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U.S. Department of Transportation U.S. Department of Transportation Icon United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation
Date:
Autumn 2022
Issue No:
Vol. 86 No. 3
Publication Number:
FHWA-HRT-23-001
Table of Contents

The Local Technical Assistance Program: 40 Years of Service and Support for Local Transportation Across the Nation

by Adam Howell
"People standing near two snowplows in a parking lot. Image Source: © The NYS LTAP Center–Cornell Local Roads Program."
Attendees view a snowplow demonstration at the annual School for Highway Superintendents conference hosted by the New York State LTAP Center–Cornell Local Roads Program in Ithaca, NY.

Every time you leave for work, order a delivery, or call for an ambulance, you depend on a complex system of roads and bridges that allow modern life to function. The maintenance and construction of our public roads are the responsibility of dedicated people who use skill, experience, and innovative thinking to get the job done. And while the capability and commitment of local highway departments and public works agencies across the Nation are top notch, even they need help sometimes.

For decades, local transportation agencies across the Nation have sought assistance from the Local Technical Assistance Program (LTAP). Through their local LTAP centers, these agencies have utilized a variety of low cost and accessible training, education, and support activities.

Much can be learned from the history of a government program. Examining LTAP’s history and its intellectual underpinnings helps ensure that the program’s opportunities for development and growth are not ignored. This year, LTAP celebrates its 40th year of serving local transportation agencies in Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Native American territories, and every State.

"40 Years Local & Tribal Technical Assistance logo. Image Source: FHWA."

Early Examples of State Leadership and Support for Local Roads Agencies 

While the LTAP system is the embodiment of formalized Federal support for local transportation training and education, the idea’s roots go back much further. Initially, bicyclists brought together educational institutions, rural civic associations, agricultural interest groups, and other organizations to form what is now known as the Good Roads Movement—a roadway advocacy campaign between the 1870s and the 1920s. Existing before the days of social media, the internet, television, or even radio, the Good Roads Movement and its ideas were spread by an advocacy publication called Good Roads Magazine. As the movement progressed, good roads associations formed in States throughout the Nation.

While providing funding and establishing higher standards for America’s roads was an important initial goal, Good Roads Movement participants also knew that entities who did local road work needed support and training. Supporting local road agencies with training, assistance, and education was an effort that took many different forms at the State level.

In New York State, interest in supporting local roads coalesced at Cornell University where a group of experts and professionals came together for a “Good Roads Week” conference held on campus in 1905. Subsequently, Cornell University held several more conferences and events dedicated to local roads in New York, leading to the creation of the Cornell Local Roads Program. The Cornell Local Roads Program would later become the official LTAP center for New York in 1984.

In Indiana, the Highway Extension and Research Project for Indiana Counties (HERPIC), established at Purdue University in 1959, pioneered many modern LTAP programming activities. As a cooperative effort between Indiana’s county commissioners and Purdue University, HERPIC organized many activities, such as creating publications and hosting workshops. According to an early HERPIC flyer, the program would “lend guidance and assistance to county highway officials in their problems with management, planning, and operation of county highway departments throughout the State.” Purdue University would go on to pilot one of the first LTAP centers in 1982.

In Oklahoma, the work of Dr. Jim Shamblin, an industrial engineering professor at Oklahoma State University (OSU), helped influence the LTAP system. In 1972, he formed the Center for Local Government Technology (CLGT) and later secured a grant from the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) to help local governments use computer technology. Following the success of this earlier effort, another proposal was submitted to NSF to provide broader assistance with engineering technologies to local governments through OSU’s College of Engineering, Architecture, and Technology. From this initial funding, the CLGT evolved and became the model for today’s LTAP system.

Formation of LTAP

The LTAP system (originally called the Rural Technical Assistance Program) was established on December 23, 1981, when President Ronald Regan signed House Bill 4209 into law. Initially, the program was allocated $5 million for numerous projects related to rural technical assistance, with the establishment of the State Technology Transfer Program for Local Transportation Agencies (T2) being the largest. At first, 10 States hosted T2 centers as part of the initial pilot program:

  • The Alabama center located at Auburn University.
  • The California center located at the University of California, Berkley.
  • The Georgia center located at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
  • The Indiana center located at Purdue University.
  • The Iowa center located at Iowa State University.
  • The Kansas center located at the University of Kansas.
  • The Montana center located at Montana State University.
  • The Pennsylvania center located at the Pennsylvania State University.
  • The Oklahoma center located at Oklahoma State University.
  • The Vermont center located at St. Michael’s College.

 

"LOCAL AND TRIBAL TECHNICAL ASSISTANCE PROGRAMS - Ensuring local and tribal agencies are knowledgeable about the Federal-Aid Highway program is vital and FHWA sponsors LTAP/TTAP training throughout the country:50.2K Instructional Hours of Training Provided; 3.9M Hours of Training Received; 1.2K Training Sessions Delivered; 146.9K Participants. Source: FHWA, data period FY 2020. Image Source: FHWA."

In 1991, the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act expanded LTAP to include urban areas with populations over 50,000, effectively expanding the scope of LTAP’s work. The Tribal Technical Assistance Program was also added to LTAP to help American Indian Tribal governments manage their highway assets.

Over the years as new centers have emerged across the Nation, the LTAP system has expanded in size. By the early 2000s, an LTAP center existed in every State. This expansion reflects the quality work of the LTAP centers. Early on in its history, research demonstrated the success of the LTAP system. According to a 1984 National Highway Institute Evaluation Report, the State centers at that time were “fulfilling all of the objectives of the [LTAP]” and were “responsive to local agency needs.”

The experts in these centers have also shaped the LTAP system, such as former director of the Kentucky LTAP center Patsy Anderson. Anderson was instrumental in starting the first Safety Circuit Rider Program and the first Roads Scholar program in 1988 to provide recognition and credentialing for local roads personnel. Both the Kentucky LTAP Center Safety Circuit Rider program and the Roads Scholar program became national models emulated by many other U.S. States and territories today. In 2007, Anderson was awarded the National Achievement Award from the National Local Technical Assistance Program Association (NLTAPA) for her leadership, service to the industry, and impact upon the national LTAP system.

Stan Ring, the first director of the Iowa LTAP center, was known as “Mr. LTAP.” Prior to Iowa State University becoming the official center for the State, Ring led the university’s civil engineering extension program, which provided outreach for and support to the State’s transportation workforce. Ring also had a passion for developing an extensive library of resources to benefit the Iowa local transportation community—a legacy that endures today at the Iowa LTAP center. Even after his retirement in 1988, Ring continued to serve as the LTAP’s part-time librarian for another 12 years.

“The strength of our association is that we are a community.” David Orr, P.E., PhD, director of NYS LTAP Center–Cornell Local Roads Program.

“For the past 40 years, our LTAP team has worked tirelessly, as a part of the national LTAP program, to support the professional development of our transportation community. On a daily basis, we receive feedback from our stakeholders to let us know how important our programs are in their being better professionals, better leaders, and better people. The resources that are leveraged through the work of all of our centers are what allows us to make such a big impact with small budgets. It is rewarding to know that we are making a difference,” says Donna Shea, Connecticut LTAP executive program director.

While there are certainly many more people past and present who have dedicated their careers to LTAP, the theme remains the same: serving those who keep the Nation moving forward with quality training, education, and assistance.

The National System of LTAP Centers Today

So how do these programs support local roads? Primarily, LTAP centers provide training, education, and technical assistance to meet the needs of local transportation agencies. The work of LTAP centers includes workforce development, infrastructure maintenance, highway safety, worker safety, infrastructure design, asset management, and more.

Despite the unique nature of every LTAP center, there are some very important similarities between programs across the country. All LTAP centers make their resources, training, and outreach accessible and relevant to local communities, agencies, and transportation practitioners. These affordable services aim at dealing with common problems that affect a wide variety of local agencies. Also, LTAP centers strive to innovate and better connect with their populations. For example, many LTAP centers recently added webinars and other online training offerings to meet the needs of a modern local transportation workforce in the internet age.

LTAP centers also deliver services to communities by establishing important partnerships at the national, State, and local levels. At the national level, the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) Center for Local Aid Support provides national leadership and support for all LTAP centers across the Nation. Other important national partners include:

  • National Association of County Engineers
  • American Public Works Association
  • American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials

Finally, as a family of programs spread out across the Nation, one of the LTAP system’s greatest strengths is the relationship between individual centers. NLTAPA exists to help LTAP centers in various U.S. States and territories share knowledge and resources for the benefit of all. Through this association, LTAP centers have a central organization to coordinate activities, exchange best practices, share training expertise, and cooperate on the development of new ways to improve local highways. LTAP centers in different U.S. States and territories often provide each other guest instructors that give valuable trainings.

"People sitting in a classroom watching a presentation. Image Source: © The NYS LTAP Center–Cornell Local Roads Program."

New York State local roads workers attend a training workshop on work zone traffic control hosted by the New York State LTAP Center–Cornell Local Roads Program.

Modern Challenges of LTAP Centers

Today, the need to provide quality training, education, and technical assistance to local transportation agencies is greater than ever. Local agencies, especially in rural areas, face ongoing workforce pressures as retirements increase, creating the need to recruit and train new workers while the local population decreases. On the regulatory side, State and Federal mandates can strain local departments without always providing the corresponding resources to facilitate compliance. Currently, LTAP centers across the Nation are providing resources and training to help meet these workforce development and agency administration needs. Whether it is vocational training, basic safety courses, or management and leadership education, LTAP centers develop resources to meet these needs.

The COVID-19 pandemic has educated the Nation about the importance of local transportation workers. Regardless of transmission rates or public lockdowns, these essential workers continued to perform their duties and assist neighboring municipalities when workers fell ill. Similarly, LTAP programming rose to the challenge by transitioning content to online formats, creating COVID-19-specific guidance, and working with partners to connect local agencies with even more resources to assist them throughout the pandemic. LTAP centers came together to create a database that organized the massive amount of digital training material, making it accessible to local agencies (many of which gained access to online training for the first time).

In the future, LTAP centers will need to help local agencies navigate the challenges and opportunities posed by aging infrastructure in the United States. Recently passed State and Federal legislation will infuse communities with much needed resources to upgrade, replace, and/or maintain its infrastructure. Educating local agencies about the availability of these resources and how to access them will be an important part of the LTAP’s future work. LTAP centers are also helping communities connect to information and education about how to prepare for a future where infrastructure must be more resilient to changes in global climate and weather patterns.

A Celebration of Local Transportation

The 40th anniversary of the LTAP system is really a celebration of local communities across the country. Local agencies manage over three-quarters of all centerline miles in the United States. Local roads, streets, and public works systems are the backbone of U.S. commerce, public safety, communication, and so much more. Supporting the people that maintain these critical systems is important for the future of the Nation.

The LTAP exists to serve those who work tirelessly to maintain a safe, reliable local road system across the country. More than just a national network of resources, LTAP centers are a family of like-minded people dedicated to improving local transportation and supporting those who manage it.

Adam Howell is a marketing and communications manager at the New York State LTAP Center–Cornell Local Roads Program and co-chair of the NLTAPA communications work group.

For more information, contact Trinette Ballard at Trinette.Ballard@dot.gov or 850-553-2207. 

Learn more about the LTAP here: NLTAPA https://nltapa.org/

FHWA Center for Local Aid Support: https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/clas/