nov/Dec 2009


The Role of TTAPs in Tribal Transportation

by John J. Sullivan IV and Clark Martin

Through technical assistance and capacity building, these centers help native peoples meet safety and mobility needs in Indian country.

Shown here is the Chumash Highway, a State road named in recognition of its crossing of Indian ancestral lands. TTAP centers work with tribes to improve safety and mobility on roads that pass through modern-day tribal lands.
Shown here is the Chumash Highway, a State road named in recognition of its crossing of Indian ancestral lands. TTAP centers work with tribes to improve safety and mobility on roads that pass through modern-day tribal lands.

Each year, motorists log more than 2 billion vehicle miles (3.2 billion vehicle kilometers) on Indian Reservation Roads (IRR), which are public roads to and within Indian reservations, trust lands, restricted lands, and Alaska Native villages. The IRR program, administered jointly by the Federal Highway Administration's (FHWA) Office of Federal Lands Highway (FLH) and the U.S. Department of the Interior's Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), provides funds for planning, design, construction, and maintenance activities on these roads, which contribute to the health, safety, and economic development of Native American communities.

Today, the U.S. Government recognizes 562 American Indian and Alaska Native tribes in the United States. Tribal governments, often in partnership with Federal, State, and local government agencies, face a distinct set of challenges building, operating, and maintaining safe roadways on tribal lands. These challenges include multijurisdictional authority, limited staffing and resources, and differences among the tribes in terms of land ownership and other factors, all of which make one-size-fits-all approaches unrealistic.

In 1991, to help tribal governments improve management of their transportation networks, FHWA created the Tribal Technical Assistance Program (TTAP). Today, seven regional TTAP centers provide a variety of training programs, an information clearinghouse, updates on new and existing technology, and personalized technical assistance to tribal governments. Through these core services, the TTAP centers offer help in workforce development, asset management, and solutions to safety, environmental, congestion, capacity, and other issues.

The TTAPs work with tribes in support of a number of FHWA programs related to road management and safety, including key programs administered by the FHWA program offices, with a particular focus on the IRR program managed by FLH. For example, TTAP centers provide assistance with transportation planning, development and coordination of tribal and State transportation improvement programs, environmental reviews and mitigation efforts, highway and work zone safety, and asset management. Further still, TTAPs support tribal initiatives related to freight, transit, rail, and intermodal systems.

Whether sharing information on the latest technologies, developing educational programs to encourage Native American students to pursue careers in transportation, or coordinating interagency and intergovernmental partnerships, TTAP centers are helping tribes improve safety and mobility on their roadways.

Tribal Sovereignty

The nature of the relationship between American Indian tribes and the U.S. Government is critical to respecting and understanding tribal transportation issues. The U.S. Constitution, treaties, court decisions, Federal statutes, and executive orders define the unique relationship between Indian tribes and the Federal Government. The United States acknowledges each tribe as a sovereign domestic entity within the United States, with the power to govern itself and manage its own affairs.

The issue of road ownership is a fundamental part of any transportation project. The IRR system consists of nearly 40,000 miles (64,400 kilometers) of public roads and 940 bridges owned by the BIA and tribal governments and more than 61,000 miles (98,000 kilometers) of public roads owned by State and local governments and other entities. For any one roadway project, multiple owners might need to be involved if roads owned by different entities intersect. Even if there might be one road owner, multiple governments could exercise jurisdiction concurrently over road construction, improvements, and maintenance projects in tribal communities. Consequently, multiple and competing laws regarding contract negotiations and employee rights could come into play.

"Consultation between government entities, memoranda of understanding, or memoranda of agreement could be necessary to initiate, much less complete, a transportation project in Indian country," says Raquelle Myers, staff attorney with the National Indian Justice Center and the California/Nevada TTAP. "TTAPs address the training and technical assistance needs of tribes to help them understand the complex jurisdictional issues in Indian country, to engage the States in meaningful consultation, and to deal with issues concerning rights-of-way through Indian country."

Funding for Tribal Transportation

Due to the government-to-government relationship between tribes and the Federal Government, funding for tribal transportation systems comes directly from the U.S. Government — the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT), by way of FHWA, and BIA — to support the tribal IRR program priorities. The amount each tribe receives under the IRR program is determined by a formula driven by an annual inventory of transportation facilities eligible for Federal funding under the program. Tribes also are eligible for many Federal programs administered through State departments of transportation (DOTs).

There are seven TTAP centers, each representing tribes located in specific States or regions of the country. Source: LTAP/TTAP.
There are seven TTAP centers, each representing tribes located in specific States or regions of the country.

Historically, tribes received Federal dollars for their transportation programs through a pool of money (IRR program funds) originated in FLH and administered through BIA. However, the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) provided an option for tribes meeting certain eligibility requirements to enter into IRR program agreements directly with FHWA, thus receiving their funds from FHWA rather than BIA. As of September 2009, 42 tribes had entered into these agreements.

National Tribal Transportation Conference

In November 2008, tribal transportation officials from across the country, as well as representatives from Federal, State, and local government agencies and the private sector, convened in Oklahoma City for the 11th Annual National Tribal Transportation Conference. The annual event features plenary sessions, vendor showcases, and a "roadeo" for equipment operators, during which participants compete with each other to perform precise movements or actions using various types of heavy equipment. The Tribal Technical Assistance Program (TTAP) centers collaboratively plan and host the annual conferences. Approximately 350 people attended the 2008 event.

Topics at the plenary sessions included right-of-way issues, asset management, road and equipment maintenance, safety, transportation and economic development, use of geographic information systems in tribal transportation planning, scenic byways, historic and cultural preservation, and transit planning and operations. One interactive session, dubbed the "IRR Planning Game and Tournament," gave participants an opportunity to compete in groups as they attempted to construct a transportation project while navigating through five categories of project development.

Speakers included FHWA Executive Director Jeffrey F. Paniati, who discussed FHWA's involvement and partnership in the Indian Reservation Roads (IRR) Program, and Leroy Gishi, chief of the Bureau of Indian Affairs' Division of Transportation, who shared his input on the status of the IRR inventory.

The 2009 National Tribal Transportation Conference was held in Phoenix, AZ, from November 16-19, 2009. For more information, visit http://ttap.colostate.edu.

At a 'roadeo' for equipment operators held during the 2008 TTAP conference, skid steer operators attempted to knock this softball off a traffic cone without tipping over the cone.
At a "roadeo" for equipment operators held during the 2008 TTAP conference, skid steer operators attempted to knock this softball off a traffic cone without tipping over the cone.

FHWA allocates funding to BIA for those tribes working with BIA or the U.S. Department of the Interior's Office of Self-Governance, and then works with BIA to oversee and run the IRR program. Because FHWA is providing funding, both BIA and FHWA regulations (such as pertaining to environmental reviews and rights-of-way) apply to the IRR program. Since 2004, USDOT and BIA have used a software tool known as the Road Inventory Field Data System (RIFDS) to manage data needed for distributing transportation funds for planning, roads, and bridges. The software factors in adjustments for population growth and the relative needs of each tribe. RIFDS facilitates maintaining road and segment data, validating proposed data changes, managing the approval process for record changes at various levels, and generating a variety of reports. (Funding for IRR projects needs to be included in the appropriate State Transportation Improvement Program or other transportation planning venue to document fiscal constraint.)

Asset Management And Data Collection

Due to the nature of roadway ownership and jurisdiction on tribal lands, establishing partnerships and intergovernmental collaborations is critical to managing tribal roadway assets efficiently. Further, an effective asset management system can insulate tribal transportation personnel and elected officials, at least to some degree, from internal political influence as to what projects to build and rehabilitate, says Cheryl Cloud-Westlund, codirector of the Michigan Tech TTAP (which represents tribes in Minnesota and all States east of the Mississippi River and down to the Gulf of Mexico).

Using asset management software and principles to determine an appropriate mix of projects enables decisions to be based on data, use, and road conditions, "essentially removing the guesswork and individual posturing that comes with prioritizing road projects with limited resources," Cloud-Westlund says. "This process serves the interests of the users," while "saving the road owner money and extending the life and service of the roadway."

Because the tribal funding received from the IRR program depends on roadway inventories, tribes need accurate and up-to-date data on road mileage, crashes, safety problems, maintenance needs, and other network characteristics. But in many areas of the United States, crash reports collected by tribes and BIA are not regularly shared outside the enforcement community, so crash histories on Indian lands show few or no incidents. Lacking sufficient baseline and current data, tribes have to rely on national or State-level data to assess their roadways.

To address the lack of tribal-level data, the Michigan Tech TTAP is working with Michigan's Local Technical Assistance Program (LTAP) and a software development team to create an IRR version of "RoadSoft GIS." Michigan Technological University developed RoadSoft GIS software, which features geographic information system technology, to help local governments manage and analyze roadway and crash data. In March 2009, a product showcase at a meeting of the IRR Program Coordinating Committee in Washington, DC, demonstrated the value of the software for pavement and asset management and how the tribal version could incorporate elements of the IRR inventory.

At least one tribe is already using RoadSoft in partnership with a nearby local government. Michigan's Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, in collaboration with the Baraga County Road Commission, is maintaining the BIA inventory of its tribal roads, along with other county roads, using the software. Providing access to technology like this enables TTAP centers to help tribes and their local communities fill some of the existing data gaps, which will help improve transportation planning and asset management in the future.

Partnering and Intergovernmental Cooperation

With multiple jurisdictions and organizations involved in building, operating, and maintaining roads in Indian country, collaboration and resource sharing can help avoid duplication of efforts and equipment. TTAPs play a key role in promoting collaboration, Cloud-Westlund says. For example, TTAPs hold training on cross-jurisdiction collaboration, develop tools to make grassroots-level management easier, and teach tribes how to write and manage memoranda of understanding, contracts, and agreements. They build cultural and organizational understanding by educating State and local officials about the IRR program and how to work with tribes. And they educate tribes on how to leverage Federal, State, and local funds and how to manage and operate their road programs.

"When tribes want to know about Federal, State, or local programs, they come to TTAPs," Cloud-Westlund says, "And when Federal, State, and local officials want to know about tribes and their programs, they come to TTAPs. We are the common, neutral ground — a liaison and advocate for all."

One successful example is the establishment of a standing State-tribal committee in Minnesota that meets quarterly. The Minnesota Advocacy Council for Tribal Transportation consists of Minnesota DOT staff, representatives from each of the tribes in Minnesota, and other stakeholders, including cities, counties, FHWA, BIA, and the U.S. Forest Service. The Michigan Tech TTAP, which serves tribes in the Eastern and Midwest BIA regions, is a standing member of the committee, as is the Minnesota LTAP.

 Photo. The photo shows the bridge over Gomache Creek before reconstruction, with floodwaters pooling beneath the culvert.
Shown here is Arvon Road crossing Gomache Creek during a 2003 spring flood, before (above) and after (below) reconstruction. The project, completed in 2005, involved close collaboration between the Baraga County Road Commission and the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, which performed damage assessments and followed through with other agencies to ensure that this critical asset remained safe and convenient for public travel.

Photo. The photo shows the reconstructed bridge over Gomache Creek, which features a wider opening to accommodate spring floodwaters.

"This group has tackled common issues between the State and tribes, such as roadside vegetation management and signing," says Cloud-Westlund. "As a result of collaboration through this group, tribes now can order signs in bilingual format — English and Native language — through the Minnesota DOT sign shop."

Collaboration between tribal and local governments, such as the Keweenaw-Baraga partnership in Michigan, can deliver benefits ranging from resource sharing to improved asset management and more comprehensive transportation planning. Baraga County, located on Michigan's Upper Peninsula adjacent to Lake Superior, consists of five townships and two villages. The county is home to a population of 8,746, about 12 percent of which is Native American, and stretches across 904 square miles (2,340 square kilometers). The Baraga County Road Commission is responsible for the county road system, maintaining 496 miles (798 kilometers) of roads with operational funding from the Michigan Transportation Fund. The road commission receives the fourth smallest operational funding for county roads out of 83 counties in the State.

The Keweenaw Bay Indian Community is home to the Lake Superior Band of Chippewa, which has more than 3,100 enrolled members. The community is the largest and oldest reservation in Michigan, encompassing about one-third of the land area in Baraga County. With such a large area, much of the county road system lies within the reservation boundaries or serves the reservation and tribal members.

According to Douglas Mills, P.E., engineer and manager of the road commission, the close relationship between the tribe and road commission dates back to the early 1970s. "Many residents in the community had to travel through dust and mud," Mills says. "There was a need for blacktop roads, and the tribe assisted in financing the purchase of a blacktop plant for the county road commission." The tribe contracted with the road commission for many paving jobs on the reservation, enabling the agency to eventually pave more than 180 miles (290 kilometers) of roads cost effectively using a local workforce. Today, the tribe and road commission continue to collaborate on resurfacing and rehabilitating the roads improved during the 1970s and 1980s.

"The tribe's assistance over the years has had a long-lasting positive effect for everyone who uses the roads in Baraga County," Mills says. "Projects now are routinely completed by leveraging local, tribal, State, and Federal funding."

The old Cimarron River Bridge, a multitruss steel structure built circa 1927 in Kingfisher County, OK, now is closed to vehicle traffic because it is structurally unsound and unable to handle modern traffic loads and volumes.
The old Cimarron River Bridge, a multitruss steel structure built circa 1927 in Kingfisher County, OK, now is closed to vehicle traffic because it is structurally unsound and unable to handle modern traffic loads and volumes.

The intergovernmental collaboration includes both formal and informal agreements for planning and implementation. For example, the tribe and road commission use cooperative agreements to complete projects administered by BIA and local projects that benefit both communities. BIA staff provides support to both agencies on federally funded activities, including sharing expertise in road inventorying, planning, engineering, construction, and administration. Informal collaboration includes regular communication between the parties, cooperation in the transportation planning process, participation in training, and resource sharing. In addition to offering technical expertise in transportation topics, TTAP centers close the understanding gap between the various jurisdiction levels, effectively teaching and facilitating relationship building.

Over the years, the tribal council and road commission have logged a long list of joint projects. For example, in the past 15 years, 8 of the county's 42 bridges have been replaced through cooperative efforts. In 2002 and 2003, the agencies worked together to repair 12 sites damaged during flooding, at a cost of $1.2 million. The agencies improved numerous drainage structures throughout the area, increasing the size of culverts and providing for fish passage; completed a 3-year traffic-counting program throughout the county and reservation; and are collaborating on an adopt-a-roadway program on the reservation.

"Both agencies are focused on improving transportation for their constituents," Mills says. "Key to success is building relationships and mutual respect with each other as we try to reach our goals." His advice to others: "Meet on a regular basis and take the time to develop the relationships that will help the people you serve."

IRR Bridge Program

Bridges, in addition to roads, are an integral part of the surface transportation system — both on and off the reservation. To help tribes manage these critical assets, under the umbrella of the IRR program, FHWA and BIA jointly administer a pool of funding set aside for planning, design, construction, and maintenance related to existing bridges. SAFETEA-LU funded the IRR Bridge Program at $14 million per year for fiscal years 2005 through 2009. Tribes can use the funds to improve structurally deficient and functionally obsolete IRR bridges. To be eligible for replacement or rehabilitation under the program, a bridge must span 20 feet (6 meters) or more; be on a public road that meets the definition of an Indian reservation road; be unsafe due to structural deficiencies, physical deterioration, or functional obsolescence; and be listed in the National Bridge Inventory.

The new Edward Harrison Sr. Memorial Bridge (right), named after a former chief, stands beside the obsolete bridge it replaced (far right). The old bridge, closed to vehicular traffic, will remain as a historic structure, open to foot traffic.
The new Edward Harrison Sr. Memorial Bridge (right), named after a former chief, stands beside the obsolete bridge it replaced (far right). The old bridge, closed to vehicular traffic, will remain as a historic structure, open to foot traffic.

Because the U.S. Government owns the BIA bridges on Indian reservations, the program gives primary consideration and priority to eligible projects related to BIA- and tribal-owned bridges. If a State or county owns the bridge, the Federal contribution is 80 percent, with a required 20 percent local match. Tribes also can use regular (that is, road-related) IRR program funds for bridge projects.

"One of the major success stories here in Oklahoma is that, since inception of the IRR Bridge Program, tribes have used the funding to build or replace more than 80 bridges," says Jim Self, manager of the Oklahoma State University TTAP, which serves 44 tribes in Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Texas. The projects range from simple structures spanning creeks and other small waterways to more complex structures such as a new bridge over the Cimarron River in Kingfisher County, OK, built by the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes in cooperation with Kingfisher County and the Oklahoma DOT.

Establishing partnerships can help identify mutually beneficial projects and maximize funding to complete them. "If you are a county and cannot afford to build a needed bridge, the tribe in your area may be able to help," Self says. "If the bridge meets all of the requirements and is on the tribe's IRR bridge inventory, you might be able to access supplemental funding. A small infusion of capital can make a big difference."

He adds, "Besides providing better, safer bridges, the IRR Bridge Program is also good for tribal public relations. Many people don't know how much the tribes contribute to their local communities. A new bridge is usually a pretty obvious contribution." In partnering scenarios, signs or plaques posted on or near the completed structures, as partner entities do in Oklahoma, can give credit and recognition to the contributing entities.

In Aleknagik, AK, some children travel to and from their school on boats like this until the water freezes over, when snowmobiles become the transportation mode of choice.
In Aleknagik, AK, some children travel to and from their school on boats like this until the water freezes over, when snowmobiles become the transportation mode of choice.

As part of their training and technical assistance role, TTAPs offer or facilitate bridge construction, maintenance, and inspection classes and assistance.

Transportation Planning in Alaska

The types and conditions of roads on tribal lands can be all over the map. "I've seen some tribes whose roads are like those of third world countries," says Cloud-Westlund, from the Michigan Tech TTAP. "And the general population of motorists who drive on interstates and paved roads have no idea about the road conditions tribes typically operate on."

In Alaska, public "roads" even transcend pavement and gravel: "Many communities are not connected by traditional roads but by a river or an airport that brings goods and services to communities," says Kimberly Williams, director of the Alaska Tribal Technical Assistance Center (TTAC).

In Alaska's South Naknek, children are flown to school each morning because a river separates the community of Naknek from South Naknek. Similarly, in Aleknagik, the school is located on the North Shore, so children who live on South Shore Aleknagik travel to school each morning by boat. In the winter, they use an ice road, which is marked by spruce trees, to cross Aleknagik Lake by snowmobile.

Another distinctive feature of the tribal transportation system in Alaska is that in the winter, with heavy snows blanketing the region, travelers rely on trail markers (wooden stakes) to help them navigate when moving between communities. "From Barrow to Nome or Bethel to King Salmon, it is common for family members to visit one another in the winter using snowmobiles and following trail markers to guide their way," Williams says.

All this is to say that transportation planning for Alaska's tribal members can involve an altogether different approach. "Alaska is pretty complicated with land ownership and the many players involved in advancing transportation," Williams says. In rural Alaska, it is common to see a municipal government, tribal government, Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act village corporation, and regional corporation working hand in hand with the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities. In some instances, another layer of government that might be involved is a borough, which plays a role similar to that of a county. To advance an IRR project, a tribe needs to involve all these stakeholders from the planning process on through construction, which is required by SAFETEA-LU planning requirements.

Tribal Transportation Safety Summits

In 2008 and 2009, stakeholders in tribal transportation safety came together for 1-day summits held in Arizona, Minnesota, New Mexico, Washington, and Wisconsin to develop ideas and identify resources to reduce fatalities and serious injuries on tribal roadways. FHWA's Office of Federal Lands Highway sponsored the Tribal Transportation Safety Summits in coordination with FHWA division offices, State DOTs, TTAP centers, BIA, and other safety partners. The objectives were to prioritize safety issues and challenges for tribal transportation, identify safety resources available to the tribes, and develop processes for continuing a dialog among the Federal, State, and tribal transportation communities.

Overall themes included the four E's (engineering, education, enforcement, and emergency medical services) and data collection. Other themes have included transportation safety planning, leadership support for safety policies, and tribal education and training. The summits help foster existing partnerships and serve as a starting point for creating new ones.

The summits offered an opportunity for tribes to share practices. For example, the White Mountain Apache Tribe discussed using a simple, low-cost communications technique to share important safety messages with community members: The tribe distributes paper placemats with safety messages to local restaurants. And the Yavapai-Apache Nation invited a Safe Routes to School expert to visit the tribe and help them identify and address safety problems facing schoolchildren.

Participants inform tribal elders, leaders, and other safety stakeholders in their communities about the results and lessons learned to raise awareness and stimulate thinking about future directions in transportation safety education, enforcement, engineering, and data improvements.

For more information, visit https://flh.fhwa.dot.gov/programs/irr/safety.

Pooling resources through nonprofit organizations is one way tribes are coming together to meet transportation challenges. For example, the nonprofit corporation Kawerak provides services to improve the social, economic, educational, and cultural conditions throughout the Bering Strait region. "Many times small communities may not have the IRR tribal shares [funding from the IRR program] to move a project from planning to construction," Williams says. "But by working together through Kawerak, tribes are able to meet the transportation challenges for both large and small villages in northwestern Alaska."

The Alaska TTAC provides training to help tribal transportation personnel understand their rights and responsibilities, and to promote dialog with other stakeholders. "We participate in statewide transportation forums that bring many stakeholders together to discuss issues of common concern and how to achieve better working relationships with each other," Williams says.

Partnering and intergovernmental cooperation help stretch limited training dollars too. The Alaska LTAP center, for instance, recently hosted grader training and invited tribal transportation personnel to attend the course. Similarly, the TTAC collaborates with the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities' Civil Rights Office to promote employment of Alaska Natives on transportation projects. "Alaska is such a huge State," Williams says. "With our limited resources, if we didn't partner, we would not have the ability to offer these workshops individually."

During an FHWA-sponsored RSA with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, the audit team visited Highway 1806 at the Four Mile Creek Bridge, where the tribe had identified maintenance issues as a safety concern.
During an FHWA-sponsored RSA with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, the audit team visited Highway 1806 at the Four Mile Creek Bridge, where the tribe had identified maintenance issues as a safety concern.

Sharing Safety Solutions

Improving the safety of roads and mobility on tribal lands is another key focus of the TTAP centers. According to FHWA, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for American Indians between the ages of 5 to 44. TTAPs help FHWA encourage use of tools that can help improve safety, two of which are road safety audits (RSAs) and road safety audit reviews (RSARs). FHWA defines an RSA as a formal examination of the safety performance of an existing or planned road or intersection by an independent audit team. Some highway agencies define RSAs as assessments of planned facilities, while RSARs cover reviews of existing roadways. Both rely on independent review teams that perform site visits at targeted intersections or segments of roadways and then prepare written reports for the roadway owners, detailing the problems and recommending solutions to improve safety. Team members typically come from diverse backgrounds, including traffic safety, engineering, planning, design, construction, human factors, and law enforcement. TTAP centers help FHWA promote the use of RSAs by offering training and participating in audit reviews.

In May 2005, FHWA sponsored a series of four RSAs on tribal lands and published the results in a report, Tribal Road Safety Audits: Case Studies. One of the RSAs took place on the reservation of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, which stretches across more than 2.3 million acres (930,800 hectares) in North and South Dakota. The road network, with segments owned or maintained by the tribe, BIA, the North and South Dakota DOTs, and counties, consists of paved and gravel roadways and secondary highways in rural and low-density urban environments. In addition to connecting the reservation's communities, these roads serve through traffic and provide access to the tribe's two casinos.

Sharon Johnson, safety and traffic engineer with the FHWA South Dakota division office, nominated Standing Rock Sioux Tribe to participate in an RSA case study because of its proactive stand on roadway safety and injury reduction. "The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is well represented on several of our statewide safety committees and has shown a sincere desire to improve the safety of the traveling public," Johnson says. "The tribe was in the process of building a new school and was concerned about access to the highway. They also had concerns about access to a casino that had questionable sight distance."

The RSA team included representatives from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, Northern Plains TTAP, FHWA North Dakota and South Dakota division offices, North Dakota and South Dakota DOTs, BIA, North Dakota State University, and a contractor. The audit team drove the reservation roads to identify safety issues associated with road geometry, traffic operations, and maintenance.

Pete Red Tomahawk, director of transportation development and planning for Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, says the RSA identified specific steps his tribe can take to improve safety. For example, the tribe is signing an agreement with the South Dakota DOT to reduce the speed limit from 65 miles per hour, mi/h (105 kilometers per hour, km/h) to 55 mi/h (89 km/h) on a section of high-traffic roadway that crosses the Missouri River and curves toward the entrance to a casino. Another planned improvement is adding turning and acceleration lanes and installing lighting to alert motorists as they approach the casino. "Safety is a huge concern for our tribe," Red Tomahawk says. "A few years ago, three brothers died in a crash in this area. By lighting it up, we hope to help prevent crashes and save lives."

The RSA also improved coordination with the State DOTs and BIA on addressing tribal transportation issues. The tribe now participates in meetings with the States to ensure that tribal considerations are factored into State Transportation Improvement Programs. And in February 2009, the Northern Plains TTAP, FHWA, South Dakota DOT, and several tribes partnered to host a safety conference in Pierre, SD. The purpose of the conference was to focus on the future of transportation safety in South Dakota. Sessions covered transportation safety issues on reservations and development of tribal transportation safety plans.

Another safety improvement that has resulted from better communication between the States and the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is installation of centerline rumble stripes and shoulder rumble strips on Highway 1806, south of the community of Mandan, ND. Highway 1806 is a busy two-lane road with relatively narrow shoulders that receives a lot of use due to a casino located between Mandan and Fort Yates. "This is one of first times centerline rumble stripes have been used in North Dakota," says Dennis Trusty, director of the Northern Plains TTAP. "This project happened as a result of conversations after the RSA, as the States and tribe continue working together to improve safety."

The Standing Rock RSA team visited this location on Highway 1806 in Kenel, SD. Here, the tribe was concerned about pedestrian safety, as the highway separates a residential area from the local grocery store.
The Standing Rock RSA team visited this location on Highway 1806 in Kenel, SD. Here, the tribe was concerned about pedestrian safety, as the highway separates a residential area from the local grocery store.

Red Tomahawk underscores the important role the TTAPs play in facilitating interagency and intergovernmental cooperation that can lead to improved safety. "TTAPs are strong advocates for RSAs and a critical partner in bringing together experts who can identify areas of concern and recommend safety improvements," he says. "The bottom line is preventing injuries and saving lives."

Workforce Development And Capacity Building

Whereas States and municipalities have managed their transportation systems autonomously for many years, tribes began overseeing their own transportation programs only after passage of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991, with a 2 percent planning set-aside. "Tribes are now developing their workforces," says Richard A. Rolland, director of the Northwest TTAP.

Transportation and public works are key components of tribal government that tribes have not always recognized in the past but are now rapidly moving to address. This movement underscores an expanding need for tribal members with careers in the sciences, engineering, and business.

Casey Moore, an EWU student with the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, downloads information for a tribal census project.
Casey Moore, an EWU student with the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, downloads information for a tribal census project.

The TTAP centers play a significant role in this effort by offering training and technical assistance to help tribes manage their road programs, understand the legislative processes and how to access funding sources, and create partnerships with other tribes, municipalities, agencies, and organizations. For example, a TTAP center can help a tribe develop GIS maps for transportation. "Many tribes have GIS maps for forestry and mining resources but not transportation," Rolland says. "The TTAP can provide assistance and training to help tribes gather data and plot maps suitable to meet BIA requirements."

The Northwest TTAP recently completed a GIS demonstration funded through the State of Washington and FHWA. The project links the GIS programs of Washington State, local counties, the U.S. Forest Service, and the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation to maximize effectiveness in addressing transportation needs.

For tribal governments, workforce development and capacity building require a two-pronged approach: (1) developing the skills and knowledge of existing staff and (2) recruiting new generations of transportation professionals. TTAPs assist in delivery of key resources developed through the Coordinated Technology Implementation Program (CTIP), administered by FHWA's FLH. One is a series of videos that identify and discuss transportation careers and opportunities for American Indians. Unemployment is extremely high on many reservations, nearly twice the national average according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Introducing tribal members to the array of occupations in the transportation industry is vital.

A second opportunity is working with the Tribal Employment Rights Offices and facilitating coordination with State and local DOTs, as well as business operations on and near reservation lands. A third area is supporting the development of tribal and individual businesses through training and access to resources such as the ONABEN Indianpreneurship® program, which promotes Native American business development and entrepreneurship.

In many cases TTAP centers are housed within university systems, a situation that offers win-win opportunities for the tribes, universities, and students, and creates an opportunity to recruit and support American Indian students in new career paths. The Northwest TTAP, administered through Eastern Washington University (EWU), has supported local chapters of two national campus organizations that work to attract students interested in Indian affairs and help them network locally and around the country. One is the American Indian Business Leaders (AIBL), which supports and encourages American Indian students in the fields of business and planning networking. The other is the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES), which aims to increase the number of engineers and scientists of American Indian descent. By supporting organizations like these, the TTAP is helping increase the visibility of Native American issues in higher education and grow the pipeline of young professionals with the leadership and technical skills to oversee tribal transportation systems.

"We hope our local chapters serve as a model for additional outreach and partnerships with other universities, community colleges, and high schools to establish local programs," says Dick Winchell, professor of urban planning at EWU and a principal investigator for the Northwest TTAP. "Our AIBL chapter, for example, has set a goal to work with local reservation high schools to create an AIBL chapter a year in partner high schools, in addition to supporting students at EWU." Both organizations help American Indian students understand and become comfortable in mathematics, sciences, engineering, and business curricula, and enable them to interact with American Indian professionals, engineers, and entrepreneurs.

EWU and Coeur D'Alene Tribal Transportation Planner Francis 'Lux' Devereaux (right) prepare for a smart growth charrette at the tribal headquarters.
EWU and Coeur D'Alene Tribal Transportation Planner Francis "Lux" Devereaux (right) prepare for a smart growth charrette at the tribal headquarters.

"AISES is an organization that stands by its mission to enable students to achieve success through degrees in science and engineering," says Casey Moore, president of EWU's AISES chapter and a member of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation. "The organization clearly understands the benefit of supporting students who already have a 'Native' perspective. As a student involved with AISES, I have the opportunity to apply for scholarships and summer internships and to network with representatives from companies. AISES also teaches students how to be leaders. I know that by being involved with AISES I have made lifelong connections with other students and AISES board members and staff."

The Northwest TTAP also works with EWU students in the tribal planning program to conduct field research. A recent project invited students to complete a charrette (workshop) for a nearby tribe to assess the potential impact of smart growth principles on tribal transportation. The tribal planning director and transportation planner assisted in identifying key issues facing the tribe and selected a project site for the class to assess. Ultimately, the project results were presented to the tribal council and led to a number of followup activities, including a session on smart growth for tribal transportation planning at the TTAP-sponsored National Tribal Transportation Conference in November 2008.

Tribes and ARRA

On February 17, 2009, President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009. Of the $26.6 billion available for highway investment, $310 million was allocated to the IRR program. FHWA will administer and distribute the ARRA funds according to the relative need distribution and population adjustment factors in the existing allocation methodology, with tribal shares determined according to fiscal year 2009 percentages. Like IRR funds, ARRA dollars are 100 percent Federal share, and tribes can use them to satisfy local match requirements on construction projects.

Unlike the States, which had 120 days to obligate half the ARRA money and use the rest by September 30, 2009, the tribes have until September 30, 2010, to obligate all IRR funds. Funds released or de-obligated after that date immediately expire and will not be available for re-obligation by any agency. To ensure use of the ARRA funds, the act authorizes the Secretary of Transportation to gather unobligated funds and redistribute them within the IRR program in February 2010.

"The ARRA IRR funds are a major challenge to administer, as funds are eligible for distribution to all 562 federally recognized tribes," says FLH Associate Administrator John Baxter. "That's where the TTAP centers can be very helpful — in providing technical assistance to tribes on the provisions of the ARRA and how to use the funds wisely in the short time they are available. For example, smaller tribes may not receive sufficient Recovery Act funds for a major construction project but do have the opportunity to implement low-cost safety improvements or use their funds as leverage with another partner. The TTAPs can help tribes understand their options."

To help tribes put these funds to use, TTAP centers are providing an assortment of services, such as developing information bulletins to help tribes understand ARRA policies, procedures, and reporting requirements. TTAPs also are sponsoring webinars and workshops focused on project management, covering the full range of steps from preconstruction activities to daily project management to inspections and project reviews.

For an IRR-eligible project to advance using the recovery funds, the project needs to be included in an FHWA-approved transportation improvement plan. In addition to construction projects, tribes can use ARRA funding for maintenance activities, as well as operational and safety projects. For smaller tribes in particular, Baxter recommends partnering with other agencies if possible, or defining a smaller project. Eligible projects could include chip seal and dust suppression projects, traffic signal and sign upgrades, traffic monitoring and weigh-in-motion equipment, dynamic message signs, road weather information systems, and guardrail replacement. Many of these types of projects, activities, and investments require limited or no environmental review time, making them attractive for quick deployment.

"We also encourage our planning students to work directly for tribal governments as interns, and those students have completed a number of important projects," Winchell says. One student, Chamisa Bird-Radford, a member of the Spokane Tribe of Indians, helped develop and complete a tribal survey to assess transit demand and developed a transit plan for the tribe, working with professional planners and engineers. Bird-Radford also prepared a poster session on her work for the Transportation Research Board's annual conference in January 2009.

Moving Forward

The IRR program continues to grow, reflecting the growing needs of tribes to provide what is in many cases basic transportation infrastructure for their communities. "The IRR funds are vitally important to the economic future of tribes, to attract jobs and improve accessibility to employment opportunities," says FLH Associate Administrator John Baxter. "These funds are a fundamental building block for tribes to establish safe, livable communities through improved access to schools, basic health care, and hospitals."

As the transportation and economic development needs of tribal governments continue to evolve, so will the role of the TTAP centers, which deliver customized services and technical assistance to help streamline and improve tribal transportation.

This site, near Plummer, ID, was the focus of a charrette on smart growth opportunities for the Coeur D'Alene tribe.
This site, near Plummer, ID, was the focus of a charrette on smart growth opportunities for the Coeur D'Alene tribe.

John J. Sullivan IV is associate editor of Public Roads.

Clark Martin is the team leader for the Affiliate Programs team for the Office of Technical Services at FHWA. Martin and the Affiliate Programs team are responsible for LTAP and TTAP and oversee strategic planning and policy implementation for transportation workforce development. They also assist the FHWA Office of International Programs with international transportation technology transfer activities and represent FHWA in the University Transportation Centers Program.

For more information, visit www.ltapt2.org or www.ltap.org, or contact Clark Martin at 703-235-0547, clark.martin@dot.gov. To locate a TTAP center, visit www.ltapt2.org/centers.



Federal Highway Administration | 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE | Washington, DC 20590 | 202-366-4000
Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center | 6300 Georgetown Pike | McLean, VA | 22101