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Office of Planning, Environment, & Realty (HEP)

TCSP Grant Workshop Washington, D.C. September 14-15, 2000


Workshop Overview


Plenary Session: Perspectives of the TCSP Program from Partner Organizations

Janet Oakley, Government Relations Director, American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials

The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) and its members support the TCSP program and are working to support the vision, spirit, concepts, and ideals of the program. Janet Oakley shared examples of activities undertaken by the AASHTO and individual state DOTs consistent with the goals of the TCSP program. These include implementing context-sensitive design practices; forming partnerships with other transportation and community organizations; publishing reports on transportation and community partnerships; and sponsoring environmental best practices. "We need to get smarter about how we develop and how and where we make transportation investments," Ms. Oakley said. "We need to transform the way we are doing business."

Population in many areas is booming, and as it does so, we face a great challenge in maintaining our quality of life. From a transportation perspective, we need to maximize access in a way that will also preserve communities. The transportation factors addressed in the past - primarily mobility -- do not come close to addressing the full range of community concerns. In response, AASHTO is implementing a new approach to designing transportation projects: "context-sensitive design." Context-sensitive design seeks to balance mobility, safety, and preserving the environment, and involves working in concert with the communities and customers served. The idea of context-sensitive design came out of planning for the National Highway System, and the resulting concern that we would end up with 160,000 miles of highways built to interstate standards. There was a clear need to maintain consistent design standards but at the same time allow flexibility for individual communities.

In 1998, the Maryland DOT sponsored a conference to chart a course on context-sensitive design. The focus was not only about design issues, but also about process, collaboration, and open and honest communication. The full range of stakeholders, including teams of architects, landscape architects, sociologists, and others were brought together. Five pilot states - Connecticut, Minnesota, Kentucky, Utah, and Maryland - have committed to implementing the concept in their own projects, and have also committed to working with other states to increase acceptance of the ideas and develop training materials.

A rural highway corridor through bluegrass farmland in Kentucky illustrates the need for context-sensitive design. The corridor has significant safety issues, and efforts have been underway to widen the highway since the 1960s. The challenge has been to address the safety issues without diminishing the character of an environment of beautiful horse farms, stone walls, and old trees. In 1991 the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, FHWA, historic preservation agencies, and others signed an MOU that committed them to work together to address the issue. The result was a design approach that preserves the character of the area while also improving safety in the corridor.

In May 2000, AASHTO sponsored a design seminar to showcase community sensitive design approaches. AASHTO is committed to encouraging and advancing these new practices. The task force on geometric design is nearing completion of a guide on flexibility, which will address the use of flexibility as well as related environmental mitigation, safety, and liability issues.

AASHTO is also part of a Washington, D.C.-based "Transportation and Livable Communities Consortium." Led by the American Public Transit Association, this consortium brings together non-traditional partners such as the National Association of Homebuilders, the National Association of Realtors, the Urban Land Institute, the International Downtown Association and Federal agencies. The consortium is publishing a series of reports on how transportation and community partnerships are shaping America. The first report, already published, showcases transit projects that are reshaping communities. The second report, forthcoming, will focus on streets and roads. This second report will offer case studies on how highway projects can be designed with imagination, creativity, and collaboration to preserve and enhance quality of communities without compromising other factors. Finally, AASHTO has also sponsored an environmental best practices competition, known as "Best Practices in Environmental Partnering: Raising the Bar," to recognize eight outstanding state DOT projects that respond to mobility requirements while preserving and enhancing the environment.

Updated: 8/1/2013
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