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Federal Highway Administration Research and Technology
Coordinating, Developing, and Delivering Highway Transportation Innovations
This magazine is an archived publication and may contain dated technical, contact, and link information.
|Publication Number: Date: May/June 2004|
Issue No: Vol. 67 No. 6
Date: May/June 2004
Highway users and other stakeholders share their views on what makes a successful road project.
A familiar parable from India tells of six blind men who came upon an elephant for the first time. As each man touched a different part of the animal, he came to a different conclusion about the elephant. The first felt the pachyderm's side and said that an elephant is like a wall. Others, upon touching the elephant's tusk, trunk, knee, ear, and tail, argued, respectively, that the elephant certainly was more like a spear, a snake, a tree, a fan, or a rope. As John Godfrey Saxe concluded in a poem based on the fable (paraphrased), "though each was partly in the right, all were in the wrong." A one-dimensional viewpoint rarely tells the full story.
|This project on Interstate 20 in Columbia/McDuffie Counties, GA, involved reconstruction, rehabilitation, and shoulder replacement. "Quality and cost effectiveness were hallmarks of this project," says Bill Davenport of the American Concrete Pavement Association, "which employed full-depth patching at various locations, diamond-grinding, and joint resealing."|
Consider a modern example of this principle. During the planning of a roadway in Cupertino, CA, several years ago, local authorities proposed building a major highway interchange. Although the design seemed to fill the need, according to San Jose's The Mercury News, local residents derided the plan as a "Berlin Wall," because its height would physically split the community. Residents wanted the interchange sunk below ground level to reduce the visual impact and traffic noise. The engineer from the traffic authority, however, refused to compromise, arguing that during storms the nearby creek might flood a below-grade interchange. The residents returned a few days later with a petition signed by 1,800 residents, demanding the below-grade approach. Finally bending to the show of political force, the traffic authority went forward with the sunken design.
But that was not the end of the story. When The Mercury News article ran in February 1998, it was part of a larger piece on the extensive flooding from that year's El Niño phenomenon. The writer pointed out that during the week before the article ran, the interchange flooded for the second time in 3 years. The reporter asked a local resident how the community felt about the sunken interchange now, since the engineer had been proven correct about the flooding. The resident responded, "Our view was that if it only happens once every 100 years, we can live with it. It's better than having the large concrete structure."
It is not unusual to find that what engineers and planners see as the perfect solution to a transportation problem may not conform to the residents' ideas of perfection. As with the blind men in the parable, determining the true nature of the beast requires a number of viewpoints. This principle is at the heart of why public transportation agencies hold listening sessions during the planning stage of a project. Even though transportation agencies are staffed with experienced and knowledgeable design and construction professionals, they often are focused on just a few aspects of the overall project. Failing to address the concerns of other stakeholders—including the driving public, disabled persons, trucking and bus operators, and business owners along the right-of-way—leads to a narrow viewpoint and approach that may cause problems in the future.
The USDOT Approach
When officials at the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) decided to look more closely at their approach to designing highways, they sought to capture the perspectives of multiple stakeholders. Asking only the people who design or build the highways is not enough.
"Our focus on the customer must drive our priority setting and the way we use our resources, right down to how each of us spends our day," says FHWA Executive Director Frederick G. "Bud" Wright. "Our choices must be governed by what we know to be the most important needs of our customers, because we have asked them."
In 2003, USDOT sponsored a series of listening sessions with representatives from several key groups, including owners and operators of highways, contractors who build roads, suppliers of construction materials and equipment, and users of the highway system. The purpose was to shed light on how the various constituencies view and define the notion of quality in highways and construction projects.
Each session lasted several hours and began with a brief orientation on a topic related to improving the quality of the Nation's highways. The participants met with key highway leadership at USDOT, including Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta, FHWA Administrator Mary E. Peters, and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) Administrator Annette M. Sandberg. The hosts posed specific questions and then opened the floor for discussion.
The diversity of opinions expressed by the participants suggested that definitions of quality depend on the perspective of each respondent. Followup interviews with a few of the participants highlight some of the key factors identified as important to specific constituencies and emphasize the value of inviting diverse stakeholders to the table when planning highway projects.
The following questions and responses were posed to Darrin Roth, director of highway operations at the American Trucking Associations (ATA); Mike Acott, president of the National Asphalt Pavement Association (NAPA); Val Riva, president of the American Concrete Pavement Association (ACPA); Kathleen Marvaso, managing director for government relations and traffic safety policy at the American Automobile Association (AAA); and John Bukowski, a pavements engineer at FHWA.
|Well-designed roads, like this rural highway, include wide shoulders that promote safe driving conditions.|
What Is a Quality Highway?
The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines quality as "degree of excellence." This article discusses what quality means to a customer in defining a finished product, not as criteria or management concepts from the Baldrige National Quality Program. To transportation officials, the degree of excellence typically relates to pavement smoothness and durability, adherence to budget and schedules, and improved road safety. Input from some of the participants in the listening sessions and followup interviews help broaden this definition.
Darrin Roth (ATA): "The term 'quality' in general is very important for the trucking industry because individual companies have to be able to distinguish themselves from their intramodal and railroad competitors. As far as the customer is concerned, price is always a consideration. But that's usually secondary to meeting certain standards of quality, or customer expectations. For the trucking industry's customers, quality means that the shipment is picked up or delivered on time and without damage, and that the customer is notified of any unexpected occurrences when they happen so necessary adjustments can be made. Similarly, highways should be built and maintained in a way that meets customer expectations of smoothness and reliability, and price may be a secondary concern."
Mike Acott (NAPA): "When we look at quality, we look at it from the perspective of both the user and the engineer. From the highway user's perspective, we're concerned with how well the pavement rides, how smooth it is, the noise level, skid resistance, and speed of construction. From the engineering side, we look at the materials and mix design, the consistency of the material, and the density specifications, so that it will provide good performance."
Val Riva (ACPA): "In the concrete pavement industry, quality is synonymous with exceptionally good long-term performance and minimal maintenance and rehabilitation requirements. Quality pavements combine all aspects of design and construction, including project management, materials, equipment innovations, process control, workmanship, and the like. It's not one thing that makes a quality pavement—it's attention to everything."
|City streets not only need to accommodate passenger vehicles but also large trucks like this one delivering products to downtown businesses.|
John Bukowski (FHWA): "Let me give a narrow definition for those of us who might be called 'stewards' of the highways—and by that I mean those whose job it is to see that highways are designed, built, and maintained for the public good—organizations like FHWA and State and local transportation agencies. For us, a narrow definition would tie in with what we call 'quality assurance.' That means we look at certain parameters such as how good the materials are and how smooth the final surface is. These can be measured. So 'quality' in that narrow sense means falling within those prescribed tolerances. In a broader sense, quality to us means the final product also has to meet the expectations of the users, in terms of longevity, noise, and smoothness."
Kathleen Marvaso (AAA): "As the largest organization representing motorists—the primary user group—we define quality in terms of safety and mobility. We recognize the critical importance of properly designed and maintained roads to serve existing and future mobility needs, and the safety benefits gleaned by improved road design and construction. The transportation network is essential to commerce and the Nation's ability to prosper in a global economy, to improve our quality of life, and to facilitate national and civil defense. The ongoing need for safe, well-maintained roads and bridges is critical for the millions of Americans who travel for business or leisure."
What Is Most Important When Building a Quality Highway?
To build and maintain successful highways, Federal, State, and local transportation agencies need to make quality a primary focus during the life of a project—planning, design, construction, and maintenance. Typical factors that influence the direction and scope of highway projects include an evaluation of the need for the new facility, anticipated future traffic demand, improved safety, specifications for performance and durability, and environmental, cost, and scheduling considerations. The interviews with key stakeholders elicited further opinions on what constitute the most important aspects of highway quality.
Darrin Roth (ATA): "Time between maintenance and repair cycles, and geometric design that accommodates the configuration of vehicles expected to use the highway."
Mike Acott (NAPA): "One of our goals is to design and build pavements that are long lasting. We talk about 'perpetual pavements,' meaning that you design the roadway so that the only work that needs to be done is on the surface. It's like a builder who builds a house. Periodically, the roofing material needs to be replaced, and some other minor maintenance, but if he builds it well, it can last a long, long time."
|Workers lay asphalt pavement on a city street. Efficient road maintenance performed in a timely manner can improve the life of the road and help decrease delays for motorists.|
Val Riva (ACPA): "Our thought is that it's important to address all aspects of design and construction. Our industry is working continuously to improve the products and processes used in paving, while also working closely with agencies to address design and construction considerations.
"We cannot overlook the need for applied research, which is essential to developing safer, more cost-effective, and better performing highways. It's imperative that this research effort involve all stakeholders to ensure we are meeting the needs of agencies and the traveling public, based on input from road builders, researchers, and public officials."
John Bukowski (FHWA): "One of the things that we talk about is speed of construction, and there are a number of tools to accomplish this—fast-setting concrete or asphalt, innovative project management techniques, or even innovative design approaches."
Kathleen Marvaso (AAA): "Safety must be paramount in all stages of road design—from planning to construction to signage. Our members tell us that they want a transportation system that is reliable, efficient, and safe. They want road repair and maintenance work to be completed on schedule, and they want their gas tax dollars at work improving the transportation systems they use in their daily lives. Educating the public to engender trust that their taxes are spent wisely is critical."
What Should Be Considered During Planning?
During the planning stage, State departments of transportation (DOTs) increasingly are designing roads that fit into their physical settings and preserve scenic, historic, cultural, and environmental resources, while improving safety and mobility. Known as context-sensitive design, this approach involves reaching out to stakeholders within and outside the highway community to identify transportation solutions that will add lasting value to the community. The interviewees zeroed in on specific attributes of the planning process that their constituencies see as integral to building a quality highway.
|This roadway with a drawbridge not only accommodates vehicular traffic, bicyclists, and pedestrians, but it also meets the needs of those who use Florida's intercoastal waterway for travel.|
Darrin Roth (ATA): "Longevity of the highway is important, particularly in urban areas, since congestion has become a major problem. Therefore, using longer-life pavements in certain areas, including urban settings and regions subject to freeze-thaw cycles and other harsh environmental conditions, is critical to avoiding frequent road construction. In addition, trucks have operating characteristics that require geometries that are different from those required for cars. This includes wider shoulders. Trucks are 102 inches wide [2.6 meters], so even a 10-foot [3-meter] shoulder only leaves 18 inches [46 centimeters] of clearance when the truck is pulled onto the shoulder.
"Trucks take longer to accelerate, so longer on-ramps are necessary and should be gradual. Many trucks will take a ramp too fast, causing the load to shift and possibly tip the vehicle over. One effective remedy is to install a message board on the ramp warning trucks to slow down. Since many truckers serve customers in unfamiliar areas, good signage is important. Signs usually are designed to accommodate the line-of-sight for passenger vehicles, but since truckers sit higher up, they may miss the signs. It may be worth looking into having top and bottom signs on the same pole in certain areas where traffic is moving at high speeds. Also remember that because trucks are much higher than passenger vehicles, they may block the view of signs and overhead traffic signals for motorists idling behind or next to a truck."
Val Riva (ACPA): "It's important to plan for every contingency that can occur on the grade. We've seen examples of excellent projects, which from the earliest stages involve a comprehensive outreach effort to ensure communication among those involved in and affected by the project. This [outreach] not only includes specifying agencies and the industry, but also the public, law enforcement agencies, business leaders, and others."
|A project to rehabilitate more than 40 kilometers (25 lane-miles) of pavement on U.S. Highway 30 in Lancaster County, PA, shown here, was completed 54 days ahead of schedule."Preparation, planning, and quality control resulted in excellent ride quality," says Bill Davenport, vice president of communications and policy at ACPA.|
John Bukowski (FHWA): "One critical thing is how much you're going to disrupt the local traffic. In terms of materials, perhaps you want to use a quick-setting pavement. Or in terms of scheduling, maybe you want to have the work done at night or on weekends.
"Another aspect is communication with the work crews. Some of the best projects we have are ones using new technology. I think maybe some of that is because when we use a new technology, we spend an inordinate amount of time bringing the crews in early to show them how to use the technology. The challenge comes when it gets to the point of becoming a standard procedure. There's a tendency not to communicate as much because everyone is assumed to know what their job's going to be."
|High traffic volumes and narrow work zones made reconstruction of the Long Island Expressway (shown here) in Queens County, NY, a challenge. The project received two awards from the American Concrete Pavement Association in recognition of the exceptional pavement quality, traffic management methods used during the reconstruction, and adherence to consistent schedules and quality construction practices.|
Kathleen Marvaso (AAA): "Communication with the public is key. Advance notification announcing road closings or construction delays allows motorists to make decisions regarding their drive time. Providing motorists with options to take a different route or travel at less congested times can help alleviate some of the frustration drivers experience when driving through highway construction areas.
"Increased visibility of law enforcement and patrol cars are two ways to improve work zone safety. As part of our commitment to traffic safety, AAA includes tips for safer driving in work zones in our manuals and driver improvement classes. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, a nonprofit research and educational organization, has created a variety of materials, including a video highlighting safe driving practices in work zone areas."
|Pavement evaluation is one engineering tool used to determine road condition. Here, a van is testing pavement on a street in Washington, DC.|
During Construction, What Is Most Important to Your Constituents?
Achieving national objectives for mobility depends on constructing highway improvements to a desired level of quality to ensure long-lasting performance and reduce impacts on traffic, congestion, and the environment. Safety is improved by minimizing the frequency, duration, and extent of work zones, which disrupt the normal flow of traffic. In addition to these considerations, the interviewees noted specific techniques or approaches that agencies can use to enhance the operation of work zones.
Darrin Roth (ATA): "Work zone lanes should not be so narrow that trucks have a difficult time getting through. Also, providing information about lane closures and other restrictions through a phone hotline or Web site would help truckers immensely."
Val Riva (ACPA): "In addition to building fundamentally high-quality pavements, we're also focused on maximizing safety and minimizing disruptions to road users. It's imperative that we do all we can to ensure the safety of the traveling public and work zone personnel."
|Signs like this one warn truckers and other motorists that they are approaching a steep downhill grade.|
John Bukowski (FHWA): "For the people who actually oversee the projects, it's a matter of making sure that the work is coordinated in one continuous flow, one smooth operation—what you might call the logistics of the project. You have to make sure the contractors have the proper materials available and the work zones are marked off properly. Once one of these operations gets going, it becomes critical that all the right pieces are in place. You can't, for example, have a truck driver not show up and the whole process shuts down."
|Workers are placing concrete on U.S. Route 50/Salisbury Bypass in Salisbury, MD. "Exceptional quality control resulted in a smooth ride without corrective action," says Bill Davenport, vice president of communications and policy at ACPA.|
After the Highway Is Completed, What Spells Success?
Resources like the "National Highway Specifications" Web site at www.specs.fhwa.dot.gov, which consists of a searchable library of highway specifications from across the country, provide the framework with which engineers evaluate construction projects, from the quality of materials to the final pavement smoothness. FHWA and State DOTs also consider cost-effective completion, enhanced safety during and after construction, long-life durability, visual appearance, noise reduction, and improved mobility as
primary measures of a project's
success. How do other stakeholders rank successful highways?
Darrin Roth (ATA): "Quality management and information dissemination. Clear crashes quickly, clear snow and ice, etc. If there's a crash, make that information widely available quickly so truckers can plan alternate routes."
|Electronic toll payment systems can help alleviate backup through toll facilities. This sign advertises the Florida Department of Transportation's SunPass system, an ITS technology that helps improve mobility.|
Val Riva (ACPA): "One of the key measures of success is the assurance that the pavement will live up to design expectations and fulfill an important promise to taxpayers and other stakeholders: Get in, do it right, get out, and stay out. We are focused on providing the best long-term, cost-effective investment to agencies and the traveling public."
John Bukowski (FHWA): "The key question is, 'What kind of quality did you build into it?' Quality doesn't mean simply that a pavement project receives high marks upon completion. It's important to anticipate the level of use it will get. Quality is not about providing
a usable road today. Not if 3 or
5 years from now the pavement starts breaking down. Then it wasn't a quality project. Part of our problem is that we design a highway to last 20 years, and then the level of wear and tear on that section of highway is way out of proportion to those early estimates. We need to do a better job of anticipating the patterns and magnitude of growth that we anticipate our highways will have to endure."
In Terms of Maintenance, What Is Ideal?
As demands on the Nation's highway system continue to grow, finishing maintenance jobs quickly and effectively has never been more important. Extended construction and maintenance activities increase travel time and costs for highway users, affect the flow of commerce, and prolong safety risks to motorists and highway workers. But through strategies like conducting work during nights and weekends and using preservation techniques that help extend the life of existing pavements, DOTs are improving the speed and reducing the duration of maintenance activities.
Darrin Roth (ATA): "Deferred maintenance is more costly and disruptive to traffic than regular maintenance, so establish the right schedule and stay with it. Get in and get out as soon as possible. While weekend and nighttime road work is more expensive, it pales in comparison to the costs involved with crashes and congestion caused by road work during times of heavy traffic volume."
|The asphalt overlay on this section of Route 68 in the towns of Prospect and Cheshire, CT, earned the contractor an award for quality in construction from the National Asphalt Pavement Association. The criteria include various measures of how well the pavement met the specifications and achieved the final density.|
Mike Acott (NAPA): "The goal should be that any work on the pavement is limited to periodic resurfacing. If complete rebuilding of the pavement is required, then you've failed to meet the needs of the road user."
Val Riva (ACPA): "Noting that a quality concrete pavement is one that requires little or no unscheduled maintenance, the ideal is to follow a well-planned preventive maintenance program. Routine maintenance for concrete pavements essentially requires periodic joint resealing. Although required on an infrequent basis, it is nonetheless an important part of assuring good long-term performance."
How Important Is Smoothness?
Pavement smoothness, sometimes called road condition or roughness, is one attribute that is important for the ride and operation of roads. Almost a decade ago when FHWA performed research on this aspect of roadways, it found that smoother roads do have a definite impact over time—for the owner or agency and for the user. A survey by the National Quality Initiative (now the National Partnership for Highway Quality) indicated that pavement smoothness is one of the most significant measures motorists use to judge the quality of the Nation's roads. Pavement smoothness directly relates to driver comfort as well as the life expectancy of pavements. The interviewees echoed this concern for smoothness.
Darrin Roth (ATA): "Average operating costs for a truck on a poor road surface versus a good surface is 12 cents per mile [7 cents per kilometer]. In addition, poor surfaces can damage cargo and contribute to crashes."
Val Riva (ACPA): "Good long-term performance is affected by pavement smoothness, which should not be confused with texture. Smooth pavements do not experience the dynamic loads of rough pavements, which means less wear-and-tear on vehicles and the pavement. There are tangible benefits in terms of reduced costs to road users and agencies, and, of course, the taxpaying public."
How Important Is Overall Traffic Flow?
Strategies to improve or maintain efficient traffic flow range from expanding roadway capacity to enhancing the operation of existing facilities. DOTs are deploying a growing variety of intelligent transportation system (ITS) technologies that monitor and manage flow, such as electronic toll payment systems, video surveillance, weather information services, and weigh-in-motion technologies. These approaches can help keep traffic moving and reduce the impact of factors like construction, weather, and crashes that inhibit mobility. Interviewees stressed the importance of improving traffic flow to the economy and personal travel.
Darrin Roth (ATA): "Just-in-time [JIT] delivery saves the U.S. economy around $700 billion per year through lower transportation costs and reduced inventories. JIT has enabled retailers, wholesalers, and manufacturers to reduce their inventories substantially, reducing freight transportation and logistics costs from 16 percent of the gross domestic product in 1980 to 10 percent today. JIT is only possible with reliable deliveries, and predictable traffic flow is critical to reliable deliveries."
Val Riva (ACPA): "We have developed some innovative solutions to improve work zone safety and minimize traffic disruptions, such as a comprehensive guide and ongoing training in traffic management during construction, as well as fast-track methods of construction."
Kathleen Marvaso (AAA): "AAA members would measure success by the improved mobility and safety they see as road improvements are made. What does that mean? Fewer crashes and reliable travel times. Well-designed and maintained roads reduce the frequency of crashes. Are the driving lanes and shoulder areas wider? Are roadside hazards a safe distance from the travel lanes? Infrastructure improvements should be aimed at accommodating, rather than stifling, projected growth in travel demand."
|This highway and bridge accommodate bicycle and pedestrian access. Good lines of sight and wide lanes also are important design features.|
How Important Is Traffic Flow in Work Zones?
Work zones account for nearly 24 percent of nonrecurring congestion, or 482 million vehicle-hours of delay per year. ITS technologies are a key tool in maintaining traffic flow in work zones. Dynamic lane-merge systems, for example, facilitate efficient and safe traffic merging as vehicles approach closed lanes in a work zone. And real-time data gathered through ITS technologies can be synthesized and reported to motorists through variable message signs, Web sites, and traveler advisory radio. Constituents consistently reported that communication is essential to improving mobility in work zones.
Darrin Roth (ATA): "Truckers will try to avoid work zones if possible, but they need to be aware that they exist."
Mike Acott (NAPA): "Less time in the work zone is key. The idea is to build the pavement so that all you ever need to do is periodic overlays, nothing more. If you can get to that mode, then delay time will be minimal."
Val Riva (ACPA): "By its nature, a quality pavement will help reduce congestion and costs by minimizing the downtime associated with construction, maintenance, and rehabilitation."
Kathleen Marvaso (AAA): "Traffic flow is extremely important to our members, and work zones are a source of frustration. Time is a precious commodity in our society. Whether it's movement of people or freight, the Nation depends on its transportation infrastructure. Keeping traffic flowing safely through work zones is critical."
How Important Are Safer Highways?
More than 41,000 fatalities occur on U.S. roadways each year. In 2003, Transportation Secretary Mineta challenged USDOT and the States to reduce the Nation's highway death toll by decreasing the fatality rate, currently at 1.5 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, to 1.0 by 2008. Once again, the interviewees made some telling points regarding their constituents' concerns with highway safety.
Val Riva (ACPA): "Safety is one of the most compelling arguments for investing in highways and roadways. As a Nation, we should be outraged by the number of fatalities attributable to road conditions, as well as those occurring in work zones. In designing and constructing safer highways, it is imperative that we examine all aspects of the highway, including some basic pavement construction variables such as geometry and surface texture."
Kathleen Marvaso (AAA): "According to a 1995 report by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, Safety Effects Resulting from Approval of the National Highway System, increasing the lane width to 12 feet [3.7 meters] from 10 feet [3 meters] or less could lead to a 1240 percent decrease in crashes. Decreasing road curvature by 20 degrees could lead to a decrease of nearly 5075 percent."
Darrin Roth (ATA): "Safety is the trucking industry's number one priority."
|Long-term investment in the Nation's transportation infrastructure is critical to making the necessary road improvements that can help reduce congestion on highways like this one.|
How Important Is Reduced Air and Noise Pollution?
Highway traffic noise—emanating from vehicle engines, exhaust systems, and tires interacting with pavement—affects the quality of life for nearby residents and businesses by drowning out conversations, disrupting sleep, and discouraging outdoor activities. Given that clean air and minimal traffic noise are qualities sought by all road users, how important is reducing air and noise pollution?
Darrin Roth (ATA): "Important from a 'good citizen' standpoint, but also because pollution concerns—particularly noise—are a factor in many access restrictions for trucks. Obviously, congestion is a major cause of air pollution for all vehicles."
Kathleen Marvaso (AAA): "Transportation and environmental stewardship should be complementary goals. Integrating all modes of transportation into a system that maximizes the utility of each for the benefit of the traveling public should be our goal. Employing as many tools as possible to improve the system and protect the environment reaps rewards for all transportation users."
|This small, rural bridge is posted with a load limit of 15 tons. Appropriate signage, especially in rural areas, reminds road users of the maximum allowable vehicle weight limits and could help extend the life of the bridge.|
How Important Is Compatibility with the Environment?
The public expects Federal, State, and local governments to provide highway, transit, and bicycle and pedestrian improvements that are environmentally sound, that are safe, and that maintain a standard of mobility that is envied by the world. In fact, in 2001, FHWA identified environmental stewardship and streamlining as one of the agency's "vital few" priorities, along with safety and congestion mitigation.
John Bukowski (FHWA): "The group I called the 'stewards' constantly have to balance factors against one another. We cannot always get 100 percent in every area. For example, if we want to be environmentally sensitive, we might consider using 100 percent recycled materials on a highway construction project. But if we do that, the overall physical quality of the pavement will suffer. So we have to determine how much recycled material we can use, while maintaining an acceptable quality level. Now, multiply that by all those other areas—safety, noise, and cost reduction, just to name three—and pretty soon you see how multilevel the tradeoffs become."
How Important Is Spending Less Money?
Weighing the multiple factors, benefits, and costs of highway projects is important before moving forward with any action. Factors include safety, community involvement, materials, longevity, projections, maintenance, and a score of other variables. In this time of tight budgets and competing demands for available resources, how can highway owners deploy limited resources to achieve all of these goals?
Darrin Roth (ATA): "I would suggest spending money more effectively. A greater upfront investment in capacity, longer-lasting pavements, and better designed highways will prevent costly improvements later on. These costs are for both capital improvements and the larger economic costs associated with poor ride quality, more crashes, and greater congestion. Furthermore, States should reevaluate decisions to build or expand lesser traveled roads at the expense of interstates and other major arteries."
Val Riva (ACPA): "We are very focused on spending less money, but no discussion about investment in our highways would be complete without factoring in safety. One need only think of the costs associated with work zones, vehicle damage, and disruptions to imagine the magnitude of the savings."
Kathleen Marvaso (AAA): "Transportation investments require long-term, reliable, and sustainable funding. Demands on the system continue to grow, and despite significant increases made possible by TEA-21 [the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century], documented needs still outstrip available funding. Funding decisions made today will directly influence the safety and efficiency of tomorrow's transportation system."
How Do Your Organization's Members Measure Road Quality?
So then, when all is said and done, what is needed in order to earn that label "quality" on a highway?
Darrin Roth (ATA): "Our main concern is with reliability, which can be affected by crashes and response time and levels of congestion. Almost as important is travel speed. A highway in good condition will be largely free of ruts and potholes. The highway's bridges and its geometric design should be able to handle the types of vehicles that use the road."
Val Riva (ACPA): "The defining measure of quality in highway or road construction is whether we met the long-term performance expectations with minimal maintenance and rehabilitation requirements. Our goal is to construct pavements to the standards set forth by the specifying agency . . . or better. We measure material quality, as-constructed variability, thickness, smoothness, and other criteria to assure that expectations have been met. Meeting these expectations means that we've placed a pavement that returns the best value to our ultimate customers . . . the traveling public."
|The Nation's highways, like this one, need to accommodate a mix of road users, including cars, trucks, and motorcycles.|
From Parable to Drivable
Like beauty, quality is in the eye of the beholder. The more involvement in defining, evaluating, and verifying the quality of a highway project, the more likely it is to be something universally recognized not as a wall, snake, spear, or even an elephant, but as a highway that serves the needs of all road users.
At the close of one of the listening sessions, FHWA Administrator Mary E. Peters remembered a discussion she once had with a project manager for a major construction contractor in Phoenix who was concerned with being able to deliver pavement materials to a job site in a timely manner. His choice for someone to talk to and compare notes with was an employee at a national pizza delivery chain. If the drivers could deliver pizzas within 30 minutes, he should be able to learn something from the restaurant chain about how to schedule drivers and plan routes. "Like that contractor," said Peters, "we've got to recognize that sometimes our best input comes from someone with a totally different perspective than ours."
Kathleen A. Bergeron is a marketing specialist in FHWA's Office of Infrastructure. She has 27 years of experience in all aspects of marketing, including market research, public relations, and advertising. Her experience includes working for major consumer products corporations, a market research company, consulting engineering firms, and State and Federal transportation agencies.