The National Academies

NCHRP 20-06/Topic 24-05 [Completed]

Fix It, Sign It, or Close It: State of Good Repair in an Era of Budget Constraints
[ NCHRP 20-06 (Legal Problems Arising out of Highway Programs) ]

  Project Data
Funds: $50,000
Research Agency: Parker Corporate Enterprises, Ltd
Principal Investigator: Terri Parker
Effective Date: 1/28/2019
Completion Date: 1/28/2020
Comments: Completed. Published as TCRP LRD 57 and NCHRP LRD 84.


The National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) and the Transit Cooperative Research Program (TCRP) plan to jointly award a contract for a study and report. Legal research reports sponsored by these projects are published in both NCHRP’s and TCRP’s Legal Research Digest (LRD) series. Publications are made available to some libraries and to approximately 4,000 transportation lawyers and officials through the TRB distribution network.
The condition of the transportation infrastructure in the United States is an issue of national importance. State DOT’s and transit agencies are facing tough choices with limited finances. These transportation agencies are having to make decisions about how and when to keep the assets safely open to the public. Transportation agencies that are recipients of federal formula grant dollars may need the funding agency to be involved in any decision to repair the asset(s) or whether to improve, rebuild, or close them.
Research is needed on the legal ramifications to transportation agencies that are faced with deciding whether to repair, improve, or rebuild assets that are in poor repair.

Note: Highway transportation infrastructure assets are the physical elements, such as pavements, bridges, culverts, signs, pavement markings, and other roadway and roadside features that comprise the whole highway infrastructure network, from right-of-way line to right-of-way line. Public transit asset categories include rolling stock (e.g., buses or railcars), equipment (e.g., construction or maintenance equipment), infrastructure (e.g., fixed guideways or power), and facilities (e.g., passenger facilities or parking).
The objective of this research is to provide a state by state summary of pertinent laws and practices related to achieving a state of good repair for transportation assets and include a summary of decisions and the experiences of transportation agencies. 
At a minimum, the following questions should be considered:
  • How are the assets being used?
  • When does it become prudent to close a portion of a transportation asset because there are insufficient financial resources to keep the asset safely open to the public?
  • When an asset repeatedly fails inspections and budgetary restraints persist, how is the decision made to close or shut down the asset?
  • If federal funds were used to build the failing structure, when does the funding agency weigh in on closure?
  • Does closure, or approval of a closure, constitute a federal action requiring compliance with National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)?
  • Will federal funds need to be refunded?
  • When the public is not allowed to travel over an asset that has been closed, is there exposure for failure to provide equal protection of the laws or failure to comply with civil rights protections?
  • What governance practices are in use?
  • What lessons can be drawn from current experience?
Research Implementation
This research will be conducted in four tasks pursuant to a firm fixed price agreement.  The tasks will be as follows:
Task 1. Research plan and detailed report outline. The consultant will conduct background research and collect relevant material. Based on the initial but complete review of the source material, consultant will propose a detailed report outline. The outline should be about 8 to12 pages, include a proposed survey if one is to be used, and contain sufficient detail to inform the NCHRP and TCRP project panels of what a 75- to 100-page report will contain. This outline should also contain the estimated pagination for each proposed section and/or subsection. This material will be submitted to NCHRP and TCRP for consideration and approval.
Task 2. After approval of the work plan, the consultant should conduct additional research, and case and statutory/regulatory analysis.
Task 3. Draft report in accordance with the approved work plan (including modifications required by TRB).
Task 4. Revise report as necessary. The consultant should estimate that two revisions will be necessary. One revision may be required after review by the NCHRP and TCRP staffs and members of a select subcommittee. Additional revisions may be required after the full committee has reviewed the report.
Status: Completed. Published as TCRP LRD 57 and NCHRP LRD 84.

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