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Public Roads - September/October 2014

September/October 2014
Issue No:
Vol. 78 No. 2
Publication Number:
Table of Contents

Training Update

Building Relationships That Matter

by Courtney Chiaparas

Delivered in classrooms and online, covering subjects across the full lifecycle of the highway transportation system, the National Highway Institute’s (NHI) courses bring industry experts and practitioners together to transfer knowledge and benefit from each other’s experiences. But these courses offer so much more than just facts. They offer opportunities to learn from other practitioners and build connections.

It was these opportunities that David Butterbaugh, director of survey services at P. Joseph Lehman, Inc., Consulting Engineers, appreciated most when he attended a session of NHI’s course 141050 Introduction to Federal-Aid Right of Way Requirements for Local Public Agencies.

Increasing Knowledge

Butterbaugh enrolled in the course to gain a better understanding of the right of way (ROW) acquisition process and his role as a land surveyor. His team works on all types of surveys, ranging from small boundary retracements to extensive road and bridge projects.

The course provides participants with a working knowledge of requirements and procedures for acquiring property for federally assisted transportation projects. In some cases, government programs designed to benefit the public result in acquisition of private property or displacement of people from their residences, businesses, or farms. Acquisitions of this kind occur under the power of eminent domain. Provisions under the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Property Acquisition Policies Act of 1970 protect property owners by requiring just compensation and uniform and equitable treatment in the event of an acquisition.

For Butterbaugh and his team, preparing ROW acquisition plans involves researching deeds, property ownership, and rights of way. It also entails ensuring that the engineers and acquisition teams have the information necessary to properly and efficiently meet the needs of the project and each property owner involved.

Communicating effectively with property owners is an important part of the job, Butterbaugh says. “Conveying the importance of our transportation needs to the people who live in or near project areas is crucial to the success of every project. We need to do all we can to protect landowners’ rights and ensure that the process is efficient and cost effective. If we can successfully market the importance of safe travel and efficient transportation, we can continue to improve the standard of living in our communities.”

Creating Connections

Butterbaugh says NHI’s course not only helped build his knowledge of Federal requirements and procedures, but it also nurtured relationships that will help improve his ability to communicate with stakeholders. “Anytime we can improve the lines of communication and get the right people involved in the process,” he says, “everybody wins.”


David Butterbaugh, director of survey services at P. Joseph Lehman, Inc., Consulting Engineers.


Interacting with the instructors and other participants gave Butterbaugh an opportunity to learn from their experiences and to consider his work from different perspectives. Instructors also convey the course content along with their own knowledge and experiences, and they keep the class involved in the discussions. “I was impressed by the number of opportunities we had to learn from the experiences of others taking the course,” Butterbaugh says.

For example, participants discussed situations in which property owners were willing to negotiate in good faith once they understood the benefits a project would have on the community, compared to others who took a hard line and fought against any solutions requiring a portion of their property. “As surveyors,” Butterbaugh says, “we are often the first to communicate with property owners, who may or may not be on board with a project. Class discussions of how to establish good relationships right from the start offered ways to help improve the acquisition process and create better experiences for owners.”

Butterbaugh works hard to ensure that his survey department serves its clients well. This means staying up to date on changing laws and rules concerning private and public projects, as well as building great leadership skills. “Goals cannot be reached alone,” he says. “Taking advantage of quality continuing education opportunities, such as those offered by NHI, is an essential part of growth and reaching goals.”


Courtney Chiaparas is a contributing editor for Public Roads.