Skip to contentUnited States Department of Transportation - Federal Highway Administration FHWA Home
Research Home
Public Roads
Featuring developments in Federal highway policies, programs, and research and technology.
This magazine is an archived publication and may contain dated technical, contact, and link information.
Federal Highway Administration > Publications > Public Roads > Vol. 72 · No. 5 > Designing Excellence

Mar/Apr 2009
Vol. 72 · No. 5

Publication Number: FHWA-HRT-09-003

Designing Excellence

by Brooke Struve and Tim Breen

In FHWA's latest highway design competition, 12 projects pointed to better ways of building roads and bridges.

A new information kiosk (foreground) welcomes visitors to the Lowell Covered Bridge (background) on Oregon Highway 58. The project, winner of an Excellence in Highway Design award, combines traveler services, history, local recreation, and education on natural resources.
A new information kiosk (foreground) welcomes visitors to the Lowell Covered Bridge (background) on Oregon Highway 58. The project, winner of an Excellence in Highway Design award, combines traveler services, history, local recreation, and education on natural resources.

As demands on the Nation's roadways become increasingly complex, the transportation industry is seeking context sensitive solutions that meet the public's mobility needs and enhance safety consistent with the values of stakeholders and communities. These challenges oblige design and construction teams to act collaboratively and be innovative in integrating all project elements into cohesive transportation facilities.

Through the biennial Excellence in Highway Design competition, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has showcased hundreds of highways, bridges, bicycle and pedestrian paths, and roadside facilities that show what can happen when the highway community — thousands of men and women with richly varied job descriptions — unleashes its creativity.

Efforts to honor these achievements began in 1967 when Secretary of Transportation Alan Boyd, inspired by Lady Bird Johnson's crusade to beautify the Nation's highways, announced a competition called The Highway and Its Environment. In 1984, that contest became the broader Excellence in Highway Design awards. FHWA continues to recognize public and private organizations for using sound decisionmaking to overcome challenges and deploying exemplary design processes and practices on highway improvement projects.

FHWA announced the 2008 award winners, in 11 categories, at the October annual meeting of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. A panel of 15 judges — 7 from FHWA, 7 from State departments of transportation (DOTs), and 1 from an engineering consulting firm — selected the winners. This year's winning projects, described below under the various award categories, represent the best of the best in planning, design, and construction of highway improvements.

Urban Highways: Freeways or Expressways

The judges selected the State Route 17 (SR-17) project in Horseheads, NY, for innovation in moving express through traffic while maintaining access to businesses.

SR-17 began as a two-lane road connecting Pennsylvania and New Jersey. By 2000 the route was a four-lane highway with grade-separated interchanges. However, five at-grade intersections remained in Horseheads. Nearly 30,000 vehicles were using SR-17 every day; 70 percent of that volume was through traffic, arriving at the village limits at nearly 105 kilometers (65 miles) per hour.

With input from a community task force, a project team from the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) proposed an elevated expressway that would follow the existing alignment. This alternative was expected to be cost effective and to involve fewer environmental impacts, and it satisfied business owners who wanted to keep traffic moving by their stores. The NYSDOT team also envisioned a linear park as a buffer for residences and as a community enhancement.

The team invited community leaders, businesspeople, and neighbors to discuss treatments for mechanically stabilized earth (MSE) walls, noise walls, bridges, gateway signage, and the park. The team later coordinated wall designs so they would appear to be one unit, and created a column and arch pattern on the walls to reflect the architecture of downtown facades.

To maintain open space and visual connections, the team maximized bridge openings for local road underpasses by using setback abutments. Decorative architectural details included quoining (decorative masonry) in the wingwalls, embossed lettering for the names of crossroads, and brick mosaics crafted by a local artist.

Engineers designed an innovative underdrain system to keep embankments dry until crews could install the permanent closed drainage systems and cap the fill with concrete. The team also installed an automatic anti-icing system at a freeway ramp shaded by noise walls and prone to icing.

In Horseheads, NY, SR-17's elevated, four-lane expressway (shown here from above) includes retaining and noise walls and bridges as it crosses over local streets.
In Horseheads, NY, SR-17's elevated, four-lane expressway (shown here from above) includes retaining and noise walls and bridges as it crosses over local streets.

Regional travelers now pass quickly overhead while vehicles, bicyclists, and pedestrians share a slower pace below. "Today's SR-17 supports future growth while respecting the village of Horseheads," says Paul D. Bennett, P.E., assistant State design engineer for the Washington State Department of Transportation and one of the contest judges.

Urban Highways: Surface Streets

The "new" Phalen Boulevard project in St. Paul, MN, earned an award for integrating multimodal transportation with redevelopment of blighted urban land.

The new roadway corridor connecting I-35E through downtown St. Paul to the Johnson Parkway was the vision of the Phalen Corridor Initiative, comprising more than 60 local businesses, nonprofits, community groups, and government partners. The group planned the corridor to provide access to an underutilized area of industrial brownfields and open spaces amid struggling neighborhoods and businesses and as an impetus for cleanup and revitalization.

In addition to providing access to 40 hectares (100 acres) of brownfields, the corridor is becoming a main route between the downtown and the freeway system. Initiative members and the city of St. Paul were careful to dedicate right-of-way acquisition for transit, ensuring the corridor's future multimodal character. The corridor also connects the community to regional trail systems with an offstreet path for pedestrians and bicyclists.

Construction crews bioremediated most contaminated soils and materials or buried them under the roadway and utilities. Crews removed severely polluted soils, trucking them to approved facilities. By managing the soils onsite, the city saved millions of dollars in preparation costs for the roadway and nearby development site.

St. Paul acquired and demolished a grain elevator on adjacent property, then reused the crushed concrete for aggregate along most of the project. Crews reused shredded roofing shingles in the bituminous base course mix on a connecting roadway. The project also included construction of a 229-meter (750-foot) bridge over five active rail lines and under a power transmission line.

The new Phalen Boulevard exemplifies sustainable highway development and is already showing signs of success. New homes and neighborhoods are enabling more people to connect with jobs and amenities, enhancing quality of life and contributing to revitalization of St. Paul's near east side.

Shown here is the approach to the new Phalen Boulevard in St. Paul, MN, from the west over the project's first bridge. The corridor includes decorative street lights and aesthetic bridge railing.
Shown here is the approach to the new Phalen Boulevard in St. Paul, MN, from the west over the project's first bridge. The corridor includes decorative street lights and aesthetic bridge railing.

Rural Highways: Freeways

Another winning project was the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation's (PennDOT) upgrade to the Lewistown Narrows section of U.S. 22/322, which reduced congestion while preserving aesthetics.

U.S. 22/322, a rural arterial highway, follows the historic Pennsylvania Canal and Juniata River, winding through a narrow valley with steep, heavily wooded slopes. The highway featured narrow shoulders, steep cut-and-fill slopes, and uncontrolled access since it was built in the 1930s. According to PennDOT, the corridor experienced severe congestion and a high crash rate.

The plan for the 16-kilometer (10-mile)-long project was to increase capacity and improve safety while enhancing the natural surroundings. Led by PennDOT, crews improved the roadway to a four-lane, limited-access highway and built 11 retaining walls to minimize the width of impacts. The design team selected a bifurcated (two-forked) alignment for 5.1 kilometers (3.2 miles) of the narrows, with the westbound lanes 6 meters (20 feet) higher than the eastbound lanes. Although the alignment reduced impacts on the river and canal, it introduced new loads to unstable slopes covered with talus (loose rocks).

As mitigation for the impacts, the project restored historic features of the canal and enhanced recreational opportunities for visitors. The design team created a canal park that includes fishing and boating access, a trail and overlook, information kiosks and interpretive signing, and a picnic area. The project also restored a Pennsylvania Canal lockkeeper's house as a museum and visitor center.

"The department is extremely pleased to have this new section of highway opened," says Karen Michael, assistant district executive for design at PennDOT Engineering District 2-0. "We have received many positive comments from local citizens as well as the motoring public."

PennDOT installed MSE retaining walls along the lower section (shown here) of the bifurcated freeway in the Lewistown Narrows section of U.S. 22/322.
PennDOT installed MSE retaining walls along the lower section (shown here) of the bifurcated freeway in the Lewistown Narrows section of U.S. 22/322.

Rural Highways: Highways

The contest judges honored a project on Yellowstone National Park's East Entrance Road because of its success in improving safety and drivability in a challenging environment. The project, designed by the FHWA Western Federal Lands Highway Division (WFLHD), was part of Yellowstone's 20-year Parkwide Road Improvement Plan to enhance the visitor experience while protecting natural and cultural resources.

Under supervision of the Bureau of Public Roads, FHWA's predecessor, the Civilian Conservation Corps built many of the road's defining characteristics in the 1930s. The East Entrance Road Historic District remains eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.

The curvilinear alignment and retaining walls reduce the impact on the surrounding slopes and help Yellowstone National Park's East Entrance Road remain true to its historic alignment.
The curvilinear alignment and retaining walls reduce the impact on the surrounding slopes and help Yellowstone National Park's East Entrance Road remain true to its historic alignment.

The project, on an 11.1-kilometer (6.9-mile) section of road, is perched on the rocky slopes of the glacier-carved Middle Creek valley. The challenge was to design a roadway that would lie lightly on the land while widening the corridor to safely accommodate the growing number of visitors and vehicles. The context sensitive approach employed extensive inventories to identify the location and extent of resources so the design could avoid, minimize, or mitigate construction impacts.

Planners provided a 9.1-meter (30-foot)-wide pavement with shoulders for bicyclists and pedestrians that allows visitors to pull over safely and view wildlife without blocking traffic. They also made major alignment improvements for safety and drivability at two sharp curves, using the abandoned alignment sections for expanded parking areas, new viewpoints, and landscaped wildlife crossings. Crews installed new guardrails at several locations, usually using log posts and weathered steel for a more rustic, natural appearance.

The project employed new blasting techniques to sculpt safe rock slopes that resemble natural slopes. Undulating soil slopes avoid the manmade appearance typical of conventional highway construction. Crews used native vegetation to mitigate roadside impacts. They also placed logs, boulders, and forest debris on the finished slopes to help blend the disturbance aesthetically with the natural surroundings, minimize soil erosion, and provide microclimates of shade and shelter to promote revegetation.

Crews also placed fill and installed retaining walls in numerous locations to minimize impacts on sensitive areas. Most retaining walls consist of MSE and simulated stone concrete facing that has a nonrepeating pattern and replicates existing masonry within Yellowstone. A vegetated stone and soil ramp in front of one of the retaining walls enables bears to continue using an existing migration corridor.

"The East Entrance Road project is a fine example of WFLHD's continuing partnership with Yellowstone National Park," says Craig Dewey, WFLHD project manager. "Many engineers, landscape architects, scientists, and technical specialists in both agencies contributed to the success of the project. The contractor and construction workers made the project vision a reality in the constructed road."

Structures Costing $10 Million or More

A project to expand the Lee Roy Selmon Crosstown Expressway in Tampa, FL, won an award for relieving commuter congestion between the downtown and fast-growing suburbs.

Ridership on Lee Roy Selmon Crosstown Expressway's elevated lanes, shown here from above, has exceeded projections and greatly reduced congestion and commute times between Tampa and its eastern suburbs.
Ridership on Lee Roy Selmon Crosstown Expressway's elevated lanes, shown here from above, has exceeded projections and greatly reduced congestion and commute times between Tampa and its eastern suburbs.

The Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority began construction of the expressway in 1974 to relieve traffic on nearby SR-60, connecting the eastern suburbs with the city. In recent years, however, traffic levels on the expressway too had reached gridlock.

Planners soon decided that traditional expansion with at-grade lanes was not feasible: Acquiring expensive urban right-of-way would push tolls to levels unacceptable to commuters. "Building an elevated structure required no additional right-of-way and allowed us to add six lanes in 6 feet [1.8 meters]," says Linda Figg, president and CEO of FIGG, the bridge designer.

Now, 1.8-meter (6-foot)-wide piers in the median support a three-lane reversible structure. Commuter traffic is highly directional, flowing into the city in the morning and back out in the afternoon and evening. By using gates and monitoring equipment, the elevated lanes carry traffic in one direction at a time.

The expressway's performance tells the success story. Before crews built the elevated lanes, the at-grade expressway was at level of service (LOS) F during peak hours. For the average 115,000 weekday trips, travel times were 30-40 minutes in the morning commute. After the elevated lanes opened, customers experienced LOS A (free flow), with average trip times reduced to 10 minutes or less for both the elevated lanes and expressway toll lanes.

Average daily traffic on the eastern end of the expressway actually increased by more than 110,000 trips per month after full operation began. The additional trips reflect diversions from local, parallel, nontolled highways, which improved the mobility of the entire transportation network.

Strong public endorsement moved the project forward quickly. A key goal during design was for drivers on the original expressway to feel comfortable with the elevated lanes despite their close proximity. Designers used precast concrete segmental technology to significantly reduce the construction period. To increase the visual appeal, an unobtrusive, rounded design was used for the bridge piers and the ends of the segmental sections. Increasing the structure's height and tapering the ends of the segmental sections also contributed to the aesthetic value.

Planners developed different color schemes for the two bridges of elevated lanes totaling more than 8 kilometers (5 miles). The more urban bridge, near downtown Tampa, has a light blue/white overall tinted sealer, with a tan inset on the piers. The other bridge, closer to the town of Brandon, uses a light-colored tint on the bridge with a metallic blue inset on the piers, reflecting its more natural environment.

"The Selmon Expressway is an innovative solution," says Figg. "Its success represents the future for reducing congestion in America's major urban corridors."

Structures Costing Less Than $10 Million

In this category, the judges recognized the rehabilitation of the Thurston Avenue Bridge in Ithaca, NY. The project developed a design procedure, and proved constructability, for using induction bent, tubular-shaped, parabolic steel arches in vehicular bridges. The project also proved the value of three-dimensional (3-D) models and showed that bridge railing and lighting can serve vehicles and pedestrians and still be highly aesthetic.

Cornell University and the surrounding area had far outgrown the existing bridge. Improved function, safety, and movement through this critical corridor were necessary, and the bridge could not accommodate these needs without major rehabilitation or replacement.

Because of the bridge's rare type of arches and character-defining features, such as curved floorbeam ends and vertical picket railing, the existing Thurston Avenue Bridge is listed in NYSDOT's Historic Bridge Inventory. As a result, the New York State Historic Preservation Office mandated that the bridge be widened with an arch structure that is distinct from and does not obscure the view of the existing structure.

The solution was to widen the bridge by adding the new arches at each fascia to provide two 3.1-meter (10.3-foot)-wide sidewalks and two 1.5-meter (5-foot)-wide bicycle lanes across the bridge and its approaches. Planners elevated the new arches so the existing arches remained visible. Crews also painted existing elements light green and new steel framing dark green to differentiate between the elements. They also replicated the floorbeam end curvature and vertical picket bridge railing.

The project faced especially difficult site conditions. "Building a bridge on the vertical walls of a 110-foot [33-meter]-deep, environmentally sensitive gorge is challenging and complicated," says Brian R. Miller, P.E., SECB, with contractor LaBella Associates, P.C. Crews performed all work from the top, which necessitated using long-armed excavators, a suspended platform below the existing bridge, platforms constructed along the gorge walls, and constant use of cranes.

Induction-bending, using electricity transmitted by a single-turn induction coil to heat and soften a narrow band of metal, is new to bridge design. This "plastic hinge" facilitates bending large sections, particularly pipe and other hollow structures. For the bridge, crews fabricated the arch from plate steel bent into two U-shaped pieces and welded together to form the tube in 6-meter (20-foot) lengths.

Because the tubular sections employ internal stiffeners and connection plates, internal painted corrosion protection systems were virtually impossible. In a rare application, NYSDOT crews filled each arch rib with pressurized nitrogen gas to ward off corrosion. Gas gauges on each arch rib ensure against pressure loss and simplify inspections.

Intermodal Transportation Facilities

In Charlotte, NC, the LYNX Blue Line light rail station at I-485/South Boulevard earned recognition for easing congestion and meeting the needs of stakeholders in an inventive way, the judges said.

North Carolina's first light rail line, the dual-track LYNX stretches 15.4 kilometers (9.6 miles) from I-485 at U.S. 521 (South Boulevard) near the North Carolina-South Carolina border to downtown Charlotte. The city built LYNX in an abandoned rail corridor adjacent to U.S. 521.

The light rail alignment allowed limited access for any end-of-the-line station and made site selection difficult and costly. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) owned a remnant of land adjacent to one of its schools. The Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS) proposed a win-win solution: a joint-use facility on the site consisting of a parking deck capped by a playing field.

Design began with an analysis to determine the best method of deck construction. Due to constraints posed by the site's ravine, designers chose a cast-in-place approach for the reinforced concrete columns, beams, and slabs. Construction utilized a rigid frame to support a large retaining wall between the school and the parking deck.

The Thurston Avenue Bridge in Ithaca, NY, now has new tubular arches that crest above the deck. The older arches are visible below the deck.
The Thurston Avenue Bridge in Ithaca, NY, now has new tubular arches that crest above the deck. The older arches are visible below the deck.

Partnering with CMS on safety, CATS secured the site to protect students from construction activity. Another accommodation was stopping disruptive work during the school's standardized testing periods.

Because of the station's location on U.S. 521, it affords a direct connection to the national highway system through I-485 and I-77. Just a few months after opening, the parking deck was frequently at or near capacity. Offering a convenient, safe, and accessible portal to transit has removed more than 1,100 vehicles from roadways surrounding the station.

"Quality and innovative planning, design, and construction of the I-485/South Boulevard Station parking deck has provided Charlotte with a multimodal transportation facility that will be utilized by transit riders well into the future," says David Platz, P.E., P.T.O.E., with the FHWA Wisconsin Division and one of the contest judges. "The successful partnership with stakeholders, such as adjacent neighborhoods and the school system, has resulted in innovative and aesthetically pleasing design features."

Traveler Services

In the category Traveler Services, the judges selected the Lowell Covered Bridge on Oregon Highway 58, which Lane County converted into a gateway facility for travelers.

Designed by the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT), the 50-meter (165-foot)-long bridge was built by Lane County in 1945 but closed to traffic in 1981. The bridge soon fell into disrepair and became a safety hazard, but it remained a tourist attraction and informal rest stop.

As tourism increased in Lane County, area leaders began to envision a gateway facility that would provide information about local historic structures and recreational opportunities. At the same time, communities that had depended on the timber industry for their economic health were struggling with reduced timber harvests. The gateway project offered a way to improve the local economy by promoting heritage tourism and recreational use of the nearby Willamette National Forest.

This overhead view of the Cameron Bridge project near Shamokin, PA, shows the new bridge alongside the old one (left). The new bridge is wider and the alignment smoother to allow for improved traffic flow.
This overhead view of the Cameron Bridge project near Shamokin, PA, shows the new bridge alongside the old one (left). The new bridge is wider and the alignment smoother to allow for improved traffic flow.

The county selected the bridge as the ideal location for traveler services. The development team analyzed the target audience to guide the best use of the site and partner resources. The analysis also considered traffic patterns, other nearby facilities, and travel trends.

The team turned the bridge into a museum to inform visitors about regional history, the forest, the West Cascades Scenic Byway, and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dams on the Willamette River. An exterior kiosk, available 24 hours a day, serves as an information center on local attractions.

The team built public restrooms, picnic facilities, walkways, and parking facilities to accommodate cars, recreational vehicles, buses, and bicycles, all compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The project includes several innovative features, such as a walkway railing that shows a timeline of the bridge's history.

The team built much of the project on fill in Dexter Lake, requiring coordination with the corps. The bridge restoration also complies with State Historic Preservation Office requirements. Other partners include FHWA, ODOT, forest managers, and the city of Lowell.

Congestion Mitigation: Bottleneck Reduction

Among projects focused on reducing bottlenecks, the judges recognized the new Cameron Bridge, near Shamokin, PA, for mitigating congestion while staying within the confines of an existing alignment.

Constructed in 1851, the Cameron Bridge over Shamokin Creek helped transport coal from local collieries by railcar. In 1933, the Pennsylvania Department of Highways, as it was called then, replaced the bridge with a two-span pony truss that continued to support a vital corridor of travel and commerce. By the end of the 20th century, the two-lane bridge and intersecting roadways — SR-61, SR-225, and Second Street — could not handle the traffic volumes and threatened to choke economic growth.

For instance, a 2001 traffic analysis found that the SR-61/SR-225/Second Street intersections operated at LOS D or F for the morning and afternoon/evening peak hours. This resulted in traffic queues of 70 meters (230 feet) or more. Planners projected the conditions would deteriorate to LOS F with queues greater than 122 meters (400 feet) by 2030.

To find a solution, PennDOT and the Cameron Bridge Steering Committee conducted a community outreach program that helped shape 13 design alternatives, all focused on mitigating congestion within the existing travel corridor. PennDOT eventually chose a design that provides a wider, three-lane bridge with shoulders and sidewalks; realignment and widening of SR-61; a new five-lane connector road between SR-61 and SR-225 with signalized intersections; a new signalized intersection between SR-225 and Second Street; and improvements to traffic signals and pedestrian crossings at intersections along SR-61. With the new bridge, improved signals, and widened intersections, PennDOT expects the facility to achieve LOS A, with greatly reduced queue lengths and safer turning movements by 2030.

The project also has provided economic benefits to the surrounding community. The new bridge and wider roadways offer a safer, more efficient travel route for residents as well as schoolbuses and emergency vehicles. The bridge and roadways also include sidewalks that accommodate safe pedestrian travel between Shamokin and Coal Township. In addition, the design helped avoid displacement of homes or businesses.

Project Management

The judges also recognized the U.S. Highway 90 Biloxi Bay Bridge project for exemplifying innovations and excellence in the use of project management processes.

In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina destroyed the 2.6-kilometer (1.6-mile)-long bridge, which links Ocean Springs and Biloxi, MS. Rapid reconstruction was essential to restore mobility and economic vitality to the area. To expedite matters, the Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT) decided to use design-build contracting, a relatively new approach for the State.

Partnership was the foundation of the project's management. MDOT drew on the Florida Department of Transportation's experience in emergency design-build reconstruction. MDOT also worked closely with the FHWA Division Office in Jackson, which had experience with large-scale design-build projects. MDOT hired an engineering consulting firm to develop the request for proposals (RFPs) and contract documents, and then engaged the firm to oversee reconstruction.

Once construction began, representatives of the contractor, quality control consultant, design team, project manager, and MDOT met weekly to discuss budget, schedule, work quality, and project management. Monthly meetings brought together a broader group. Before each meeting, project leaders distributed questionnaires to nearly 50 participants to solicit comments and assess progress. The surveys contributed to the interactive nature of the meetings and helped resolve issues early.

MDOT committed the time and attention of its executive staff to the emergency reconstruction efforts to a much higher degree than it would for typical bridge projects. MDOT Executive Director Larry L. Brown, MDOT Deputy Executive Director Harry Lee James, Southern District Commissioner Wayne Brown, and other high-ranking MDOT staff regularly participated in meetings and often were onsite communicating the importance of the project.

MDOT and partners designed the bridge to accommodate growth in both vehicular and marine traffic. The original bridge had four lanes. The reconstructed bridge has six 3.7-meter (12-foot)-wide lanes for motorized vehicles, two 3-meter (10-foot) outside shoulders, and two 2.4-meter (8-foot) inside shoulders. The bridge also features a 3.7-meter (12-foot)-wide pedestrian and bicycle lane.

This photo of Mississippi's new Biloxi Bay Bridge highlights the teal accent color requested by the community, as well as the height, which affords clearance for vessels.
This photo of Mississippi's new Biloxi Bay Bridge highlights the teal accent color requested by the community, as well as the height, which affords clearance for vessels.

MDOT's commitment to providing the resources to address issues quickly and advance the $338 million project was essential. For example, MDOT supplied technical staff from all areas, including environmental, preconstruction, roadway and bridge design, right-of-way, construction, and procurement to expedite publication of the request for qualifications and RFPs. The staff also accelerated review and ranking of qualification and proposal documents, and the issuing of contract documents.

Program or Project Development Process — Minnesota

The judges recognized two winners in this category. First was the Minnesota Department of Transportation (Mn/DOT) for creation of the Historic Roadside Developments Management Program.

During the Great Depression, the Minnesota Department of Highways (Mn/DOT's predecessor), backed by New Deal programs, built many context sensitive highways that balanced safety, good construction, economical maintenance, and natural beauty. The department also constructed roadside facilities such as waysides, scenic overlooks, picnic areas, historical markers, and other features to increase the recreational qualities of highway travel while providing safe havens for travelers.

By 1996, however, Mn/DOT realized that its modern-day highway projects were not acknowledging the significance of the State's historic roadside properties early enough in the design process, causing project delays, redesigns, and adverse effects on cultural resources. In addition, properties were in various stages of neglect and deterioration, and well-intentioned but inappropriate repairs had altered the historic integrity of others.

To address the problem, Mn/DOT established a programmatic approach to streamline and improve resource reviews and guide protection and management. Mn/DOT concluded that it owned a significant and possibly unprecedented collection of roadside facilities. The department realized its stewardship should extend beyond historic features to include the entire designed and cultural landscape and context of each property.

Mn/DOT saw the need to develop additional preservation planning documents, beginning with management plans ensuring that all construction and maintenance work meets historic standards. The plans include restoration recommendations and cost estimates for character-defining features. All recommendations are aligned with the Secretary of the Interior's Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties, and sometimes suggest design flexibility for the adjacent transportation system: historically sensitive guardrail design and placement, reduced design speeds, and more.

Other documents include boundary studies, such as one on a zone protecting a property's setting from intrusions; priority rankings of all properties based on statewide historic significance; brief preservation recommendations for all properties not eligible for the National Register of Historic Places; programmatic agreements between FHWA, Mn/DOT, and the State Historic Preservation Office; and a preservation plan to identify management commitments for each property. Minnesota's roadside resources now can be incorporated into today's projects as part of Mn/DOT's broadly informed and balanced approach to achieving context sensitive solutions.

Mn/DOT now owns the premier collection of New Deal roadside properties in the United States. These "groundbreaking undertakings will surely inspire other national efforts," says Charles Birnbaum, with the National Park Service's Historic Landscape Initiative.

Program or Project Development Process — CFLHD

The other winner in this category is the FHWA Central Federal Lands Highway Division (CFLHD), for the development of its Project Planning and Controls Program.

CFLHD administers one-third of the Federal Lands Highway Program, serving 14 Central and Western States. FHWA's Office of Federal Lands Highway oversees engineering, construction, and maintenance of the forest highway system, Indian reservation roads, defense access roads, and other roads on Federal lands.

To manage fluctuating workloads, CFLHD completed an organizational restructuring in 2004 to become a strong matrix organization (that is, based on a multifunctional team structure that draws employees from different functional disciplines for assignment to a team without removing them from their respective positions), where project managers bear primary responsibility for completing work. CFLHD further assessed its project management program to identify process improvements. As a result, in 2006 CFLHD began implementing a comprehensive Project Planning and Project Controls Program to facilitate proactive management and fiscal accountability.

The project planning process includes development of a Project Delivery Plan, while the project controls process entails performance measures. These processes enable CFLHD to respond to fluctuating program levels and optimize internal and external resources to manage program delivery efficiently and effectively.

Integration of project planning and project controls into CFLHD's business practices has streamlined processes and strengthened the ability to improve planning, budgeting, human resources usage, organizational communication, outsourcing decisions, and management of project delivery problems. The streamlining has freed up valuable human resources to work on delivery of the program.

"The greatest hurdle has been the cultural changes that had to occur to create an atmosphere where our people want to use the integrated processes instead of being required to," says McCann. "The cost and time spent on implementation is paying dividends as employees realize management has shown its commitment to integrate project planning and project controls into our daily business practices."

A photo of  deteriorated historic stonewall overlook along Paul Bunyan Drive near Bemidji, MN.
A photo of the restored wall.
These before and after photos show a deteriorated historic stonewall overlook (top) along Paul Bunyan Drive near Bemidji, MN, and the restored wall (bottom).

In 2007, the editors of PM Network magazine, published by the Project Management Institute, named CFLHD a top 25 organization for project management. The list includes private and public sector organizations, domestic and international.

CFLHD says the effectiveness of the Project Planning and Project Controls Program is best illustrated by the fact that the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) provided a 32 percent increase in program levels between 2004 and 2009. At the same time, CFLHD staff levels decreased by 5 percent.

Continuing the Legacy

The winners of the Excellence in Highway Design awards demonstrate the commitment of dedicated transportation professionals and civic representatives to creating an effective and efficient highway transportation network that enhances their communities and the natural environment. The creativity and innovations highlighted in these projects represent steppingstones from which future efforts can grow and evolve in the continuing pursuit of excellence.

FHWA will announce the next opportunity to submit nominations for the awards in 2010. The competition will be open to highway projects in the United States that have been completed since the previous award cycle. Project owners will be invited to submit nominations online, and entries will be evaluated by a panel of judges selected from across the transportation community. FHWA will provide complete details as they become available at www.fhwa.dot.gov/eihd/index.cfm.


Brooke Struve is a program manager for the Office of Program Administration in FHWA's Office of Infrastructure. She promotes best practices in the design discipline across the agency and provides technical support for interstate access, geometric design, and accessible design for disabled pedestrians. She formerly served as a project manager at the Eastern Federal Lands Highway Division, leading engineers and technicians in developing projects in national parks, forests, and wildlife refuges. She earned a bachelor's degree in civil engineering from Brigham Young University.

Tim Breen is a contributing editor for Public Roads.

For more information, visit www.fhwa.dot.gov/eihd/index.cfm or contact Brooke Struve at 202-366-1317 or brooke.struve@dot.gov.

ResearchFHWA
FHWA
United States Department of Transportation - Federal Highway Administration