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Publication Number:  FHWA-HRT-17-003     Date:  March/April 2017
Publication Number: FHWA-HRT-17-003
Issue No: Vol. 80 No. 5
Date: March/April 2017

 

Working Smarter, Together

by Kevin Chesnik and Michael Smith

Partnering for more effective project delivery can produce innovative ideas for using Federal aid. Read on to see how States and local public agencies overcome barriers.

Stakeholder partnering serves as a platform for launching improvements to local Federal-aid programs, which help local agencies fund projects such as this new bridge along Natural Bridge Road in Leon County, FL. A collaborative effort by Leon County, the Florida DOT, and the Florida Park Service replaced a 70-year-old, one-lane bridge with a safer, two-lane structure that blends with the historical and natural significance of the area.
Stakeholder partnering serves as a platform for launching improvements to local Federal-aid programs, which help local agencies fund projects such as this new bridge along Natural Bridge Road in Leon County, FL. A collaborative effort by Leon County, the Florida DOT, and the Florida Park Service replaced a 70-year-old, one-lane bridge with a safer, two-lane structure that blends with the historical and natural significance of the area.

Today’s Federal-Aid Highway Program represents a unique Federal, State, and local partnership that is fundamental to building, maintaining, and rebuilding the Nation’s highway and bridge infrastructure. The Federal Highway Administration and State highway agencies have cooperated in implementing the Federal-aid program for more than 60 years, and during that time it has grown to include local governments and involve additional Federal agencies.

Federal-aid program funds come with guidelines from Congress regarding how they may be spent, and Federal-aid projects must meet not only Federal, but also State and local road-building requirements. Although these high standards have helped create the best transportation system in the world, they may cause projects to take longer to deliver and add to project costs. These increased time and cost issues can make Federal-aid projects a challenge for the cities, counties, and other local public agencies that own the majority of the Nation’s roads and half of its bridges.

“Federal aid can support local public agencies in keeping local roads and bridges, as well as public sidewalks, walking trails, and biking paths, in a state of good repair, but only if it’s cost effective for them to use,” says Brian Roberts, executive director of the National Association of County Engineers. “Complying with the various regulations tied to Federal aid can require significant time and resources from local agencies, as well as the State departments of transportation tasked with monitoring those projects.”

One tool that States are using to help save time and money on locally administered Federal-aid projects is stakeholder partnering. This method involves creating a committee composed of representatives from the State, local, and Federal levels who can work together to identify inefficiencies in the delivery of Federal-aid programs and create practices that can improve program results and maximize transportation dollars.

The many benefits of stakeholder partnering include better communication, lower project costs, reduced administrative burden, and greater compliance with road-building regulations. Stakeholder partnering creates open channels of communication that improve relationships and build trust. As a result, local agencies have a greater say in their projects as they move forward and greater control over their project delivery schedules. State and Federal agencies are able to leverage their programs and maximize the use of limited staffing resources.

Project-Level Issues, Program-Level Solutions

State DOTs develop processes meant to help local agencies navigate the Federal-aid program’s requirements in areas such as consultant advertisement and selection, rights-of-way, the National Environmental Policy Act, Buy America, and Disadvantaged Business Enterprise goals. The challenge is developing processes that are helpful while avoiding burdening staff at the State or local level with administrative requirements that may increase time and costs unnecessarily.

Stakeholder Partnering
Supported by Every Day Counts

Stakeholder partnering was one of 11 innovative practices promoted in the third round of FHWA’s Every Day Counts initiative to improve delivery of federally funded projects. As defined within EDC, stakeholder partnering is a process where collaboration occurs among Federal, State, and local agencies at the programmatic level to address concerns and issues, as well as to take advantage of opportunities for process improvements and streamlining. The intent is not to debate the merits of Federal regulations, but rather to focus on efficient and effective implementation.

As of February 2017, stakeholder partnering is an institutionalized practice in 21States, and several additional States are progressing with efforts to establish these collaborative councils.

In addition, some local agencies use Federal-aid funds only occasionally, so they may not be up to date on the most applicable laws or regulations. Another consideration is agency turnover, as occurs in any place of business. These types of issues are to be expected, but the effects can be mitigated through improved procedures that streamline and bring consistency to project delivery and that stakeholder partnering committees can target.

“The idea is to bring stakeholders together to discuss program-level issues and look for opportunities to resolve them,” Roberts says. “These partnerships give the State and FHWA a better understanding of local concerns--information they can then use to find opportunities for streamlining processes, targeting training, and supporting project success in a way that benefits each agency involved.”

When issues are addressed at the program level via process and procedure improvements, it eliminates the need to handle them repeatedly on a project-level basis. For example, one stakeholder group determined that many local agencies had minimal understanding of environmental requirements and were conducting unnecessary environmental reviews. By recommending specific changes to the State’s environmental manual, the stakeholder partnering committee found a way to accelerate simple bridge projects.

FHWA’s Every Day Counts initiative promoted stakeholder partnering in round two as part of a focus on locally administered Federal-aid projects and in round three as a specific practice. As with other EDC innovations, stakeholder partnering is already in place and working effectively in several States and has the potential for successful implementation in many more.

Strengthening Partnerships

Graphic: A central circle is labeled Shareholder Partnering. A large circle outside that central circle joins three circles labeled with the three elements common to stakeholder partnering: representation, open communication, and progress on core issues.In the Federal-aid program, relationships between local public agencies and FHWA occur primarily through State DOTs. When State, local, and Federal representatives sit down at the same table, however, it provides new lines of communication that increase understanding of Federal-aid and State requirements and each agency’s role, resources, and limitations.

“One benefit of stakeholder partnering is good communication that can reduce conflicting responses and differing interpretation of regulations,” Roberts says. “It provides a setting from which discrepancies can be identified and then resolved. It really supports a consistent approach.”

Some States have had stakeholder committees supporting improved project delivery for many years, while others are just getting started. The committee makeup and meeting arrangements vary by State, but successful partnerships have three common elements: representation from key stakeholders at the State, local, and Federal levels; open communications through regular meetings that promote a shared understanding of programmatic issues; and tangible progress on addressing issues identified by stakeholders.

Following are examples of how stakeholder partnering works in five States.

Ohio’s Local Public Agency Advisory Group

With a large local program that is continually growing in size, the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) implemented a stakeholder partnering group in 2014 as a venue for working on a programmatic level with local agencies to deliver Federal-aid projects. The face-to-face communication inherent in stakeholder partnering has since produced a number of accomplishments and strengthened the overall working relationship between ODOT and the local agency community.

Photo. Road improvement construction underway on a locally administered Federal-aid project in Ohio. Shown is a pipe being buried in a ditch next to the road.
Shown here is construction underway at the Hamilton Road improvement project in Franklin County, OH, one of more than 250 projects administered annually through ODOT’s local program. The project includes widening the road from two to four lanes, adding turn lanes at several intersections, and constructing two modern roundabouts to better accommodate motorists, pedestrians, and bicyclists.

“Our goal in implementing stakeholder partnering is to get feedback and support from, and be an advocate for, the locals as they develop transportation projects,” says Andrea Stevenson, administrator of ODOT’s Local Programs office. “We want to look at the process from the big picture point of view and solve problems in a way that enables locals to get the most benefit from a broad, statewide perspective.”

When the Ohio group meets, the agenda items reflect the diverse interests of local public agencies, based on what the local members are seeing in the field as they advance through the State’s project delivery process. Before the meetings, Victoria Beale, assistant administrator of ODOT’s Local Programs office, solicits agenda items from the advisory group and from the various disciplines across ODOT. Stevenson and Beale then fill in the agenda with any other updates or items that they think are important to share.

Priority concerns during the group’s first years included streamlining environmental and right-of-way processes and expanding knowledge of funding opportunities for different types of projects around the State. To increase awareness of existing and new funding opportunities, ODOT developed its Resource Guide, which provides information on capital programs and how ODOT funds programs for local agencies.

In addition, ODOT made revenue from turnpike tolls available specifically to small cities for use as local matching funds for municipal bridges and for ODOT’s Transportation Alternatives Program, which provides funds for projects that advance nonmotorized transportation facilities, historic transportation preservation, environmental mitigation, and vegetation management activities.

Finally, ODOT also conducted a “deep dive” survey of all local public agencies to identify opportunities for improving the process of administering local public agency projects, State DOT staff support to those agencies, and other areas critical to the success of local public agency projects. ODOT used the results as a foundation for its advisory group’s focus on project improvement going forward.

Missouri’s Advisory Committee

In 2010, the Missouri transportation agency (MoDOT) formed the LPA (Local Public Agency) Strategic Vision Team. The purpose was to develop a statewide vision for the local program and define the steps needed to implement that vision.

One outcome was the formation of an advisory committee in 2011 to serve as a continuous improvement team. The committee currently includes 15 members with representatives from local public agencies and consultants from cities, counties, councils of governments, regional planning commissions, engineering firms, and the disadvantaged business enterprise community, as well as members from MoDOT and the FHWA Missouri Division.

During the advisory committee’s first year, the primary objectives were to support MoDOT in implementing a statewide training program for local agencies and in rewriting sections of the agency’s training manual. After the first year, the variety of items the committee has addressed include goal setting for disadvantaged business enterprises, changes in construction oversight and the right-of-way acquisition process, and the creation of an oncall consultant list.

Inputs from the committee helped MoDOT identify processes that cause costs to escalate on smaller projects. Identifying and mitigating these processes led to remarkable accomplishments for the State’s local Federal-aid program.

“At the time we formed the vision team, an FHWA review had found that Missouri’s local program was 15percent compliant on Federal law,” says MoDOT Local Programs Administrator Kenny Voss. “By 2015, our TAP [Transportation Alternatives Program] review was 93 percent compliant.”

He continues, “Also, we had a large balance of unobligated Federal funds in 2012. We were only obligating about 43 percent of the funds that the local entities were given. That has increased to 92 percent, and we hope to have it at 100 percent by the end of [the 2016] Federal fiscal year.”

Projects are being delivered faster as well. In 2012, the amount of time from project programming to construction award was reduced from 1,100 days to 750 days. Voss said MoDOT has also seen significant improvements in the timeliness of project closeout.

Photo. View of a pedestrian/bicyclist bridge. Photo. Two bicyclists are crossing the Katy Trail Overpass.
Local public agencies use a variety of funding to deliver projects ranging from complex roadway interchanges to multiuse walking and biking trails such as the Katy Trail Overpass in Sedalia, MO, shown here. The overpass was a joint effort by Pettis County, the city of Sedalia, MoDOT, and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, and was delivered using Transportation Alternatives Program funding.

“We significantly overhauled our local program about 5 years ago, and we are continuing to build off that,” Voss says. “Through the committee, we can explain what our goals are, with FHWA as a partner in the room, and show what we are trying to improve and how we are measuring improvement, and then find out, from their point of view, what types of things are holding us back.”

Florida’s Community of Practice

The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) is a decentralized agency with 7 district offices that partner with more than 250 local agencies to implement transportation projects. Its Local Agency Program Community of Practice is helping provide a consistent, statewide approach to locally administered Federal-aid projects.

“The Community of Practice serves as a channel for receiving local input on FDOT processes,” says Chad Thompson, program operations team leader for the FHWA Florida Division. “It gives local agencies the opportunity to question why the department asks for certain things, and it provides FDOT staff with the opportunity to explain to stakeholders the reasoning behind the program requirements.”

Photo. Construction workers apply a wood pattern onto the concrete driving surface of a bridge located in a historic area of Florida.
In Leon County, FL, this project is near the site of a Civil War battlefield, so the project used context sensitive solutions such as incorporating a wood pattern texture into the driving surface and applying a natural-toned concrete stain. Florida’s stakeholder partnering group helps facilitate these types of projects statewide by identifying process efficiencies at the program level.

Thompson adds, “This communication has led to a better understanding among the groups. It has allowed FDOT to examine agency processes and identify areas where more flexibility in meeting Federal requirements can be provided. This has ultimately been useful in several streamlining efforts.”

Stakeholder Partnering in Virginia

The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) administers a well-established stakeholder partnering program that began with a group of municipalities managing their construction program under a programmatic agreement called the Urban Construction Initiative. In 2003, VDOT began an informal partnering process with this group as a way to work on program issues, and after that the partnership grew and developed.

Russ Dudley of VDOT’s Local Assistance Division says that, as an exercise during one of their meetings in 2012, members were asked to describe the benefits of the partnering efforts.

“From the localities, we heard that they like the opportunity to discuss and identify issues together, because sometimes they find that what they thought was an isolated issue is more pervasive,” says Dudley. “Once an issue like this is identified, it gives us an opportunity to work on solutions as a group.”

Photo. Ribbon-cutting ceremony with schoolchildren and local officials on a new Safe Routes to School-funded pathway and in front of a recently constructed high, terraced, stone wall built on abandoned mine land to protect pedestrians and bicyclists from falling rock.
The city of Norton, VA, used a combination of project and grant funding to help turn abandoned mine land into this safe, terraced pedestrian connection between local schools and the downtown. The city opened the new path with a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Walk to School Day in October 2015. Virginia’s stakeholder partnering groups provide inputs that help the State align its efforts with the needs of local governments in administering these types of projects.

He adds, “Localities get to know each other and become resources for each other. Of course, they also like having a voice in the program and having input into its future. From my perspective at the Local Assistance Division, it helps us align our goals with our stakeholders’needs.”

Following the success of the Urban Construction Initiative, in 2013 VDOT started another partnering group that represents the entire local public agency program statewide. VDOT assembled the Local Stakeholder Partnering Group to provide a venue for gaining more local input into the Local Assistance Division’s programs, to ensure the division’s efforts align with the needs and concerns of the local governments in administering projects, and to gather input for major initiatives.

Arizona’s Stakeholder Council

Compared to some of the other State departments, the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) is relatively new to stakeholder partnering, choosing to pursue it as part of the second round of Every Day Counts. ADOT’s local public agency Stakeholder Council held its first meeting in December 2013 with representatives from local agencies, councils of government, metropolitan planning organizations, ADOT, and FHWA.

To identify prevalent issues and formulate a plan for addressing them, ADOT’s Local Public Agency section monitors any concerns brought forward by the group. Council members take information back to the regions they represent and communicate it through their networks. As they reach out to the broader groups they are involved with, they bring back information, examples, problems, potential solutions, and innovative ideas related to implementing local government Federal-aid projects.

Photo. Shown is a portion of a multiuse path in Tempe, AZ, which connects schools and neighborhoods and covers an abandoned gas pipeline.
The city of Tempe, AZ, used Federal funds to complete a multiuse path in 2015 that covers an abandoned gas pipeline and connects schools and neighborhoods. Arizona’s Stakeholder Council is enhancing communication among agencies at the local, State, and Federal levels, which will ultimately benefit these types of locally administered Federal-aid projects statewide.

Susan Anderson, ADOT’s local public agency process manager, says that small, incremental changes brought by sharing experience with the Federal program through the council are adding up to create long-term improvement.

“Having all three sides--Federal, State, and local--at the table is really allowing us to better understand each other’s challenges within the Federal-aid program,” she says. “Whenever there is an opportunity to enhance our communications, we can learn a great deal and improve. We are all working to achieve the same goal--the successful delivery of the Federal program.”

Where to Start

Learn more about efforts in these and other States to use stakeholder partnering as a platform by visiting FHWA’s Stakeholder Partnering Resource Library at www.fhwa.dot.gov/innovation/everydaycounts/edc-3/partnering_library.

The library is a central repository for case studies, videos, webinars, sample committee charters, links to additional articles, and more that can aid those who are initiating stakeholder partnering programs or enhancing existing ones. These materials are offered as aids to States as they start or advance stakeholder partnering strategies and work with their local public agency partners to determine how both States and local agencies can benefit from implementation.

Working together, transportation agencies can implement innovative solutions for improving locally administered, federally funded project delivery. Members of the State, local public agency, and Federal highway communities, when collaborating at a program level, can improve processes and ultimately help those who are on the frontlines of project delivery do their jobs in the most efficient ways possible.


Kevin Chesnik, P.E., is a principal engineer with Applied Research Associates, Inc., and is supporting the FHWA EDC-3 Stakeholder Partnering team. He has a B.S. in civil engineering and a B.S. in construction administration from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Michael Smith is a project management engineer in the FHWA Resource Center in Atlanta, GA. He is the team lead for EDC-3 Local Public Agency Stakeholder Partnering. He holds a B.S. and an M.S. in civil engineering from Auburn University.

For more information, visit www.fhwa.dot.gov/innovation/everydaycounts/edc-3/partnering.cfm or contact MichaelSmith at 470-728-1049 or michael.smith@dot.gov.

 

 

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