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Federal Highway Administration > Publications > Public Roads > Vol. 72 · No. 5 > Along the Road

Mar/Apr 2009
Vol. 72 · No. 5

Publication Number: FHWA-HRT-09-003

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.

Management and Administration

GAO Examines Highway Bridge Program

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently issued a report on how the Federal Highway Bridge Program (HBP) addresses bridge conditions, how States use HBP funds and select bridge projects for funding, and what the data indicate about bridge conditions and the program's impact. The report also explores the extent to which the bridge program aligns with principles GAO developed, based on prior work and Federal laws and regulations, for reexamining surface transportation programs.

The report indicates that GAO identified a need to define clearer goals for the HBP, develop and implement performance measures, and improve sustainability. GAO also recommends incorporating best practices and reviewing the program's funding mechanisms.

Currently, the HBP affords States discretion to use HBP funds and select bridge projects. Without a clearly identified Federal or national interest, use of HBP funds has expanded from improving deficient bridges to supporting seismic retrofitting, preventive maintenance, and many other projects, potentially including almost any bridge in the country. The impact of the HBP on bridge improvement is difficult to determine, in part, because HBP funds are being used for a variety of projects without regard to a bridge's deficiency status or sufficiency rating. In addition, the program lacks measures linking funding to performance because there are no comprehensive data for State and local spending on bridges.

To view the report, visit www.gao.gov/new.items/d081043.pdf.

GAO

USDOT Identifies Priority Projects To Relieve Border Congestion

In late 2008, USDOT identified priority congestion relief projects at U.S. border crossings in California, Texas, and Washington. Because excessive wait times deter travelers, stall cross-border commerce, and negatively affect air quality, recognizing the projects as priorities authorizes access to discretionary funding, including innovative financing options, to accelerate completion.

The selected projects demonstrate the types of innovative solutions needed to reduce border congestion quickly. At the southern border, San Diego's Otay Mesa East Port of Entry project will create a 4.3-kilometer (2.7-mile), four-lane highway that links to the existing California highway system to provide additional capacity for traffic through the region. In Laredo, TX, the East Loop Bypass Rail Crossing will build a new rail bridge across the border and new rail bypass around the city, adding rail capacity and improving safety. At the northern border, in Blaine, WA, the Cascade Gateway Expanded Cross-Border Advanced Traveler Information System project proposes to provide real-time wait times and other travel information through a combination of technologies.

All of the projects will explore public-private partnerships, which combine traditional Federal and State funds with private sector expertise, reducing project costs, speeding project delivery, and protecting taxpayers from project risks.

Technical News

Colorado Pilots Program to Reduce Animal-Car Crashes

The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) recently installed a first-of-its-kind wildlife detection system to reduce the number of animal-vehicle collisions on U.S. 160. The detection system consists of a cable buried 0.3 meter (1 foot) deep and 9.1 meters (30 feet) from either side of the roadway, technology that was previously used for perimeter security by military, prisons, airports, and private landowners but never before to detect wildlife approaching roadways. The system reaches from between mile marker 95.6 and 96.6 on U.S. 160 between Durango and Bayfield, a stretch of road identified by CDOT and wildlife officials as a major migration route.

This sign alerts motorists to the test zone ahead.
This sign alerts motorists to the test zone ahead.

CDOT, with cooperation from the State's Division of Wildlife, looked at various ways to minimize the impact of the roadway on wildlife migration while alerting motorists of their presence. The team considered detection systems using laser beams, microwaves, and infrared technology, but due to the potential for false positives caused by snow, clouds, and even branches, an underground detection system seemed to be the best option. The system includes a sign that lights up only when animals are present near the roadway. The pilot project will undergo several years of operation, monitoring, and supplemental testing and research before results can be determined fully.

CDOT

UDOT Studies Pavement Grinding's Effect on Noise

The Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) recently released a report that explores the differences in noise between vehicles traveling on concrete roadways before and after grinding. UDOT performed the study on a section of roadway located on the east leg of I-215 in eastern Salt Lake Valley on both the northbound and southbound lanes.

The report, Roadway Pavement Grinding Noise Study (UT-08-15), presents the results of the noise levels measured before grinding, after grinding a 91.4-meter (300-foot) section, and again after grinding all of I-215. The UDOT researchers took noise measurements at the same location on I-215 East in 2000, 2003, and 2008. The researchers found that the high-frequency pure tone noise, commonly known as tire whine, is reduced significantly by pavement grinding and could be beneficial for both reducing tire pavement noise levels and muting the tire whine pure tone sound of the transverse tining texture of older concrete pavement.

For more information, visit www.udot.utah.gov.

UDOT

Public Information and Information Exchange

NHTSA Evaluates Drivers' Willingness To Engage in Distracting Tasks

According to a report released in 2008 by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), task-related motivations, rather than driving-related considerations, appear to be dominant decision factors in whether drivers engage in various in-vehicle tasks. The project investigated the decisionmaking process involved in a driver's willingness to engage in various technology-related and nontechnology-related tasks while driving, such as using cell phones, tuning the radio, and dealing with children.

Previous research focused on how well drivers are able to drive while engaged in potentially distracting activities, but little work has considered how drivers decide when to engage in these activities. The study included focus groups and an onroad study, both employing participants from four age groups: teen (16-18 years), young (18-24 years), middle (25-59 years), and older (60+ years). For the onroad study, participants drove their own vehicles over a specified route, and at specified points they rated their willingness to engage in some specific task at that time and place.

Results of the study showed that most participants did not attribute risk to basic cell phone tasks, rating them roughly comparable to eating or drinking something that is not messy. Further, they rated cell phone use as less risky than eating something messy or dealing with children in the vehicle. NHTSA will use the findings to rate potential countermeasures, such as public education, driver or device user training, user interface design, needs for warnings and information, criteria for function lockouts, and drive-assist system criteria.

To view the report, Driver Strategies for Engaging in Distracting Tasks Using In-Vehicle Technologies, visit www.nhtsa.dot.gov/portal/site/nhtsa/menuitem.54757ba83ef160af9a7ccf10dba046a0.

NHTSA

USDOT Releases ITS/Operations Resource Guide 2008

Cover of USDOT Releases ITS/Operations Resource Guide 2008 USDOT has released the 2008 edition of its intelligent transportation systems (ITS) and operations resource guide, ITS/Operations Resource Guide 2008. The latest version includes a listing of more than 500 documents, videos, Web sites, training courses, software tools, and points-of-contact related to ITS and transportation operations.

View or download the resource guide at www.resourceguide.its.dot.gov. To order a free printed copy, call the ITS Help Line at 1-866-367-7487 or send an e-mail with your mailing address to itspubs@dot.gov.

USDOT Awards $14.7 Million for Rural Roads Safety

To improve safety on rural roads, USDOT recently awarded $14.7 million in Rural Safety Innovation Program funds. Projects in the following 15 States will receive the funds: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, South Carolina, Tennessee, Washington, and Wisconsin.

Made possible by funds from USDOT's Delta Region Transportation Development Program and Intelligent Transportation Systems program, the awards are part of a $287 million effort to help local and State governments reduce crashes on dangerous rural roads.

For more information on USDOT's Rural Safety Initiative, visit www.dot.gov/affairs/ruralsafety.

ATRI and FHWA Receive Award for Technology Research Innovation

In 2008, the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) awarded its annual ITS Management & Operations Award jointly to the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) for designing and developing a national research tool that monitors freight performance on North American highways using truck position data collected wirelessly.

The Freight Performance Measures (FPM) initiative, which ATRI and FHWA designed and tested over a period of 5 years, uses position data from the trucking industry to calculate changes in travel times and speeds on more than 321,900 kilometers (200,000 miles) of roadway. Researchers can use the data to assess system reliability, identify freight bottlenecks, and address truck parking issues. To date, the FPM system has been reviewed or tested by more than 30 agencies, including State departments of transportation (DOTs), metropolitan planning organizations, and academic institutions.

Web Site Connects MoDOT Officials With Public

The Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) launched a new Web site that makes it easier for groups to find a speaker for meetings and events. The Web site enables interested parties to fill out a simple electronic form to request a speaker from MoDOT. The site also provides potential transportation topics and lists speakers by region.

"We are eager to tell Missourians what is going on in transportation," says MoDOT Director Pete Rahn. "We created the 'Request a Speaker' Web site to make it easy for them to contact us to schedule a speaker for their club, group, business, school, or organization. It's just one of the tools we use to reach out to our customers so they have a better idea of what we're doing and why we're doing it."

According to MoDOT, the most requested topics for speakers are local road and bridge projects. In addition to local improvement projects, topics include the future of transportation in the State, dedicated truck lanes, job openings, work zones, snow removal, and project delivery.

Although MoDOT officials are still determining the direct impact of the Web site, the number of public appearances for its speakers hit record levels for the first half of 2008.

Requests for speakers can be made at www.modot.org/requestaspeaker or by calling MoDOT's toll-free number: 1-888-ASK-MoDOT (888-275-6636).

MoDOT

TRB Report Makes Recommendations for Improving Highway Safety Research

A recent Transportation Research Board (TRB) report offers recommendations on how best to use the limited funding available for research on reducing fatalities and injuries on the Nation's roadways. The report, Safety Research on Highway Infrastructure and Operations: Improving Priorities, Coordination, and Quality (Special Report 292), reviews the current approaches and then presents recommendations for improvements to priority-setting and coordination processes.

Specifically, the report proposes creation of an independent scientific advisory committee (SAC) with a twofold mission to (1) develop a transparent process for identifying and prioritizing research needs and opportunities in highway safety, with emphasis on infrastructure and operations, and (2) use the process to recommend a national research agenda focused on highway infrastructure and operations safety. 

The report also explores opportunities to improve the quality of highway safety research. According to the report, the development of a well-conceived national agenda would be a primary strategy for improving research quality. Such an agenda could help ensure that high-priority research issues are identified and funded on a continuing basis.

To view the report, visit http://onlinepubs.trb.org/Onlinepubs/sr/sr292.pdf.

TRB

Study Finds Seasonal Variation In Traffic Congestion

The USDOT Research and Innovative Technology Administration's Bureau of Transportation Statistics studied congestion patterns during a 3-year period in Chicago, Houston, and Los Angeles. The study involved estimating the changes in monthly congestion during the year, the differences occurring in morning and evening congestion, and the differences in weekend and weekday congestion.

According to the technical report Seasonal Variation in Traffic Congestion: A Study of Three U.S. Cities (TR-005), drivers might notice seasonal changes in patterns of highway congestion in urban areas; however, these patterns differ from city to city. More specifically, the study found that Chicago experiences less congestion per weekday in December and January compared to other months of the year, and weekends in January and June show the biggest variations with fewer congested hours per day in January and more congested hours in June. Houston, in general, shows less variation in congested hours, except for less congestion during morning weekday travel in July and December. The weekday congested hours in Los Angeles vary more during the year than they do in the other cities, with 7 months having at least 0.5-hour differences, either higher or lower, in congested hours compared to the yearly average.

These data have the potential to provide seasonal factors for congestion not previously available for the transportation sector. Different cities have different congestion patterns, and such information could prove helpful in developing strategies to reduce congestion.

To view the report, visit www.bts.gov/publications/bts_technical_report/2008_005/pdf/entire.pdf.

FHWA Conducts Pilot Emissions Project in New Mexico

FHWA's Office of Natural and Human Environment is conducting a Carbon Sequestration Pilot Project to quantify the amount of carbon that can be stored using native vegetation management on DOT lands and to estimate the revenue that could be generated through the sale of "carbon credits" on an emissions trading market. FHWA selected the New Mexico Department of Transportation (NMDOT) for the pilot program because of the State's rural road mileage, total acres of potential forest and grassland, and membership in an emissions-trading platform, among other factors.

During the data-gathering stage, completed in 2008, FHWA asked NMDOT to quantify and encourage the growth of existing trees, bushes, and native grasses on State-owned rights-of-way (ROW) to sequester atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2). As next steps, FHWA is working with NMDOT to verify the acres available for carbon sequestration and to estimate the vegetation costs and potential value of marketable credits.

The pilot is expected to substantially assist NMDOT in meeting its emissions reduction goals. The State could use these emissions reductions as carbon credits. The vegetation associated with carbon sequestration is beneficial in other ways, providing habitat for wildlife, preventing erosion, and reducing stormwater runoff.

With agencies facing the challenge of doing more while spending less, the pilot project is expected to demonstrate the benefits of sequestering CO2 in vegetation within the highway ROW and help inform future transportation and climate change legislation.

Diagram. The diagram shows the carbon cycle as it relates to vegetation. Illustrated in the diagram are a tree and a horizontal rectangle beneath it, representing soil. Up and down arrows indicate the movement of carbon through the system. In the top left, above the tree, is a downward-pointing arrow labeled "Atmospheric carbon is fixed by trees and other vegetation through photosynthesis." To the right of that arrow is an upward-pointing arrow labeled "Carbon is lost back to the atmosphere through respiration and decomposition of organic matter." A downward-pointing arrow on the tree's trunk is labeled "Some carbon is internally transferred from aboveground to belowground, carbon to soils." The tree's roots are labeled "Belowground carbon: Roots, Litter." A horizontal arrow inside the soil rectangle points to the right and is labeled "Some carbon is transferred from belowground carbon (e.g., root mortality) to the soils." The soil rectangle itself is labeled: "Soil carbon: Organic, Inorganic." The tree's leaves are labeled "Aboveground carbon: Stems, Branches, Foliage." A downward-pointing arrow beneath the leaves is labeled "Fallen leaves and branches add carbon to soils." An upward-pointing arrow at the far right is labeled: "Carbon is lost to the atmosphere through soil respiration."
This diagram shows how forestry and agriculture capture carbon dioxide to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The Carbon Sequestration Pilot Project will quantify the amount of carbon that native vegetation management can sequester on DOT lands in New Mexico.

FTA Evaluates Transit Applications of Parking Management Systems

The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) released a report that examines two transit applications of parking management systems. The report explores the systems' impacts in terms of parking utilization, transit ridership and mode choice, traffic circulation within and between transit park-and-ride lots, and customer satisfaction.

The two transit applications of parking management systems include one in conjunction with two Metra stations in suburbs southwest of Chicago, IL, and the other in conjunction with two Metro stations in Montgomery County, MD. Through the use of variable message signs, these systems provide motorists with real-time information about parking availability at appropriate decision points along their routes so they can make informed decisions about where to park.

According to the report, commuters generally were satisfied with the sign locations and accuracy (and they would like to see similar signs at other locations). The results are inconclusive, however, about whether the parking management systems increased parking utilization or transit ridership, or whether they reduced circulation within and between park-and-ride lots. In terms of mode share, only a few survey respondents indicated that the signs affected how often they took transit or that the parking availability information caused them to take transit rather than driving. Ultimately, the results show that depending on the circumstances, parking management systems might increase driver awareness of parking alternatives or reduce circulation within and between lots.

Download the report at www.fta.dot.gov/documents/ParkingManagementEvaluationReport.pdf.

FTA

Idaho Scenic Byways Web Site Wins National Award

The Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) and its Scenic Byways program won first place at the National Transportation Public Affairs Workshop (NTPAW) in Nashville, TN, for creation of the "Idaho Scenic Byways" Web Site.

Shown here is the Web site for "Idaho's Scenic Byways."
Shown here is the Web site for "Idaho's Scenic Byways."

ITD launched the site in June 2007 to promote the history, terrain, and beauty of the State's intermountain northwestern region. The site lists byways by three distinct regions, includes information about road lengths, geographic locations, and best times of the year to travel them, as well as linking to area attractions and contact information. The Web site quickly became one of the most frequently visited links on the ITD home page, just behind the division of motor vehicles and Idaho's 511 traveler services site.

The public affairs workshop's annual skills contest recognized the Idaho Scenic Byways site as the best Web site produced with a consultant. The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials' (AASHTO) Subcommittee on Public Affairs conducts the NTPAW contest annually to recognize the work of member States' public relations staffs.

Visit the award-winning Web site at www.idahobyways.gov.

ITD

WisDOT Completes Interchange Project Ahead of Schedule And Under Budget

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) recently completed the Marquette Interchange Project in downtown Milwaukee 3 months ahead of schedule, $15 million under budget, and without a life-threatening injury. The project, a 4-year infrastructure improvement venture, replaced and modernized an existing four-level interchange with a five-level interchange to improve safety, capacity, and efficiency. During the reconstruction, major traffic directions were maintained, and Milwaukee was kept open for business.

Innovative design, WisDOT oversight, and a collaborative, formal partnering approach contributed to the timeliness and cost-effectiveness of the project. During construction, numerous organizations recognized the project, including the American Road & Transportation Builders Association with its PRIDE Award and AASHTO with its On Time-Large Project Award.

The Marquette Interchange links I-94, I-43, and I-794, providing a vital route for commuters and commercial traffic. The project encompassed 19.3 kilometers (12 miles) of urban freeways, 50 ramps, and more than 180 structures.

For more information on the Marquette Interchange Project, visit www.mchange.org.

WisDOT

Shown here is the Marquette Interchange in downtown Milwaukee.
Shown here is the Marquette Interchange in downtown Milwaukee.

Call for Applicants: 2009 National Roadway Safety Awards

FHWA and the Roadway Safety Foundation are accepting applications for the 2009 National Roadway Safety Awards, a biennial awards program to provide national recognition for exemplary roadway safety efforts and to publicize best practices.

The competition includes three award categories: infrastructure improvements, operational improvements and program planning, and development and evaluation. Applicants can submit projects, programs, or activities that include effective and innovative safety agendas and resourcefully employ various sources of aid including Federal, State, local, and private sector funds.

The 2009 nomination materials are available on the program Web site at www.roadwaysafetyawards.org. Completed applications with supporting documentation must be received by June 1, 2009.

For submission details and more information, visit www.roadwaysafetyawards.org or e-mail submit2009@roadwaysafetyawards.org.

Personnel

Former Transportation Secretary Receives Public Works Award

In 2008, former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Mary E. Peters received the American Public Works Association's (APWA) Presidential Leadership Award. The annual award is given to an individual who has shown exceptional efforts on behalf of public works infrastructure. APWA Past President Larry Frevert announced that APWA honored Peters for her outstanding service and leadership on transportation issues, commitment to public service, and work advocating for the Nation's infrastructure.

Peters was transportation secretary from September 2006 through January 2009. Prior to her appointment, she was FHWA administrator from 2001-2005. Peters also spent 3 years as director of the Arizona Department of Transportation and was a member of APWA.

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United States Department of Transportation - Federal Highway Administration