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Transportation Planning

As a jointly administered program of the National Park Service (NPS) and Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), planning for PRPP-funded projects should reflect the applicable decision support systems of both agencies. But the NPS is also under a special mandate that tracks back to the enabling act for the Park Service: the Organic Act of 1916. That act established the mission for the Park Service:

"To conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations."

The mission is the first and last test for the soundness of all transportation plans that affect lands within national park boundaries. Beyond the mission are federal laws that relate to various aspects of facility planning in general, such as: the Antiquities Act of 1906, the Wilderness Act of 1964, the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, and the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966.

For each park unit there is also specific enabling legislation that defines, among other things, the boundaries and purposes of the park unit. (Overall guidance on planning for parks is provided in the chapter "Park System Planning" in the NPS Management Policies 2006.)

Working within this framework of laws, policy, and guidance, individual park units propose projects-including transportation projects-for funding. Park superintendents are responsible for developing policies and strategic plans required for the park unit's facilities and for recommending capital improvement projects. Regional directors must approve projects and plans.

How transportation fits into this planning and decision making process is evolving, but the place to start is the general management plan, which is required for each park unit.

Legislation authorizing the PRP Program-including the most recent transportation law, SAFETEA-LU-requires the NPS to follow planning and coordination procedures that are consistent with metropolitan and state planning processes established for the federal highway and transit programs (23 USC 134 and 135, and 49 USC 5313 and 5303, respectively). These procedures must be adopted by rule-making by the Secretary of Transportation in consultation with the Secretary of the Interior. Although the specifics of the type of plans and programs are generally left to the rule-making, there are individual requirements for the National Park Service in the law to:

  • prepare a transportation improvement program (program of projects) for the PRPP resulting from the planning process;
  • develop regionally significant projects with the appropriate state and metropolitan planning organizations;
  • develop four management (information) systems: pavement conditions, bridge conditions, safety management, and congestion management.

The PRPP has a multiyear program of projects, which varies by category. This program is developed from the park unit submissions of projects at the time of the service-wide consolidated call, which is part of the annual budget process. However, the PRP Program is included in the Washington Office call only every three to four years, depending on the funding levels and project backlog from prior calls. Regions can elect to participate in the call or continue to rely on their previously identified priority projects.