Building Effective Relationships Between Central Cities
and Regional, State And Federal Governments
Transportation Research Board
National Cooperative Highway Research Program
Prepared by Bruce Schaller, Schaller Consulting
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America's central cities depend on cooperative efforts of local, regional,
state and federal agencies to meet their transportation needs. This study
documents successful relationships and processes that used intergovernmental
cooperation, coordination and collaboration to strengthen large city
transportation facilities and services. These successful experiences suggest
lessons that can be applied to meeting a variety of central city transportation
The focus of this synthesis is on the nation's twelve largest metropolitan
areas. The size and complexity of these areas, ranging in size from the New
York metropolitan area with a population of 21.2 million in 2000 to Miami-Ft.
Lauderdale with a population of 3.9 million, create particularly challenging
political and organizational environments.
This study is based on three sources of information. First, a review of
literature on intergovernmental cooperation in transportation and other fields.
Second, a survey of transportation agencies in the 12 metropolitan areas,
which identified 84 successful projects and processes involving intergovernmental
cooperation. Third, case studies of nine of the 84 projects identified in
the survey. The case studies, which utilized in-depth interviews of staff
from participating agencies and organizations, represent a range of project
types including areawide planning, project planning and transit and highway
projects. The case studies also incorporate related issues of economic
development, land use, the environment and historic preservation.
This report includes detailed accounts of each case study, eleven critical
characteristics of intergovernmental cooperation, tools and techniques proven
useful for coalescing effective intergovernmental relationships, a series
of questions that can be used for self-assessment of cooperative opportunities,
and results of the literature search.
1. Intergovernmental cooperation and collaboration
are difficult, but very important:
There are often strong official and citizen desires to maintain the independence
and prerogatives of existing jurisdictions. Efforts to increase cooperation
and collaboration must deal with existing organizational missions and structures
that support the independence of each agency. There is relatively little
research on how to do so effectively.
Regional planning organizations are generally available to help channel and
facilitate intergovernmental cooperation and collaboration, but they are
not a panacea.
Influential societal trends support efforts for greater intergovernmental
cooperation and collaboration. These trends include increased public expectations
that agencies work together, greater public involvement, increasing focus
on program outcomes, strong links between transportation and other issues,
and the growing need for metropolitan areas to compete in the global economy.
Examples of intergovernmental cooperation documented in this report show
the effectiveness of such efforts in areas ranging from HOV lane construction
and operations to increases in bus ridership to revitalization of historic
Intergovernmental cooperation also provides a vehicle for state DOTs and
MPOs to respond to new challenges ranging from environmental justice to land
use and historic preservation.
2. Characteristics of effective coordination and
collaborative relationships are emerging. They include:
Attention to both vertical and horizontal relationships.
Explicit attention to political dimensions of issues.
The use of both formal and informal mechanisms.
Focus on interdependencies among agencies.
Involvement of non-profit and private organizations, in addition to government
Greater public involvement.
3. Practical tools and techniques for facilitating
cooperation and collaboration include:
Steering committees and interagency task forces.
Fact finding surveys, inventories, and field data collection to diffuse myths,
enlighten public dialogues, and open new possibilities.
Forums and hearings where participation and involvement can be broadened.
Neutral parties who can help overcome some of the baggage of past relationships
and help diverse groups move forward to consider current and future issues.
New communications and analytical technologies that facilitate improved
understanding and discourse among individuals and groups.
Interlocal cooperation acts and agreements.
New and re-shaped organizations that can get things done that no other group
is currently able to do.
Greater involvement of community groups and the public.
4. Central cities can benefit by systematically
assessing their opportunities for improving intergovernmental cooperation
and collaboration. Means for doing this include:
Identify specific and timely opportunities for innovations important to the
Express the city's goals in specific terms, but be open to looking at the
issue holistically, to open a larger array of opportunities for reaching
the goals of other potential partners at the same time.
Build on previous successes in cooperation and collaboration.
Tie the goals to current priorities and major upcoming events.
Restate the goals in intergovernmental or inter-jurisdictional terms, and
make them politically attractive.
Identify the main stakeholders, potential partners, and other affected parties.
Find ways to link up with and involve these other parties.
Include other parties, as appropriate, in all phases of the effort-planning,
funding, approval, implementation, operations, and maintenance.
Develop and articulate a shared vision to solidify the relationships.
Translate very large goals into manageable projects that produce short-term
tangible accomplishments along the way, as a means of fortifying and maintaining
the partnership over the long haul.
5. Creative program ideas and examples of successful
projects are bountiful. Outstanding examples include:
Transit priority demonstration project, involving the City of Los Angeles
and the L.A. County Metropolitan Transportation Authority. This project greatly
increased bus speeds and bus ridership in two major corridors and is being
expanded to 12 additional transit corridors.
An overlapping set of projects for economic revitalization, historic
preservation, tourism development and road improvements along Woodward Avenue
in Detroit and suburban counties, involving public and non-profit agencies
and private businesses.
Planning, construction and operation of an extensive network of high occupancy
vehicle (HOV) lanes in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area, the product of a partnership
between Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) and Texas DOT.
Participation of private fleets in clean fuels programs, brought about through
cooperative efforts of the City of New York, the New York Metropolitan
Transportation Council and elected officials.
Installation of standardized directional signage throughout Philadelphia
that facilitates wayfinding to major tourist, cultural and neighborhood
destinations and reduces sign clutter, through an innovative public-private
partnership that provides ongoing funding for improved sign maintenance.
Effective relationships are vital to addressing cities' complex and overlapping
transportation, land use, environmental and economic development challenges.
For agencies at all levels of government, effective relationships offer the
opportunity to better fulfill their own responsibilities in furtherance of
their constituents' best interests.
Building intergovernmental relationships to address central city transportation
needs can be a challenging and intricate effort. The task requires hard work,
a clear view of "my agency's" position in the constellation of other agencies,
attention to political needs and the ability to work creatively, effectively
and with perseverance in uncertain interagency environments.
And yet, despite the challenges posed by each situation and project,
intergovernmental cooperation, coordination and collaboration enjoy the support
of powerful forces. These include:
Public emphasis on intergovernmental cooperation to address problems and
needs efficiently and effectively.
Emphasis on outcomes and results rather than on inputs, in assessing the
effectiveness of governmental programs.
Heightened expectations for citizen participation, which require agencies
to actively involve local communities and stakeholders.
Recognition of metropolitan regions as key units in a competitive world economy,
which demands that the different parts of metropolitan areas work together
in furtherance of their shared interests.
Desire to link transportation to economic development, environmental and
land use issues, which requires involvement by a wide variety of agencies
spanning different levels of government.
Local, state and federal transportation officials are indeed responding to
the need for intergovernmental cooperation. Studies of state DOTs, MPOs and
big city transportation departments document a number of successful experiences.
Even so, officials and observers believe that more needs to be done.
This study identifies eleven key characteristics of successful intergovernmental
projects and processes. These characteristics, which themselves are
interdependent and mutually reinforcing, address who's involved, agency
relationships, how projects are shaped and support is built, and project
Horizontal and vertical relationships
Non-profit and private sector organizations
Complementary strengths and resources
Staff competence and commitment
Shaping projects and building support
Focus on needs and opportunities
Building political support
Grass roots initiative and stakeholder ownership
Shared vision and goals
Short-term and long-term results
Series of inter-related efforts
A variety of tools are available for coalescing intergovernmental cooperation.
Steering committees and interagency task forces;
Public forums and hearings;
Surveys, inventories and field data collection;
Establishment of new entities and enabling organizations;
Involvement of a neutral party to bring together different sides; and
Exploitation of technology to facilitate coordination and information sharing.
Effective relationships are important for local, regional and state
transportation agencies. For cities, intergovernmental cooperation is essential
to addressing their complex and overlapping transportation, land use,
environmental and economic development challenges. Effective intergovernmental
relationships are shown by examples throughout this report to help address
For state departments of transportation (DOTs) and metropolitan planning
organizations (MPOs), intergovernmental cooperation provides a vehicle to
respond to new challenges without greatly expanding the scope or changing
the nature of their responsibilities. Intergovernmental cooperation is also
a vital avenue for state DOTs and MPOs to integrate economic development,
environmental and land use issues with transportation issues.
By collaborating with a broader set of agencies, state DOTs and MPOs can
become more responsive to local needs as defined by counties and cities,
which in turn are articulated by neighborhood groups, non-profit organizations
and other community representatives. State DOTs and MPOs can better attune
their programs and goals to problems and needs as understood by those closest
to the situation, and to community and political possibilities and constraints.
The process is not just bottom-up. State DOTs and MPOs bring a broader geographic
perspective, state and federal financial resources, and an ability to act
in the statewide or regional political arena. Thus, intergovernmental
collaboration provides mutual benefits. Each participating agency makes
contributions and reaps rewards as they seek to fulfill their responsibilities
while furthering the overall well being of their constituents.
Report published Fall 2001