ADA Transition Plans May Be Required to Receive Federal Funding for Transportation Projects

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 is a civil rights law prohibiting discrimination based on someone’s disability. According to Title II of the Act, municipalities are required to have a plan to make accommodations for everyone.

The 1990 law has lost momentum and with no administrative body to enforce it, there are no incentives for communities to complete transition plans. But, they shouldn't ignore it as other consequences can arise.

According to SEH’s Mike Horn, a project design leader who specializes in ADA-compliant design and construction of outdoor spaces, federal transportation funding may be withheld unless a transition plan is completed or underway. This new U.S. Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) requirement applies to areas in the public right-of-way and includes:

  • Pedestrian ramps with appropriate slopes
  • Sidewalks with truncated domes to help visually impaired pedestrians
  • Traffic signals that include an audio component
Federal funding may be withheld if a city does not have an ADA transition plan completed or in the works. In public right-of-ways, sidewalks with truncated domes are required to help the visually impaired.


Complying with the requirements of a transition plan for community leaders can be daunting. Nevertheless, the prospect of losing out on federal money remains a good motivator for officials to complete the plans. Most cities are working on making new improvements to meet current ADA requirements, but without a road map. A transition plan is a road map that inventories and can prioritize what and when improvements to existing infrastructure should occur.  

SEH recently prepared a transition plan for a small Minnesota city. The team used GIS to gather the data, along with key photos of problem area and areas of question, all geo-referenced to the data. This data will be supplied to the City to generate public information, work orders and allow the City to update the data as improvements are completed.

The following is an excerpt of the the existing conditions that were documented for the City:

Pedestrian ramps

pie chart

Of 428 total pedestrian ramps, 10 percent meet current accessibility standards while 90 percent have a component that creates a barrier based on current accessibility standards.

Pedestrian crossings

pie chart

Of 109 total crossings, 63 percent are compliant, 37 percent are non-compliant.

Sidewalks and driveways

pie chart

Of approximately 33 miles of sidewalks and trails, 4.75 (14.4 percent) miles are non-compliant, consisting of stretches of sidewalk that have a cross slope of more than two percent.

The City is now evaluating the data to determine a timeline for all barrier removals as an addition to their long-term capital program. Estimated cost for improvements for this City totaled $2 million.

ADA compliant ramps should have slopes of no more than five percent.

The framework of a transition plan

The Framework of a Transition Plan

If a city employs less than 50 people, the self-evaluation (and a few other minor items), is all that is required by law. However, if a city employs more than 50 people, a formal transition plan is required in addition to the self-evaluation. 

The transition plan is a formal document available to the public outlining a city’s compliance with ADA. A typical transition plan table of contents includes:

  1. Introduction/Executive Summary: Background on need and purpose, relationship to other laws and a general outcome of self-evaluation.
  2. ADA Program Coordination: Listing one or more designated persons responsible for coordinating ADA compliance. This person or persons is responsible to serve staff and the public with knowledge and background to address questions and issues regarding ADA.
  3. ADA Public Notice: Statement on the city’s understanding of their responsibility for employment, communications, policy, and modifications to policies and procedures.
  4. Grievance Procedure: A written and published procedure with contact information on how a resident can make a complaint or grievance of discrimination on the basis of a disability.
  5. Public Involvement: The procedure on how the city reaches out to the disabled public on accessibility challenges and priorities.
  6. Self-Evaluation: Detail of existing barriers to city communications, programs and services, streets and intersections, and buildings and outdoor areas.
  7. Implementation Program: The city’s methods and schedule on barrier removals. This section can include costs for the work.
Stairs are not always included in ADA compliant access routes, but do follow local building codes.

Wrapping it up

In a state like Minnesota, for example, the Minnesota Department of Transportation now requires recipients of federal funding to have a transition plan in place, or underway, and is encouraging cities to conduct self-evaluations and complete the plans.

ADA compliance is particularly challenging in an established part of a city. Working around mature trees, utilities, narrow right-of-ways and existing structures must all be considered when making improvements. But making streets and sidewalks compliant with ADA makes them more useable for all, and maintainable for public works departments.

About the author

Mike Horn

Mike Horn is a project design leader specializing in ADA compliant design and construction of outdoor spaces, dedicated to helping communities find smart, accessible solutions to new and renovated facilities. Contact Mike

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