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Federal Highway Administration > Publications > Public Roads > Vol. 68 · No. 6 > Along the Road

May/Jun 2005
Vol. 68 · No. 6

Publication Number: FHWA-HRT-05-005

Along the Road

Along the Road is the place to look for information about current and upcoming activities, developments, trends, and items of general interest to the highway community. This information comes from U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) sources unless otherwise indicated. Your suggestions and input are welcome. Let's meet along the road.

Policy and Legislation

New Rule Makes Highway-Rail Grade Crossings Safer for Motorists

Although the number of vehicle-train collisions at highway-rail grade crossings has decreased by 41 percent since 1994, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) is taking new measures to further reduce the incidence of these events. Under a final rule recently published by FRA in the Federal Register, reflective materials will be installed on the sides of locomotives and freight cars as a safety measure to make trains more visible to motorists at railroad crossings.

Nearly one-quarter of all collisions at highway-rail grade crossings involve motor vehicles running into trains occupying grade crossings. The large size and dark color of trains, in combination with poor lighting and limited visibility, may contribute to motorists having difficulty detecting a train in their path. The reflective material will help reduce the occurrence and severity of these crashes by giving motorists an additional visual warning of a train's presence.

The final rule on Reflectorization of Rail Freight Rolling Stock (Docket No. FRA-1999-6689) requires railroads to install yellow or white reflective materials on locomotives over a 5-year period and on freight rail cars over a 10-year period. The reflective materials will be installed on all new locomotives and freight rail cars during construction and on existing ones during periodic maintenance or repair, unless alternate implementation plans meet the established timetables. The new rule, which became effective in March 2005, is one in a series of efforts by FRA to increase the visibility of trains at highway-rail grade crossings. Previously, FRA issued a regulation requiring the installation of headlamps and auxiliary lights on locomotives to help motorists to better judge the distance and speed of approaching trains.

For more information, contact Steve Kulm or Warren Flatau at 202–493–6024. To view the final rule, visit www.fra.dot.gov/Downloads/reflector%20final%20rule.pdf.

Technical News

Program Introduces Improved Tools for Pavements

Since 1999, the Federal Highway Administration's (FHWA) Concrete Pavement Technology Program (CPTP) has initiated more than 30 research projects centering on advanced pavement design, improved concrete materials, workforce training, improved construction processes, repair and rehabilitation, and enhanced user satisfaction. Several products resulting from this research are now available or soon will be released, including software, new technologies, and training opportunities.

One of the new products, the Total Environmental Management for Paving (TEMP) software system, monitors temperatures in newly placed concrete to determine the appropriate time to open the pavement to traffic. TEMP combines temperature, maturity, and strength predictions into a single measurement system that engineers can use on a project site or can access remotely using a handheld or laptop computer to provide instant feedback on pavement temperature and concrete strength development. FHWA expects to release the software in 2005.

Construction management tools researched under the CPTP include a variety of products, ranging from procedures to hardware. One promising new technology is MIT Scan-2, a device used to evaluate the placement of dowel bars in concrete pavements. Based on the principles of magnetic pulse induction, the device rides on tracks as an engineer pulls it across fresh or hardened concrete to determine the position and orientation (vertical and horizontal alignment) of all dowels in a joint in a single pass. CPTP researchers found the technology to be reliable, efficient, and accurate. Developed in Germany, the scanner's algorithms and user interface have been adapted for U.S. conditions.

Finally, the CPTP developed several 2-day workshops on high-performance, long-life concrete pavements. The workshops, including Concrete Paving Materials and Optimization of Concrete Mix Design, incorporate innovative technologies and research findings that have resulted from CPTP projects. CPTP's current technology transfer effort is scheduled to run through 2008. FHWA is developing a long-term plan to continue existing research and expand the program, with funding potentially coming from a consortium of Federal, State, and industry sources.

To schedule a workshop or obtain a condensed version of a workshop presented in conjunction with a conference or meeting, contact Sam Tyson, FHWA, at 202–366–1326 or sam.tyson@fhwa.dot.gov. For more information on CPTP products and implementation activities, contact Sam Tyson or Shiraz Tayabji at 410–997–0400 or stayabji@ctlgroup.com.


Transportation to Benefit from Nanotechnology 5-Year Plan

For the past two decades, researchers and scientists have made considerable strides in the field of nanotechnology—the measurement and manipulation of matter at the scale of atoms and molecules. Looking ahead, the new National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) Strategic Plan—developed by the Nanoscale Science, Engineering, and Technology Subcommittee (NSET) of the National Science and Technology Council—identifies priority research opportunities for nanotechnology during the next 5 to 10 years. Based on input from academia, industry, and government, the plan describes the goals of NNI and the strategy for achieving them. The plan also identifies program component areas and cross-cutting themes. In addition, it discusses how to maintain a world-class research and development program, create new products, devise strategies to facilitate further breakthroughs, and commercialize and promote new projects for public use.

In the category of transportation and civil infrastructure, the plan provides direction for the production of many innovative devices, such as automated systems
that dramatically reduce crashes and lower the cost of transporting goods, more efficient vehicles using higher performance materials, and vehicles, bridges, and roadways that use composite materials to reduce construction and maintenance costs.

Several agencies partnered with NSET to accomplish goals in their respective research and policy areas. USDOT, for example, established an agency partnership to create safe, affordable, efficient, and long-lived transportation infrastructure, such as vehicle safety sensors that warn drivers of oncoming vehicles. And the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency established partnerships to reduce vehicle emissions through nanotechnology.

National Science and Technology Council

Public Information and Information Exchange

Report Highlights Lessons in Monitoring Congestion

A new FHWA report, Monitoring Highway Congestion and Reliability Using Archived Traffic Detector Data (FHWA-HOP-05-003), summarizes the top 10 lessons learned from the agency's Mobility Monitoring Program, which uses archived traffic detector data to monitor highway performance. Started in 2000, the program compiled data from 10 cities in the United States to assess performance indicators such as traffic congestion and travel reliability. The monitoring effort has since grown to include nearly 30 cities and data for about 4,828 kilometers (3,000 miles) of freeway.

The report begins with an overview of current practices for monitoring congestion and then discusses important lessons learned in three general areas: analytical methods, data quality, and institutional issues. The lessons include visualizing data using graphs, finding and fixing hindrances to effective monitoring, and using local knowledge to contribute to a national interpretation of traffic data. The document concludes with next steps, such as improving the quality of traffic detector data at its source, integrating event data at the local archive level, and self-assessing performance measurement capabilities.

The lessons learned will not only help FHWA develop its monitoring program but also will provide guidance for State and local agencies engaged in developing their own congestion monitoring capabilities.

To view the report, visit http://ops.fhwa.dot.gov/publications/lessons_learned. To learn more about the Mobility Monitoring Program, visit http://mobility.tamu.edu/mmp.

New Data Show Rising Safety Belt Use Rates in Most States

The USDOT's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently released figures indicating that 37 States, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico increased safety belt use between 2003 and 2004. The new statistics also show that two States, Arizona and Hawaii, broke the 95-percent usage barrier for the first time this year.

In 2004, safety belt use in the United States ranged from 63.2 percent in Mississippi to 95.3 percent in Arizona. In contrast to the nationally representative sample survey released earlier by USDOT, these State-by-State statistics were derived from data collected by State surveys, conducted in accordance with criteria established by NHTSA. The agency's National Center for Statistics and Analysis then verified the survey methods and compiled the statistics.

The 2004 surveys also found the following:

  • Seven States and territories achieved use rates of 90 percent or higher: Arizona, California, Hawaii, Michigan, Oregon, Puerto Rico, and Washington.
  • Arizona, Hawaii, Michigan, and Nevada exhibited the greatest improvement, each reducing belt nonuse by 30 percent or more during the 2003–2004 period.
  • Tennessee strengthened its belt law to a primary enforcement law, effective in July 2004. The State saw a jump in use from 68.5 percent in 2003 to 72 percent in 2004.

The 2004 survey was conducted mainly before the primary law took effect, so even greater gains may be realized in 2005.

For more information, visit www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

FHWA Assists with Reconstruction of San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge

FHWA recently helped the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) evaluate options for redesigning the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. Following the collapse of a 15-meter (50-foot) section during the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, the State began a study to retrofit and later replace part of the 3.5-kilometer (2.2-mile) span stretching from Oakland, CA, to Yerba Buena Island. The Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the Bay Area's metropolitan planning organization, recommended using a self-anchored suspension bridge for the 549-meter (1,800-foot)-long main span section—a proposal that ultimately was enacted into legislation in State Senate Bill 60.

Although the department initially received an acceptable bid specifying foreign steel that fulfilled nondomestic usage criteria set out in the Buy America regulations codified in the Code of Federal Regulations, 23 CFR 635.410, the $1.4 billion bid exceeded the available funding and expired before legislation for more funding could be secured. Faced with escalating project costs—from the original $2.6 billion to more than $5 billion—the State requested FHWA's assistance to investigate potential modifications to the design and to rein in costs while still meeting a 2012 completion date.

An FHWA peer review team recently recommended that Caltrans construct a skyway viaduct as the main span for the new San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, shown here in an artist';s rendering.
An FHWA peer review team recently recommended that Caltrans construct a skyway viaduct as the main span for the new San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, shown here in an artist';s rendering.

In response, the FHWA California Division formed a 17-member peer review team composed of experts from FHWA, State departments of transportation, and academia to evaluate the risks associated with three options: (1) rebidding the existing design with certain changes, (2) redesigning the structure as a cable-stayed bridge, or (3) redesigning the bridge as a concrete viaduct skyway. Following analyses of risk and cost, Caltrans and the Governor's office selected the skyway redesign and now estimate a potential savings of $300 to $500 million.

To view the team's report, visit www.dot.ca.gov/baybridge/PRT_Final%20Report.pdf. For more information on the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge reconstruction, visit www.newbaybridge.org.

TxDOT Approves $600 Million in Statewide Safety Projects

The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) recently announced the largest single roadway safety program it has ever undertaken. At just over $600 million, the program will fund 644 safety projects across the State. TxDOT will spend $295 million in funds to widen narrow, two-lane roads in 90 counties to reduce head-on collisions and crashes involving vehicles that run off the road. The agency also will add new concrete or cable barriers in the medians of heavily traveled divided highways as an additional measure for decreasing collisions. Ten new highway overpasses will improve traffic flow and reduce the number and severity of crashes. TxDOT also will install left-turn lanes at 171 locations to reduce the number of rear-end crashes.

Texas transportation officials say the highway improvements could save as many as 90 lives and prevent nearly 1,100 injuries each year. Specifically, the bond program will pay for projects that safety experts say have the most potential to reduce traffic crashes on highways maintained by the State. In 2003, voters gave the Texas Transportation Commission the authority to issue up to $3 billion in bonds to pay for State highway improvement projects. The new safety projects are the first to be funded under this new financing option. Work on many of the projects is expected to be underway as early as next year.

For more information, contact the TxDOT Public Information Office at 512–463–8585 or visit www.dot.state.tx.us.

Washington State Opens Direct Access Ramps In Bellevue and Lynnwood

In Bellevue, WA, business leaders called it "The Disaster That Wasn't." The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) recently rebuilt three traffic interchanges and added a new mass transit overpass in the city's commercial center without fatally clogging the local arteries with gridlock. WSDOT, the Federal Transit Administration, city of Bellevue, Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority (Sound Transit), and FHWA recently celebrated the opening of the I–405 Access Downtown project in Bellevue.

One of nine Sound Transit/WSDOT direct access projects in the Puget Sound area, the Bellevue venture replaced and expanded I–405's interchange with NE 8th Street, a major east-west arterial that brings motorists to the region's biggest shopping center and one of its largest hospitals. Upgrades also included a T-shaped interchange in the median of I–405 at NE 6th Street, designed strictly for transit and high-occupancy vehicles (HOVs); a widened interchange at NE 4th Street; and added ramps at the SE 8th Street interchange. WSDOT constructed the new overpasses wide enough to accommodate any future widening of I–405. The project was completed a year ahead of schedule and was millions of dollars under budget.

In an effort to relieve congestion in Bellevue, WA, Sound Transit and WSDOT collaborated to construct these two new ramps at the I–405/SE 8th Street interchange.
In an effort to relieve congestion in Bellevue, WA, Sound Transit and WSDOT collaborated to construct these two new ramps at the I–405/SE 8th Street interchange.

Just before completing the I–405 project, WSDOT opened the I–5 Lynnwood Park & Ride Access Improvement project, with several new ramps in the median of I–5 to allow transit vehicles, vanpools, and carpools to exit the freeway directly from the HOV lanes, without weaving through multiple lanes of traffic. According to Sound Transit, which manages the regional network of buses and rail and transit facilities in King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties, the easy on-and-off access will save HOV commuters up to 30 minutes each day. Fewer lane changes also will reduce opportunities for crashes and improve traffic flow for all drivers.

For more information, visit www.wsdot.wa.gov.

Innovative Contract Improves Maintenance In Washington, DC

In July 2000, the District of Columbia embarked on the first urban, performance-based asset management project in the United States, known as DC Streets. Under the $70 million, 5-year initiative, the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) and FHWA set out to preserve and maintain approximately 121 kilometers (75 miles) of roadway that make up the District's portion of the National Highway System (NHS). Though in some ways a traditional FHWA-funded project in which a State—in this case DDOT—contracts with an outside contractor, the contract is unique in the depth and breadth of its maintenance of assets such as tunnels, bridges, curbs, gutters, sidewalks, and retaining walls. As the initiative wraps up its final year, stakeholders are reviewing the project's successes.

FHWA found that one of the contract's main advantages is its coverage of all roadway assets in the District's section of the NHS, which carries the bulk of DC traffic. Before this contract, maintaining those roadways was the responsibility of the city, which did not have sufficient resources to maintain the assets properly. Since DC Streets qualifies for Federal aid, it is 80 percent funded by the Federal Government, with a 20-percent local match. Because DC Streets is an experimental program, it received approval to pay for some types of maintenance work, such as snow removal, not normally eligible for Federal funding.

With better funding, the contract also enabled the city to take advantage of more innovative solutions, such as the use of mobile, spray-injection pothole-patching technology. Maintenance workers can use the mobile patching machines to fill potholes quickly and efficiently, minimizing the inconvenience to drivers and the exposure of work crews to traffic. Another advantage of this outcome-based contract was its ability to address unforeseen maintenance without the need for additional appropriation processes and corresponding delay. For example, when Hurricane Isabel struck the District in September 2003, resulting in fallen trees and submerged highways, DDOT was able to consult with contractors to arrange standby crews to address the damage. As a result, the roadways were restored within 72 hours.

For more information, contact Edward Sheldahl at FHWA, 202–219–3514 or edward.sheldahl@fhwa.dot.gov or Simon Rennie at DDOT, 202–671–4666 or simon.rennie@dc.gov.

FHWA Launches Web Site for Context Sensitive Solutions

Following a yearlong design process involving key transportation stakeholders, FHWA recently launched an online resource center for context sensitive solutions (CSS)—a collaborative, interdisciplinary approach that enables engineers, public officials, and residents to develop transportation facilities that fit into their respective physical settings and preserve scenic, aesthetic, historic, and environmental resources while maintaining safety and mobility. Internet users can access the site at www.contextsensitivesolutions.org.

In September 2003 FHWA commissioned Project for Public Spaces (PPS), an organization specializing in the design and management of public spaces, to work with key stakeholders in the transportation field to create the resource center. FHWA spearheaded the Web site as a way to help accomplish one of its "vital few" priorities (congestion mitigation, safety, and environmental stewardship and streamlining), the integration of CSS in the project development process in all 50 States by September 2007.

The resource center promotes the CSS approach and disseminates information on policies, projects, processes, and key topics such as liability, flexible design standards, design speeds, stakeholder involvement, and new directions in road design. In addition, the site provides summaries of State programs, best practices in other countries, schematics for CSS-related design elements, and legal frameworks.

Database technology facilitated organizing the content in a way that makes it accessible to diverse audiences. Although its primary audience comprises transportation professionals and agencies, consultants, and environmental review agencies, the site also will be a resource for local governments, citizen groups, transit agencies, historic preservation groups, universities, and contractors.

Practitioners and advocates who wish to contribute to the site can contact Phil Myrick at Project for Public Spaces, 212–620–5660 or pmyrick@pps.org.

Web Site and Conference Advocate Use of Plain English

The Plain Language Action and Information Network (PLAIN), a group advocating the use of plain English in Federal documentation, recently announced the launch of its redesigned Web site, www.plainlanguage.gov. After 18 months of development, PLAIN has produced an easy-to-navigate powerhouse resource for professionals, particularly those in the Federal Government, who want to promote communication in plain language—the simplest, most straightforward way of expressing an idea.

The redesigned Web site features information on the history of the plain language movement, quick references, before-and-after examples, and tips on how to start plain language programs within Government agencies. Site users can provide feedback and offer suggestions for improvements by using the "contact us" function.

With the private sector's Center for Plain Language, PLAIN also is cohosting the Fifth International PLAIN Conference—Plain Language: Adding Up the Benefits. The conference will be held in downtown Washington, DC, November 3–5, 2005. U.S. Securities and Exchange Commissioner Cynthia A. Glassman, Ph.D., is among the scheduled speakers.

For more information, visit www.plainlanguage.gov. To learn more about the conference, visit www.plainlanguage.gov/news/currentEvents.cfm.

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