Forum Journal & Forum Focus

Understanding and Evaluating State Enhancement Programs 

12-09-2015 17:35

Transportation enhancement activities were added to federal surface transportation law in 1991 and extended in 1998. These laws were the first federal transportation policy initiatives to focus on enhancing the travel experience and fostering the quality of life in American communities. Congress defined enhancements as 12 specific activities. It set aside 10 percent of each state`s Surface Transportation Program funds-less than two percent of all federal highway funds states receive-exclusively for enhancements activities and required that to be eligible for funding, the activities had to be related to surface transportation. The 12 transportation enhancement activities include:

  1. Provision of facilities for bicycles and pedestrians.
  2. Provision of safety and educational activities for pedestrians and bicyclists.
  3. Acquisition of scenic easements and scenic or historic sites.
  4. Scenic or historic high-way programs (including the provision of tourist and welcome center facilities).
  5. Landscaping and other scenic beautification.
  6. Historic preservation.
  7. Rehabilitation and operation of historic transportation buildings, structures or facilities (including historic rail-road facilities and canals).
  8. Preservation of abandoned railroad corridors (including the conversion and use thereof for pedestrian and bicycle trails).
  9. Control and removal of outdoor advertising.
  10. Archeological planning and research.
  11. Environmental mitigation to address water pollution due to highway runoff or reduce vehicle-caused wildlife mortality while maintaining habitat connectivity.
  12. Establishment of transportation museums.
Transportation enhancement activities are part of the Surface Transportation Program, the largest and most flexible source of transportation assistance to the states. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) issued guidance that encourages states to develop flexible procedures to accommodate the development and efficient implementation of enhancement activities. Beyond the apportionment of enhancement funds to the states and being the ultimate judge of project eligibility questions, FHWA pro-vides a large measure of flexibility to the states to determine the structure of their enhancement programs and how they are managed and administered. State enhancement pro-grams differ widely, and a national analysis of administrative schemes and spending patterns will not reveal to a potential project sponsor the information needed to succeed in seeking enhancement funds. To be successful in winning transportation enhancement financial support, project sponsors must learn the ins and outs of their state pro-grams and devise their strategies accordingly. The National Trust`s Public Policy Department has worked with preservationists across the country to improve the standing of historic preservation- related enhancement projects. The department has come upon many examples of exemplary state programs, of which the following are just a few good examples. Kentucky Kentucky`s transportation agency has taken full advantage of preservation-related enhancement activities. According to its secretary, James C. Codell, III, "The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet strongly believes in historical and environmental preservation, as we believe that Transportation Enhancement projects add value to Kentucky`s comprehensive transportation program. We have been able to retain, rebuild and protect our cultural assets for a relatively small investment of our federal highway funds in a variety of nontraditional projects. As a result of working together on Transportation Enhancement projects, we have been able to build partnerships which have carried over into traditional highway projects." The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet has committed $10 million of its enhancement allocation over a two-year period to support transportation related streetscape improvements that are part of revitalization efforts in the state`s Renaissance/ Main Street initiative. Kentucky`s transportation enhancement program complements its community economic revitalization goals. The state permits enhancement funds to be used on the restoration of the facades of public buildings on Main Street, explicitly recognizing that historic buildings contribute to the aesthetics and the ambiance of Main Street and encourage pedestrian traffic. The state historic preservation office (the Kentucky Heritage Council) recognized at the beginning of the enhancement program the variety of opportunities presented by the then ten enhancement activities and reexamined its historic preservation needs assessment to identify projects with a transportation relationship that fit into the specific activities in the new law. By establishing and explaining how these projects related to transportation, the Council found a formula that met pressing historic preservation needs and at the same time helped the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet develop an innovative enhancement program, solidly grounded in good, nontraditional highway-related projects with the required transportation relationship. According to David Morgan, Kentucky`s historic preservation officer and executive director of the Kentucky Heritage Council, the understanding and trust engendered by the close working relation-ship with transportation officials enable both agencies to manage the many controversies and disagreements that inevitably develop when evaluating highway projects and their effects on historic resources. "There are probably more controversies than ever," says Morgan, "but how we approach them is totally different today, as a result of the experience of working so closely together on enhancements. Old stereotypes have been changed, and we see ourselves as partners, working together with Kentucky`s communities." Morgan advises historic preservationists not to underestimate their transportation agencies and the people who work there. "Get to know them, find ways to work with them. They are an enthusiastic bunch interested in doing things differently and working on projects that communities truly support." New Jersey New Jersey`s enhancement program focuses on community livability, the preservation and protection of natural and cultural resources, economic revitalization, the fostering of local partnerships, as well as alternate modes of transportation. New Jersey`s is a balanced program: approximately 40 percent of its awards support bicycle and pedestrian facilities, 30 percent support a wide variety of transportation-related historic preservation projects, and 30 percent sup-port streetscape and beautification activities in historic commercial areas. The New Jersey Department of Transportation also appreciates the partnership-building benefits derived from its enhancement program. The state agency works close-ly with project sponsors starting with its solicitation for applications all the way to final project close-out, including becoming part of the project implementation team. New Jersey makes use of a large and diverse Transportation Enhancements Advisory Committee to evaluate applications against clearly established and well-understood criteria and to prepare a recommended short list of projects for consideration by the Commissioner of Transportation. Because the New Jersey Department of Transportation sees itself as a full partner in bringing projects to a successful conclusion, the agency takes extraordinary steps to reduce burdens on project sponsors. Paperwork requirements are decreased, environ-mental reviews are stream-lined, and by requiring the services of licensed engineers or architects, agency reviews of projects are reduced to a preliminary and final review, relying on project sponsors to certify that what is required is actually being done. Georgia During 1998, Georgia`s Transportation Enhancement Activities Advisory Panel created a subcommittee to examine the state`s application form and make recommendations for changes. The subcommittee suggested a new question to be answered by applicants when establishing their proposal`s eligibility for the enhancement program: "Will the project facilitate transportation and strengthen the cultural, aesthetic, and environmental aspects of the inter-modal transportation system?" This question captures the essence of congressional intent-that these projects enhance the community benefits of transportation enhancements. The subcommittee also proposed that Georgia add illustrative lists to the application so that project sponsors could gain a broader view of the types of eligible projects, especially in the archeological and historic resources categories. The Historic Preservation Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources encourages communities around the state to match up their needs with the enhancement categories and assists communities with their applications. The Georgia enhancement program recently hired a consulting firm to assist approved sponsors who were experiencing difficulties in implementing their projects. In 1999 the Georgia Department of Transportation allocated $8.6 million for historic preservation-related enhancement projects, an amount far in excess of funding available from all Historic Preservation Division grant programs combined. The state`s emphasis on creative, imaginative projects, its out-reach and assistance to applicants, its projects involving multiple enhancement activities, and the contributions to broader state goals like livability, community revitalization, and heritage tourism make Georgia a good model for states looking for ways to improve their own programs. Evaluating Your State`s Enhancement Program The following questions can be used to evaluate any state enhancement program. It`s an illustrative list, not meant to exhaust the possibilities or to be a substitute for a genuine working relationship with the state. You should understand that some states resent being obliged to implement the enhancement program. How a state approaches enhancements can tell us a great deal about its degree of commitment to protecting and enhancing historic resources within transportation corridors as new roads are planned and old ones repaired or reconstructed.
  1. Is your state spending the enhancement dollars that the Federal Highway Administration makes available? Does your state agency have a balance of uncommitted enhancement funds that has accumulated over the years? How and when will the money be committed to the state enhancements program?
  2. When you look at how the state has spent its enhancement funds, does the program heavily favor one or two of the 12 transportation enhancement activities? Who has established the priorities reflected in the spending pat-terns?
  3. What percentage of the state`s enhancement allocation is spent on state transportation agency activities? How much is spent on local community-generated proposals?
  4. How many proposals does the state transportation agency receive and how many are funded? Ask for numbers of projects and their value in dollars.
  5. How extensive a mailing list does the state agency use to disseminate information about the enhancements program? Has the state asked historic preservation and heritage tourism groups for help with identifying lists? Does the state advertise and hold local meetings to explain the program?
  6. Does the state agency encourage communities and non-transportation groups to compete for enhancement funds? Is such encouragement provided for all 12 enhancement activities?
  7. Does the state agency offer non-traditional project sponsors technical assistance to help them navigate complex transportation administrative procedures?
  8. Who reviews projects and makes selections for funding? Are representatives of state agencies other than transportation part of the review and selection, e.g., parks, recreation, community and economic development, historic preservation, or open space acquisition agencies? Are non-governmental groups represented?
  9. Does the application describe all of the criteria that will be used to judge the proposals? Is it prescriptive enough so that applicants know all of the points on which they will be judged?
  10. Does the state agency assist project sponsors in developing their applications? Are workshops conducted to help non-traditional, non-transportation applicants?
  11. Is your state taking advantage of any of the administrative streamlining opportunities that help sponsors complete projects in a timely fashion with the least bureaucratic red tape?
  12. Has your state program discarded the eligibility restrictions on historic preservation participation, required by the 1995 guidance, in favor of the new federal guidance, which is more flexible and makes it clear that historic preservation projects do not have to perform modal transportation functions?
  13. Does your enhancement program support larger state policy goals like livable communities, economic and community revitalization, heritage tourism, and other quality of life goals?
The Transportation Enhancement Program is midway through its ninth year and nearly halfway through its second congressional authorization. The money available under the program has increased in most states. There is no other potential source of federal funding for historic preservation-related work as substantial as transportation enhancements. The program is working well in some states, and less well in others. How`s it doing in your state? For more information on the enhancement program in your state call the Pub-lic Policy Department at the National Trust at (202) 588-6167 or the National Transportation Enhancements Clearing-house at (888) 388-NTEC. E-mail address:, web site:

Publication Date: Summer 2000


Author(s):Dan Costello