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|Federal Highway Administration > Publications > Public Roads > Vol. 74 · No. 1 > Transportation Lessons From Central Europe|
Publication Number: FHWA-HRT-10-004
Transportation Lessons From Central Europe
by Daniel J. Berman
FHWA and Rhode Island highway officials visited the Czech Republic and Poland to share technology, policies, and practices.
The Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) recently collected and analyzed more than 10 years of historical data on crashes and found that alcohol, speeding, and failure to use seatbelts represented a disproportionate share of safety problems. In fact, speeding accounts for 52 percent of all road fatalities in Rhode Island, about 20 percent higher than the national average.
Halfway around the world, Poland faces a similar challenge. In 2008, Poland saw 67,534 roadway casualties, including 5,437 deaths and 62,097 injuries. Crash rates are twice as high in Poland as in Western European countries. As one approach to addressing the problem, the Polish Road and Bridge Research Institute is looking to its peers for ways that could help engineers take appropriate steps to improve safety. Innovative new technology was among several practices and policies that a contingent of U.S. transportation officials learned about firsthand during an April 2009 visit to Central Europe.
The U.S. officials traveled to Poland and the Czech Republic to participate in meetings, roundtable discussions, and site visits. They made the trip under the auspices of the Federal Highway Administration's (FHWA) Office of International Programs (OIP), which supports the exchange of road transportation technologies and facilitates partnering (or "twinning") relationships between States and foreign governments. One of OIP's goals is to facilitate information and technology exchange among U.S. and global partners to improve the highway transportation systems at home and abroad.
The trip was coordinated through OIP's Central European Technology Exchange (CETE) program, which promotes technology exchange, research, and workshops on issues of mutual interest to the United States and its partners in the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia. The study team included representatives of RIDOT, FHWA's Rhode Island Division and its Resource Center's Safety and Design Technical Service Team, and the Rhode Island Technology Transfer (T2) Center located at the University of Rhode Island. (Other U.S. members of CETE are the Texas Transportation Institute and Virginia Transportation Research Council.)
"Working with the Central European Technology Exchange program . . . has provided opportunities for the CETE partners to not only share cutting-edge technology with each other, but to also be involved in innovative research that helps to improve the safety of roads in our Nation," says Ian Saunders, director of OIP.
The United States has longstanding and mature transportation relationships with many European countries. Broadening and deepening these partnerships remains a key focus for FHWA. The Central European highway agencies offer U.S. practitioners opportunities for learning, networking, and benefiting from successful programs in transportation management in partner countries.
"The advent of globalization and new market economies has crystallized the reality that important issues facing development, improvement, and management of complex transportation systems are not exclusively a State, regional, or national concern," says Phillip Kydd, RIDOT's assistant director. "Rather, ensuring that people and products can move effectively and efficiently in our global society has become an international priority."
During the April 4-11, 2009, peer exchange, the U.S. officials traveled to Warsaw, Poland, for meetings; toured laboratories there and in Tišnov, Czech Republic; and met with Czech Ministry of Transport officials in Prague. Topics of discussion included developing programs and procedures to strengthen international partnerships and linkages, implementing safety management tools that support national planning and programming decisions, using workforce development programs to support engineering careers, linking countries and cities with high-speed rail, and improving automobile recycling practices to support sustainability goals.
The primary objective of the study team's visit was to work with Poland to help it become part of CETE and learn about technology transfer activities from members in the United States and Central Europe (Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia). The team then was to identify and bring home any best practices concerning safety programs, regulatory standards, and transportation policies.
The second objective was to meet with Czech and Polish officials to discuss potential joint venture partnerships. The representatives discussed high-speed rail development in the central European Union (EU), road safety research projects in the Czech Republic, and implementation of workforce development programs.
The third objective was to meet with officials at the Czech Republic's University of Ostrava to finalize arrangements for a 2009 Summer Transportation Institute. Partnerships for creating international peer exchanges will help universities produce a diverse, globally engaged science and engineering workforce to staff U.S. departments of transportation (DOTs). The institute also aims to catalyze cultural change within State DOTs by establishing innovative new models for international collaboration.
Polish Transportation Policy
Poland is home to 38.5 million residents and covers an area slightly smaller than New Mexico. It is the ninth largest country in Europe, at 120,728 square miles (312,685 square kilometers). Poland is also a success story: After the breakup of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, it became a robust Central European economy. In 2008 gross domestic product (GDP) grew an estimated 4.8 percent, based on rising private consumption, a jump in corporate investment, and EU fund inflows.
In October 1994, Poland's Ministry of Transport and Maritime Economy prepared a document titled Transport Policy. The policy was an action plan aimed at transforming transportation in line with a market economy and economic cooperation in Europe. Poland requires major investments in transportation infrastructure, including motorways, as its economy continues its rapid growth.
A new government came into office in 2007 and announced intentions to enact business-friendly reforms and accelerate privatization. The government's plan is to develop a US$10.1 billion program of public-private partnerships to build an "interstate-style" highway system across Poland. Government officials also announced plans for a high-speed rail system. In addition, with road crashes becoming a leading cause of death in Poland, program planners need further analysis of the causes of the crashes and cost-effectiveness of various remedial measures.
Complicating the issue, the EU allows heavier trucks than are permitted in Poland. According to Polish transportation officials, if main roads are to be strengthened to accommodate trucks up to EU weight limits, Poland's investment budget will need to double allocations for road rehabilitation. Poland's transportation policy notes that the country must form international linkages and partnerships to reach its goals of safety, sustainable development, economic growth, and ecological and public health.
The CETE meeting provided an opportunity for the U.S. team to begin forging new partnerships with the Central European countries. In each city visited, the hosts revealed that training for public employees is a common concern. A younger emerging workforce will need basic transportation skill sets as they replace an aging public works workforce. During and after the meetings, attendees provided insights into their own practices and the factors that have contributed most to their success. For example, road safety audits commonly used in the United States now are becoming a valuable tool in the Central European countries. Another example is Rhode Island's winter maintenance and snow plow training.
Polish officials discussed their country's interest in developing Local Technical Assistance Program (LTAP) centers for their own cities and towns. Participants described examples of typical LTAP activities and what training courses could be offered using Webconferencing technologies. Both Rhode Island and the Czech Republic identified the steps necessary to establish a center.
"The LTAP/TTAP [Local Technical Assistance Program/Tribal Technical Assistance Program] has had wonderful exchanges with international agencies and their professional employees for many years," says Mike Burk, director of FHWA's Technology Partnership Programs. "There is so much to learn from each other related to how our road systems are planned, designed, constructed, and maintained."
The Czech Republic's LTAP activities are similar to those in the United States, but its customers are different and more diverse, such as including a research element. CETE, which includes the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia, has a much broader customer base with both contractors and educators included. The European LTAP model has its roots in the transportation research centers in each country. Each center undertakes technology transfer and works with educational improvement programs and training.
Based on discussions during the tour, Polish officials currently are forming an LTAP center, with technical support from the Rhode Island T2 Center. As part of this support, the U.S. partners share best practices during quarterly teleconferences coordinated by OIP. In addition, a Polish representative visited the Rhode Island T2 Center and participated in the LTAP/TTAP New England regional meeting in May 2009.
Collaborative Safety Initiatives in Central Europe
Facilitated by FHWA, RIDOT and the Rhode Island T2 Center already had worked with the Central European T2 partners on several projects. One was the SnowFlake Road Safety Project, jointly funded by FHWA and the Czech Republic, organized by the Czech CDV (Czech acronym for what translates to Transport Research Center) in Brno and studying both Central European countries and U.S. States (the Czech Republic and Rhode Island in particular). That study drew on the European Union's SUNflower project, in which 15 countries tried such approaches as raising the legal driving age to 21 and imposing penalties for failure to wear seatbelts, which resulted in greater road safety. From a public policy perspective, the SnowFlake data could be used to develop more effective safety programs and tools.
At the April 2009 Central European T2 meeting, the partners discussed the findings of the SnowFlake project. They agreed to continue the study by adding Connecticut, Massachusetts, Texas, and Poland to the roster of States and countries being analyzed. The purpose of the study is to compare safety attributes and policies to identify best practices. Poland is working with the Krakow (Cracow) University of Technology's Road and Traffic Engineering Group to provide the needed data.
The U.S. team discussed with its hosts several other new studies during its visit to Brno, including the black box project. Developer CDV and the Central European T2 countries are using black boxes to collect more accurate statistics on crashes, with the goal of improving safety.
The black boxes record, store, and export data from automobiles. Rather than duplicate or add to vehicle instrumentation, however, CDV designed the device to collate information, such as speed and geographic location, already being recorded by vehicle sensors. Researchers believe the black boxes have the potential to curb drunk driving and otherwise modify driver behavior (a drinker might be reticent to drive if he knows the device in his car can show he was parked at a bar for a long time).
CDV recently installed a black box in a police car and found other benefits as well. For instance, the device can electronically load much of the information, such as crash location and weather conditions, into police reports, a task that otherwise would have required writing or typing by hand. The study team is interested in applying the black box project in Rhode Island. The idea is to look at how this technology might work if applied in the United States.
Also of interest to Rhode Island, CDV is developing an intelligent transportation systems (ITS) approach to zip merging. Zip merging refers to lane shifting in work zones, where vehicles in the right-most lane, say, have several hundred yards to merge into the lane on their left before encountering a lane closure for work on the right-hand shoulder.
A trailer-borne dynamic zip management system will inform drivers when to merge fluidly without reducing their speed and interfering with drivers in the continuous lane. The system will depend on real-time traffic flow monitoring and interpretation of speed and flow-rate data. Halogen navigation arrows, which can be supplemented with light-emitting diode boards, static signs, flashing lights, and other assets, will operate based on that interpretation and display the ideal merging spots.
The system will encourage drivers to use both lanes up to the closure point in times of heavy traffic volumes. In this case, an animated message would appear telling drivers to merge ahead of the lane closure. Road managers expect that by displaying this information the ideal zip-merging model will happen automatically based on speeds and congestion.
If the flow rate of the lane is low or medium and stable traffic speed is detected, the system will notify drivers of the work zone using the general message sign. The flashing lights and arrow symbols, along with a short message, will advise drivers to merge fluidly into the continuous lane.
"This traffic-calming approach has evolved into a cooperative project in which RIDOT will conduct a demonstration project of the recently tested zip-merge traffic system from the Czech Republic," says RIDOT's Kydd. That project is set to begin in 2010.
Workforce Development In Central Europe
In the Czech Republic, where the transport sector creates almost 9 percent of the nation's GDP (as of 2008) and employs about 5.5 percent of the working population in the civil sector of the economy, workforce development is critical.
FHWA, RIDOT, and the Czech Republic are linking academic activities and opportunities to enable students to experience some of the international aspects of transportation and develop skills and the confidence necessary to address global challenges. The goal is to expose students to the transportation industry and help them develop skills needed by a diverse, well-qualified workforce for the 21st century. For example, one approach builds on FHWA's National Summer Transportation Institute, a career awareness initiative designed to introduce secondary school students to transportation-related careers, provide academic enhancement activities, and encourage students to pursue transportation-related courses of study at the college and university level.
The Czech Republic held its first international summer transportation institute in summer 2009 at the VSB-Technical University of Ostrava. The U.S. partners helped their Czech Republic counterparts plan the institute and participated via videoconference in an event that involved RIDOT interns and Czech students. The Czech Republic and Poland in turn participated by videoconference in Rhode Island's summer transportation institute in 2009.
"The U.S. students were amazed that people on the other side of the world had similar needs and were working on similar projects," says Jeff Cathcart, director of the Rhode Island T2 Center. "The international LTAP program makes the world a small place."
Europe's High-Speed Rail Programs
High-speed rail (HSR) systems now operate in several countries, including France, Great Britain, and Japan. The Europeans define high speed as 125 miles per hour, mi/h (201 kilometers per hour, km/h) or more, but speeds over 79 mi/h (127 km/h) meet the definition in the United States. Poland and the Czech Republic propose building extensive new networks by 2015. In 2008 the Polish government's high-speed rail committee approved a draft policy document and environmental impact study for development of HSR services. In the United States, several State and local governments, as well as private sector groups, have undertaken feasibility studies to assess the potential for high-speed passenger rail technology.
In the United States, Amtrak's Northeast corridor main line (linking Boston, MA; Providence, RI; New York, NY; Washington, DC; and intermediate cities) is the Nation's most highly developed high-speed rail line. The project had its roots in the High Speed Ground Transportation Act of 1965 and was shaped by railroad restructuring legislation in the mid-1970s. In the 1980s, the Federal Railroad Administration and Amtrak undertook a major overhaul and improvement of the system. Called the Northeast Corridor Improvement Project, the overhaul included safety upgrades, modernization of the signaling system, and new control centers in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia. The project enabled more trains to run faster and closer together, and set the stage for later high-speed operation.
During the Central European T2 meeting, participants discussed the potential for using an asphalt base for high-speed railroads in the United States and Central Europe. Rather than construct the track so that it "floats" within a ballast bed, crews place the track on top of an asphalt slab that can provide ride comfort, low maintenance costs, and a long life.
The Czech Republic has a long history of providing courses on railroad engineering. In the United States, where there has been limited construction of new rail capacity in recent decades, the subject is emerging as a new skill set for engineering students. RIDOT and the Rhode Island T2 Center are interested in developing a civil engineering course on high-speed rail systems. At the Central European T2 meeting, their representatives discussed the possibility of jointly developing a seminar with officials from VSB-Technical University.
Sustainable Communities And the Environment
The study team and its hosts also discussed innovative ways of promoting sustainable communities, including managing waste and using legislation to encourage recycling cars, such as through the U.S. Cash for Clunkers program. One field with potential in the United States is recycling glass for use as aggregate and backfill. Hungary has done extensive work in this field and has a state-supported plant to produce the glass aggregate. Germany has several private plants, and the Czech Republic has one.
Manufacturers recirculate waste glass to produce granulated foamed glass. The normal grain size is 0.4-2.4 inches (10-60 millimeters). With its insulating properties, light weight, and compactability, foamed glass can serve as fill material, as a frost protection layer in roads, or in other civil engineering applications.
Hungary has experienced problems, such as water intrusion, pumping, and faulting, with asphalt layers placed beneath portland cement concrete pavements. The country has evaluated using foamed glass to provide better drainage and prevent these problems. The foamed glass has been used as a base course for pavements and as backfill on some projects and has been shown to provide better drainage. The Rhode Island T2 Center will work with its resource recovery agency to evaluate the potential for manufacturing foamed glass from its waste stream and for using the glass in highway construction.
The study team and hosts also discussed use of colored synthetic asphalt pavements. Poland and other European countries use colored asphalt in bicycle lanes, crosswalks, and bus stops. "It is the best product for delineating an area of a road," says Professor Dariusz Sybilski, Road and Bridge Research Institute of Poland. "The color reduces the need for striping and thus helps delineate lane width, minimizes maintenance, and maximizes wet-skid resistance." The Rhode Island T2 Center and Poland are collaborating on a joint project involving colored asphalt. They plan to try the color contrasting asphalt in high-risk safety areas such as left-turn lanes at intersections.
Among the most important findings from the trip, according to the study team, is the importance of working together on crosscutting issues such as safety and operations. For example, the United States could easily implement work zone zip-merging signs that graphically depict alternating traffic.
The concept of "global engineering" also rose to the top. Global engineering effectively breaks down and distributes large, complex tasks among global participants, thereby expediting innovation and development. Practitioners can exchange information during CETE meetings and videoconferences, and share results with agencies that are unable to attend.
Each U.S. official who participated in the trip identified opportunities within his or her discipline and developed a working relationship with a Central European contact. "CETE creates an outstanding base, inspiring framework, and cultivating network for cooperation between the United States and Central European countries sharing best practices, advanced experience, and new knowledge in transportation," says Josef Mikulik, institute council chair, CDV, in the Czech Republic. "That brings mutual benefits for all participating partners. CETE clearly demonstrates the possibilities and contributions of transatlantic partnerships."
Cooperation has the potential to improve transportation policies at the State and national levels.
"In an age of advanced technologies and global logistics, we should continue to be open to the idea that some of the most pressing issues that affect our national transportation systems may indeed have answers in the approaches of our European partners," says RIDOT's Kydd.
Or, as FHWA's Burk puts it, "Why should we all reinvent the wheel when we can learn from each other? We all have the same goal of a safe and efficient highway network."
Many other parties also see promise in cooperation like that of Rhode Island and the T2 countries. As the National Academy of Sciences stated in its report Interacademy Programs Between the United States and Eastern Europe 1967-2009: The Changing Landscape, "Eastern Europe [including the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia] is a unique cluster of middle-income countries with strong scientific capabilities in a number of important areas and with a long history of scientific interchange with the United States that unfortunately was disrupted for nearly one-half century. The legacy of scientific and educational excellence throughout the region is strong, and the desire to strengthen partnership with U.S. colleagues is omnipresent."
Daniel J. Berman has worked for FHWA for 35 years in transportation engineering and planning, at the regional level and in State division offices. In his current position as assistant division administrator for the FHWA Rhode Island Division, he coordinates FHWA's policies with State officials and serves as the division focal point for technology transfer and strategic planning.
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