Streamlining Tribal Assistance
Building and maintaining the Nation’s roadways is a massive undertaking, especially for local and tribal agencies juggling increasingly complex challenges with limited funds. In 1982, Congress recognized the need for assistance and created the Local Technical Assistance Program in the Federal Highway Administration, followed 9 years later by legislation establishing the Tribal Technical Assistance Program (TTAP). For more than 25 years, TTAP has delivered training and technical assistance to help the Nation’s tribes build their transportation workforce capacity and address road network challenges.
Today, technology enables forms of communication, training, and collaboration undreamed of a quarter century ago. Innovation advancements—from the Internet and smartphones to the integration of computer technology in vehicles—are generating new approaches to operating the tribal road network, which includes 58,500 miles (94,000 kilometers) of public roads owned by tribes and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, 102,500 miles (165,000 kilometers) of State and local roads, and 930 bridges.
“Advancements have profoundly changed our ability to deliver training and education and use innovation to manage transportation networks,” says Victoria J. Peters, director of FHWA’s Center for Local Aid Support, which oversees TTAP. “It’s time to consider new options to best meet the needs of tribes in training and technical assistance.”
In January 2018, FHWA launched a 2-year pilot to operate one TTAP Center, a change from the seven regional TTAP centers that served tribes in the past. In addition to reducing redundancies, one center enables TTAP to provide a greater level of expertise on issues that challenge tribes in managing their road networks, deliver consistent skills-oriented training and materials, and offer expanded access to training opportunities.
“Through this pilot, we’re working with the tribes to meet their needs and explore ways to enable the program to go from good to great,” says Peters. “It’s about finding efficiencies, being more effective in how we train and provide technical assistance, accommodating regional differences, and improving a program that offers essential services to tribes.”
Virtual Centers of Excellence
A key feature of the TTAP Center is five virtual Centers of Excellence that provide expertise, best practices, and training in highway asset and data management, planning and program management, project delivery, safety, and operations and maintenance. Each Center of Excellence is staffed by experts who deliver training and technical assistance in their focus areas to tribes across the country.
“If you have a safety challenge, you can work with a safety expert. If you have a maintenance question, a maintenance expert will assist you,” says Peters. “Our experts have access to the resources of FHWA and other organizations to ensure you get the most current information to resolve your questions.”
The virtual Centers of Excellence offer a core training curriculum in each focus area on basic through advanced topics to build a strong tribal network of roadway knowledge. The centers will offer more hours of training than ever before and expanded training options, including face-to-face classes across the country and computer-based e-learning.
Assisting tribes with implementing innovations is a priority of the TTAP Center. “New technologies and practices are key to managing road networks effectively and efficiently, so we’re looking for ways to incorporate innovations into the curriculum and share that expertise with tribes,” says Peters.
Tribal Roads Scholar Certification
The TTAP Center also is developing a national Tribal Roads Scholar certification program geared to maintenance workers, equipment operators, and road managers. The program will provide comprehensive skill development on essential maintenance, operations, and safety topics and two levels of certification.
The center offers easy-to-use information sources, including a Web site that serves as a one-stop shop to access training information, find resources, and learn about best practices. A quarterly newsletter will feature program updates, details on upcoming events, and success stories. The center is producing tribal case studies and a toolkit of guidance documents, sample policies and templates, and standard specifications and plans.
“The TTAP Center is the new point of contact for tribes’ training and technical assistance needs,” Peters says, “with a cadre of experts and resources available at your fingertips.”
For more information, visit www.fhwa.dot.gov/innovativeprograms/centers/local_aid/ttap.
Tony Furst is FHWA’s chief innovation officer and head of the Office of Innovative Program Delivery.