Public sector funding for public access is limited. The lack of a strong and stable funding source can hamper the development of new access sites and create a backlog of maintenance needs. Maintenance needs make it harder for agencies to justify new site development and reduce the use of those sites suffering from storm damage or channel siltation. Of particular concern are reductions in federal funding for the maintenance of shallow water navigation channels: a loss of boating opportunities would mean a loss of economic revenue for the region. As existing access sites are lost, the value of establishing new sites is diminished.
Local Government Capacity
Whether it is a lack of funding for land acquisition, capital improvements or ongoing maintenance, local governments face serious financial challenges in creating or enhancing public access. In some cases, local governments have also raised concern over liability issues related to public access.
New access site development must be sensitive to the environment, and environmental permitting requirements have a big impact on whether, when and how site development takes place. Federal, state and local permitting authorities should consider expedited review procedures—e.g., simplified permitting processes or pre-approved design guidelines—for some kinds of site development.
Restrictions on Private Lands
Land use and ownership plays a critical role in public access development. In urban areas, commercial and residential waterfronts can limit public access. In rural areas, private landowners can restrict public access to avoid potential liability issues and maintain their private and exclusive use of a waterway. Military installations and hydroelectric power plants can also limit public access to waterfronts and waterways for reasons of security and safety.
Restrictions on Public Lands
Public lands—held by local, state or federal government—provide many opportunities for public access. However, the restrictions placed on some public lands have raised concern. In some cases, access is limited by insufficient staffing or concerns over resource management. In other cases, high guardrails, a lack of safe shoulders or parking areas, and other obstructions along roads and bridges present big barriers to access.
Railroads limit access to many rivers in the watershed, sometimes on both banks. Railroad companies are often opposed to granting at-grade vehicle or pedestrian crossings over rail lines, citing liability as their primary concern. Fully developed road crossings are costly to construct, maintain and operate, making the development of many access sites prohibitively expensive.
Conflicts Among Users
Conflicts among the users of public access sites can take many forms. They may develop when users think a site is being used in a non-designated way, or when users have different opinions on who paid for a site (and, therefore, on who has the right to use it). Conflicts can also occur when a landowner thinks a site will adversely affect him or her (e.g., through unwanted traffic, noise or litter). As news of real or perceived conflicts spreads, the development of access sites can become more difficult.
Universal Accessibility standards and guidelines compel public access site managers to comply with the Architectural Barriers Act of 1968, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504, as amended) and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (as amended). The high visibility of these laws has generated public interest in bringing facilities into compliance. Considering accessibility requirements in site planning and evaluating accessibility accommodations are important steps in ensuring public access.
Public access sites are often located where land meets water, and it is this space where the first impacts of sea level rise will be seen. While most facilities are designed to withstand storms and, to some extent, hurricanes, less emphasis is put on site designs that address sea level rise. Mounting evidence indicates that it is important to consider strategies that address the real and growing concern of climate change.
Public Access Site Development outcome:
Factors Influencing Progress
A range of factors—including funding, land use and ownership, and restrictions on public and private lands—impacts the Chesapeake Bay Program’s ability to expand public access to the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.