Many urban areas throughout the country are experiencing a dramatic increase in the number of people living without permanent residence. For these people, state highway rights of way through cities are often some of the most accessible areas to set up temporary encampments. This growing trend of encampments on state rights of way has presented a series of unprecedented challenges and liabilities for state departments of transportation (DOTs), in the design, construction, and maintenance of urban freeway roadsides and bridges. An NCHRP synthesis study on the issues facing state DOTs along urban freeway sections was completed in 2019. NCHRP 20-05/Topic 49-06 “Landscape Development and Management for Urban Freeway Roadsides” provides information on the scope of issues and current magnitude of the issues throughout the country. The report identifies urban freeway encampments as one of the most significant challenges facing state agency operations and maintenance of highway systems throughout our nation’s cities. An organized comparison and discussion of agency experience in relation to this topic would benefit all state DOTs and provide a basis for the development of recommended best management practices for tolerance, prevention, and cleanup of encampments.
The primary objective of the research is to document the current scope of the impacts and solutions and to comparatively study the approaches taken by state transportation agencies in response to encampments along the highways and under bridges. Specific issues to explore include:
· State agency policy and procedures.
· Processes for developing location inventories and activity data.
· Agency liability issues/instances of legal actions/local agency coordination.
· Data sharing agreements with local agencies.
· FHWA restrictions/potential solutions/cases where encampments are permitted.
· Allowed types of alternate land uses on limited access rights of way/equivalent value issues with leasing.
· Agency training materials specific to this issue.
· Policies and practice specific to construction projects.
· Tracking and documentation of campsite occurrence and cleanup.
· Cost and funding of cleanup and prevention efforts.
· Planting design and maintenance impacts and solutions.
· Application of Crime Prevention thru Environmental Design (CPTED) principles.
· Bridge and wall design impacts and solutions.
· Bridge and drainage infrastructure maintenance impacts and solutions.
· Environmental regulatory impacts and solutions.
· Employee safety training for dealing with camp removal/clean up.
· Employee interaction with encampment residents in daily operations.
· Holding personal property following cleanup.
· Local laws and coordination with law enforcement.
· Adjacent neighborhood safety issues.
· Partnering with local businesses and advocacy groups.
· Use of contractors for cleanup.
· Use of corrections crews for cleanup.
· Use of state employees for cleanup.
· Camping in Safety Rest Areas.
· Parked/abandoned RVs.
A secondary objective is the development of recommended best management practices based on comparative case studies throughout the country. Recommendations would answer as many as possible of the specific issues listed above. Another objective is the establishment of a forum to facilitate ongoing dialogue between state transportation agencies as adaptive practice evolves nationally in response to the economy and combined societal pressures. This project would include efforts to communicate and discuss the issues with the larger national audience. Webinar discussions would be conducted to collect initial information and data and provide periodic input on analysis and recommendations. An ongoing peer-exchange working group would be established in conjunction with the project to participate in information gathering efforts, facilitate the national discussion, and continue the discussion upon completion of the project.