Improving Roads at the Local Level
For nearly three decades, the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) Local Technical Assistance Program (LTAP) has been helping local agencies build, maintain, and operate their roads and bridges. The LTAP and Tribal Technical Assistance Program (TTAP) network assists more than 38,000 cities and towns, rural and urban counties, and tribal governments by delivering targeted road-related materials, training, and technical assistance. But like many government programs today, LTAP and TTAP are striving to provide more services with limited financial resources.
To help stretch every dollar, LTAP and TTAP are focusing on sharing information through more economical, online technologies and strategies such as their shared Web site, podcasts, electronic newsletters, and social media. The central hub of these efforts is a recently updated Web site, accessible at www.ltap.org. The updated site launched in August 2010 with a new design, navigation, and features such as a photo gallery, discussion forums, podcasts, and an improved “secure” area accessible only to LTAP/TTAP center staff.
“Pushing higher quality information to the Web site was an obvious choice for making knowledge-sharing simpler and easier for LTAP/TTAP centers,” says Cameron Ishaq, a strategy and management consultant for FHWA’s Office of Technical Services. “Centers and their local agency customers can visit the site to find information, share materials and resources, or simply ask questions of their peers. It’s a critical part of our overall strategy to find new ways to accelerate information exchange and stay ahead of the need factor.”
In addition to stretching dollars, the new Web site furthers another priority: decentralizing information. Fifty-eight LTAP/TTAP centers -- one in each State and Puerto Rico, and seven regional centers that serve tribal governments -- support the needs of local communities across the Nation. In the past, most resources and information were housed at a centralized location and distributed to centers only upon request. Through the Web site and other online outlets, the network now can distribute information easily on a continuous basis to the centers and transportation agencies across the country.
“Decentralizing information is key to providing centers, and ultimately transportation agencies, with the knowledge they need be successful given our limited resources,” says Ishaq. “With the resources at their fingertips, centers don’t have to redo or recreate from scratch something someone else has already done. This saves time, energy, and money that then can be put toward new efforts and capabilities.”
An important component of decentralizing information is the new “Centers Only Area” of the Web site. Center staff can log onto a secure section of the site to access mandatory assessment reports, track and archive reports, upload materials and resources to share, and find best practices and ideas from other centers.
Navigating the New Site
At first glance, site users will notice the new graphics and navigation. Front and center on the home page is a feature rotator that displays links to news, events, and materials. Users also can navigate easily to other pages on the site from navigation bars across the top and right-hand side of the home page. The page also includes four smaller feature boxes for one-click access to a resource database, photo gallery, discussion forum, and “LTAP/TTAP Interchange,” which is an audio newsletter.
One of the most frequently accessed new features is the resource database that contains more than 2,600 resources from across the local roads community, including training materials and videos, tips from the field, and presentations. Site users can search the database by keyword, resource type, technical category, or contributing organization. From the secure area of the site, LTAP/TTAP centers can share their own materials by uploading to the database.
Also new is the discussion forum, where site administrators and users can collaborate, ask questions, and exchange ideas. Some discussion threads are open to all site users, while others are for specific groups, such as center staff or directors. The discussion forum replaced a limited-function listserv and allows for easier management of discussion threads.
“When planning for the new site, we tried to anticipate future needs and build capabilities [into the site] that not only can accommodate the present state of LTAP/TTAP but also grow with the program,” says Ishaq.
For more information on the Web site, contact Lisa McCluskey at 202–289–4434or firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information on the LTAP/TTAP programs, contact Jeff Zaharewicz, LTAP/TTAP program manager with FHWA, at email@example.com.
Alicia Sindlinger is a contributing editor for Public Roads.