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Office of Planning, Environment, & Realty (HEP)

Uniform Act Research

The Federal Highway Administration Research Programs for Realty Program Management and Outdoor Advertising Control

These are tough economic times for the nation -- not just for individuals but for the entire government, at all levels, who feel the pinch.

History has shown that, in tight fiscal times, government programs like training and research are often among those which take the biggest hit. Furthermore, those engaged in government programs, as employees or as consultants, have an even tougher time obtaining scarce financial resources for even the most promising research projects. Now more than ever, we need to be innovative and persistent in trying to secure the funding needed to carry out research that will help move our programs forward.

With that in mind, we are providing you with information about the Federal Highway Administration's (FHWA) current research endeavors related to realty program management and outdoor advertising control. The term "current" is used because the structure of some of the FHWA's research efforts have recently changed. Hopefully, we can clear up some of the murkiness that surrounds new research.

The measure of our success is determined by the extent to which you take the initiative to submit proposals for realty - and outdoor advertising control - related research topics for the next fiscal year.

Surface Transportation Environment and Planning Cooperative Research Program (STEP)

STEP is the cooperative research program that was authorized by Congress in Section 5207 of the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, and Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU). The general objective of the STEP is to improve understanding of the complex relationship between surface transportation, planning, and the environment. Funding for STEP is authorized through FY09.

The FHWA Office of Planning, Environment and Realty is responsible for STEP, using it to carry out a variety of research efforts. The programs overseen by the Office of Real Estate Services in connection with Realty Program Management and Outdoor Advertising Control (OAC), together, are among 17 research areas funded through STEP. Information on the STEP process, timing for stakeholders to submit proposed research topics, and projects that have been selected for funding is available online at This Web site allows stakeholders to submit research ideas for the coming fiscal year. The following chart, found on the FHWA STEP Web site, illustrates the overall framework.

flowchart as described in the following text

Figure 1: Proposed STEP framework

  1. Initial Round of Input on Research Needs and Priorities: In formulating a proposed STEP framework, FHWA relied on three major sources:
    • National priorities as reflected in legislation enacted by Congress and Executive Branch policies;
    • Research needs recommendations reflected in TRB reports and national conferences (e.g., those cited in IV. Relevant Past Work);
    • FHWA's initial meetings and STEP outreach with (a) Federal agencies; (b) State/local governments; and (c) transportation and environmental stakeholders; and
    • Comments submitted to the STEP Federal Register Docket.
  2. STEP Implementation Strategy, Functions, etc.: Based on the initial input, FHWA formulated a STEP implementation strategy, functions, and emphasis areas.
  3. Second Round of Input: FHWA is considering the advice and input received from #2 above, together with any cooperative research funding proposals we receive from others and also any legally binding research mandates in SAFETEA-LU, regulations, and court decisions, as well as critical ongoing collaborative research priorities, such as the Transportation Planning Capacity Building Program, supported by FHWA, FTA, American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, Association of Metropolitan Planning Organizations, American Public Transportation Association, and National Association of Regional Councils. Special priority will be given to cooperative research proposals, where other entities are willing to provide meaningful funding for STEP research needs.
  4. Coordination with SHRP2, NCHRP and Other Relevant Research Programs: FHWA will coordinate with SHRP2, NCHRP, State Planning Research, Transportation Pooled Fund Program, University Transportation Centers, and other relevant research programs to avoid duplication and maximize collaborative research opportunities.
  5. Proposed STEP Research Activities: Based on the above, FHWA will develop a set of research activities to be funded by STEP each year. Research activities were planned jointly for FY2006 and FY2007, and then yearly in FY2008 and FY2009. Generally, the proposed STEP Research Activities will be made available for comment; then finalized and implemented. FHWA will incorporate peer reviews as much as possible and involve other Federal agencies, state/local government staff, and transportation and environmental stakeholders in the review, dissemination, and evaluation of the research results.

    At this time, FHWA is requesting suggestions for the lines of research that should be pursued within each emphasis area. For example, stakeholders who have an interest in the "Tools to Support Environment and Planning" emphasis area might suggest that is important to research ways to identify business models to enhance transportation decision-making using geospatial data. Feedback on suggested lines of research for the FY2009 STEP Research Plan should be submitted by September 22, 2008 via the feedback system on the STEP website at: (link no longer active 5/12).

    The FHWA does not seek specific, detailed research proposals and discourages researchers from submitting proposals of that nature. Rather, the FHWA staff that serve as contacts for each emphasis area will work with stakeholders in the 17 research emphasis areas to identify and prioritize lines of research within each area and to subsequently develop specific work activities.

  6. Annual Report: FHWA will produce an annual report on the use of STEP funds and make it available on the STEP website and through other means.
  7. Ongoing Participation of Federal Agencies, state/local governments, and transportation and environmental stakeholders: FHWA will provide ongoing outreach and opportunities for stakeholders to participate in STEP through shaping research priorities, providing funding for collaborative research, shaping specific research activities, and evaluating the results of STEP-funded research. As needed, FHWA will revise the STEP framework and mechanisms to facilitate the ongoing stakeholder involvement in STEP.
  8. Influencing Other Research Programs: The research needs for environment and planning far exceed the funding available through STEP. Other Federal agencies, organizations, and research programs also bear a responsibility and provide opportunities to help meet environment and planning research needs. FHWA will seek to influence these other research programs to help meet the research needs identified through our STEP outreach.

Realty Program Management

The FHWA Office of Real Estate Services is responsible for implementation and stewardship of the Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Property Acquisition Policies Act of 1970, as amended (Uniform Act), as part of its responsibility for Realty Program Management. Thirty-eight different ideas were submitted by stakeholders in response to the call for feedback for the FY08 STEP. The submissions included a wide variety of topics. Many suggestions related to professional development, workshops, realty program related material, templates, forms, guides and courses. Several other submissions asked the FHWA to provide peer exchanges and domestic scans.

Outdoor Advertising Control

Additionally, the Office of Real Estate Services promulgates regulations, policies, and guidelines to implement the OAC program, as required by the Highway Beautification Act of 1965. Several stakeholders requested OAC studies on the safety of digital signs, a follow-up activity related to the previous FHWA OAC neutral assessment; an evaluation of compensation for signs; and a study of the effectiveness of OAC program implementation.


The Office of Real Estate Services anticipates using STEP funds to improve the quality of service provided to its partners and customers. The following five projects were selected to receive FY08 STEP funding:

  1. Support Stakeholder and Partner Outreach and Informational Dissemination Programs. This project supports conferences and symposiums initiated by our partners and stakeholders. It was a result of concerns expressed to the FHWA regarding the continuing loss of institutional knowledge and a resultant loss of professional capacity throughout the right-of-way (ROW) professional community. The FHWA is enhancing professional relationships within the ROW community by participating in workshops, training, outreach programs, expert panels and peer reviews. They encourage the development of tools to advance the implementation and administration of the federal-aid ROW program and its implementing regulations. The FHWA seeks to promote innovative information sharing among practitioners who are responsible for realty and OAC programs.

  2. Identification and Development of Local Public Agency Stewardship Tools and Techniques. Increasingly, federal-aid programs and projects are being undertaken by local public agencies (LPAs). Federal funding for the LPA program flows from the state Departments of Transportation (DOTs) to LPAs. State DOTs provide programmatic oversight and stewardship for federal-aid programs and projects in their State. LPAs encounter a variety of challenges in implementing and administering the requirements of the Uniform Act, as noted in the FHWA report, Administration of Federal-Aid Projects by Local Agencies. This research study will identify and evaluate successful LPA stewardship and oversight programs and the common program challenges that are faced by LPAs and the state DOTs. Research results will identify best management practices, strategic planning processes, communications, training and methods for measurement of continuous improvement.

  3. Peer Exchange on Applications of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) in the ROW Area. The Offices of Real Estate Services and Interstate and Border Planning will collaborate to conduct a peer exchange focusing on the stages of implementing GIS in ROW. The exchange will include discussion of Phase 2 research by the Transportation Research Board's National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) study called Integrating Geospatial Technologies into the Right-of-Way Data-management Process (Project 8-55). Peers will discuss the state of the practice GIS in ROW at the state DOTs. Results will be shared as best management practices and tools.

  4. Peer Exchange for Use of Incentive Payments in Right-of-Way Acquisition and Relocation Programs. In 2006, FHWA's Office of Real Estate Services issued guidance called Right-of-Way Incentive Payments (Voluntary) for Acquisitions and Relocations, which can be found online at The guidance provides flexibility for saving time on acquisitions and relocations. The goal of this study is to identify criteria used by state DOTs or LPAs, and evaluate the use, documentation and program results (or savings) based on data from state DOTs who have implemented an incentive program. Research results will identify and share best management practices, criteria, guides and tools.

  5. Neutral Assessment of the National OAC Program - National Policy Dialogue. In 2007, the U.S. Institute for Environmental Conflict Resolution (U.S. Institute) issued the final report from the FHWA neutral assessment of the national OAC program. The FHWA will continue to use the U.S. Institute to contact representative stakeholders to obtain feedback on possible courses of action to address areas of conflict and improve program results. The following issues have been identified as important to stakeholders and as having significant potential for agreement:The use of new technology,

    • Abuses of signage in commercial and industrial areas,
    • The future of nonconforming signs,
    • Control of vegetation in public right of way around billboards,
    • Inconsistent regulation and enforcement, and
    • The organization of the OAC Program within the FHWA.

STEP FY06 and 07

In response to stakeholder input for FY06 and 07, the FHWA initiated a two-phase driver attention and distraction study aimed at the effects on drivers of commercial electronic variable message signs. The first phase, now underway, will establish the parameters for the second phase in which the research will be conducted. The FHWA has a portion of the funding needed for the second phase and is actively seeking additional funding, perhaps from state DOTs. There has been a great deal of interest in a driver distraction study as additional state DOTs are now permitting commercial digital signs with changing messages. If state DOTs are interested in contributing funds to this effort, they are encouraged to email Catherine O'Hara at catherine.o' An additional OAC study has been approved to evaluate the effect of advertising signs on the tourist industry.

Other Collaborative Studies

National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP)

While the FHWA Office of Real Estate Services receives its primary funding resource through STEP, it can leverage STEP funds by using them as a contribution to NCHRP studies. Typically research topics are submitted to the NCHRP selection panels by state DOT research sections. Currently, the Office of Real Estate Services is partnering with the NCHRP to sponsor a study called Right-of-Way Methods and Tools to Control Project Cost Escalation. This study, reviewing best practices specifically focused on the right-of-way aspects of cost estimating, will be available in late 2008. The 2007 NCHRP Report 574 is a guidebook on highway cost estimation management and project cost estimation procedures that aim for consistency and accuracy between long-range transportation planning, priority programming, and preconstruction cost estimates. This guide provides strategies, methods, and tools to develop, track, and document realistic cost estimates.

Another NCHRP study currently underway will develop a model showing how ROW elements can be incorporated into an enterprise GIS. It is anticipated that the NCHRP report will be finalized in 2009. The model being developed can be used by State DOTs when considering ways to integrate geo-spatial components into ROW data management systems. In 2007, the FHWA used STEP funds to bring together several state DOTs to discuss the state of the practice for integrating GIS and ROW. FY08 STEP funds will be used for a follow-up peer exchange in order to encourage further integration.

American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) Research

Stakeholders can also request the AASHTO Right-of-Way and Utility Subcommittee to support right-of-way related research. For example, the AASHTO formed a group of state DOT, LPA and FHWA officials to develop specifications for a software product to calculate relocation benefits. On April 4, 2007, AASHTO announced the availability of a request for information (RFI) for a potential AASHTOWare® product to be developed through its cooperative software development program. Interested software development firms were asked to respond to the RFI, with a statement of qualifications as well as non-binding cost estimates. Only firms responding to the RFI are eligible to respond to the request for proposal, should the AASHTO member agencies agree to fund the development of the project. The proposed project, Turbo Relocation™, is a software solution which will address an emerging need to automate relocation calculations that can be used by any agency or its contractors, to implement the requirements of the Uniform Act. If state DOTs are interested in contributing funds to this effort, they are encouraged to contact Tony Bianchi at

FHWA, AASHTO, and the Transportation Research Board (TRB)

The FHWA, AASHTO and TRB have combined to fund an International Scan in 2008, Integrating and Streamlining Right-of-Way and Utility Processes with Planning, Environment and Design. Gerald Solomon, director of the Office of Real Estate Services, and John Campbell, Right-of-Way Director for the Texas DOT, are co-chairs for the scan. A similar international scan (see the May/June 2003 IRWA magazine article on same subject) conducted in the year 2000 contributed to several State DOT pilot projects, the development of innovative methods and revised guidance by the FHWA. Ideas for research that proceed from the scan can be considered for future STEP funds.

Timing for STEP FY09 Submissions

The STEP research program is vital to the FHWA in order to carry out a variety of realty program management and OAC related research efforts. It is important that stakeholders continue to contribute ideas and topics. Priorities and the state of the practice change. In order to be responsive to current needs, stakeholders should visit the FHWA STEP Web site and enter topics. Funding is limited, so providing additional background information or explaining the research problem is helpful to the panel when reviewing and prioritizing submissions. Numerous quality submissions were received in 2007, and the FHWA looks forward to even more submissions in 2008. Please submit topics to the Feedback section, using the Environment category called Outdoor Advertising Control/ Realty Program Management, at While it is anticipated that the deadline for submission of FY09 topics will be toward the end of August 2008, stakeholders are encouraged to check the Web site.

Updated: 1/31/2017
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