Update on U.S. Access Board regulatory process for public rights-of-way

Mary O'Connor
Transportation General Manager
City of Scottsdale, Arizona

APWA Washington office staff member Jim Fahey and APWA appointees to the U.S. Access Board Public Rights-of-Way Access Advisory Committee (PROWAAC) Michele Ohmes of Kansas City, MO and Mary O'Connor of Scottsdale, AZ attended a meeting of the Board on July 24, 2006 in Washington, D.C., at which a draft Technical Assistance Manual for Alterations in public rights-of-way was presented by PROWAAC chair Jerry Markesino of OTAK's Portland, OR office and subcommittee chair Janet Barlow of the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired. APWA staff and Nashville, TN member Mark Macy also attended Access Board meetings that week to provide input to the regulatory assessment process for the proposed rules associated with public rights-of-way.

Background/Current Activity
The PROWAAC was formed in 1999 to prepare proposed guidelines for accessible streets and sidewalks in the public right-of-way. The committee issued draft guidelines in 2001 (their report, "Building a True Community," was presented at the 2001 TRB conference and at that year's APWA Congress). Members of the committee began drafting a technical assistance manual in 2001, but work was delayed until Board review and revisions to the original PROWAAC recommendations were completed and a second draft of the guidelines was issued in 2005 (see http://www.access-board.gov/news/row-draft.htm).

ADA requirements for alterations, which will apply to the bulk of roadway construction, are not generally well understood by transportation industry agencies and practitioners, particularly with respect to scope of work. This lack of understanding has delayed implementation of accessible features in the public right-of-way. In order to provide a more favorable context for industry's consideration of the PROW Accessibility Guidelines rulemaking effort, the PROWAAC committee developed this technical assistance document to help clarify the relationship between implementing regulations—which establish obligations—and the guidelines and standards that measure compliance with those obligations. The manual contains a collection of real-world guidance drawn from practitioners across the U.S. on how to make accessibility improvements within the constraints of existing, developed streetscapes.

The design of the roadway environment doesn't provide optimal conditions for pedestrians, especially those with disabilities. Most rights-of-way will include existing facilities with steep-running slopes, steep cross-slopes, insufficient information on where the safety of the sidewalk ends and the danger of vehicular traffic begins, or inadequate information for sight- and hearing-impaired persons at signalized intersections. In addition to information regarding regulatory background, design process, and model curb ramps and sidewalks with potential solutions within constrained rights-of-way, the draft manual contains a listing of more than 100 information resources from the U.S. Department of Justice (websites and court cases), the Access Board, Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE), state and local governments, and other sources.

What's Next?
The rulemaking process to adopt the 2005 proposed draft of the public rights-of-way guidelines continues. For public works professionals responsible for implementing projects in the public right-of-way, as well as other practitioners, final adoption cannot come too soon to assure that project funding is well spent to make local and state facilities accessible to all users. If you would like to communicate your interest in this process to the Access Board, please contact Lois Thibault (Thibault@access-board.gov). The Board will rely on industry organizations like APWA to provide the cost/benefit data needed for the regulatory analysis that is the next step in PROWAG rulemaking. For more information on APWA's role in the process, please contact Michele Ohmes at (816) 513-2533 or Michele_Ohmes@kcmo.org, or Mary O'Connor at (480) 312-7548 or moconnor@scottsdaleaz.gov.

Mary O'Connor is a member of the Arizona Chapter and a former member of the Transportation Technical Committee.