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FHWA 66-15
Wednesday, October 7, 2015
Contact: Nancy Singer
Tel: 202-366-0660

FHWA Move to Encourage Highway Design Flexibilities Kicks Off with Changes for Lower Speed Roads

Opens the way for more design choices, more bicyclist-pedestrian options nationwide

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) is proposing revisions to current program policies to encourage the design of lower-speed roads to be more in line with community and environmental needs. This represents the start of several proposed regulatory and program policy changes at the agency to allow more flexibility for state, city and county engineers in the design of highway projects.

“This proposed policy change will give states and communities the opportunity to be more innovative in designing their local projects,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “It will help us to build more quality projects that will not only provide more travel options for people, but also support and unite communities across America.”

As a first step in the series of changes in the works, FHWA proposes to reduce the number of design criteria for highways designed for speeds of less than 50 miles per hour from 13 required elements to two required elements. On roads with design speeds of 50 mph or more that typically carry our nation’s freight and larger traffic volumes, the number of criteria would be reduced from 13 to 10.

In 1985, FHWA emphasized 13 design criteria because of the perceived impact on operations and safety. These applied to all projects regardless of the purpose and community context of the road, and FHWA asked for extensive documentation for projects seeking exceptions from any of these criteria.

The shift in FHWA’s approach was prompted by current research in the field of geometric design showing that the majority of the 13 design criteria yielded significant benefits only on higher speed roadways. FHWA now proposes to reduce the number of criteria for lower-speed roads in both rural and urban areas, including main and downtown streets in towns and cities. All projects must still be designed properly for speed and structural capacity, but now design criteria can include other factors. For example, engineers can use professional judgment to determine appropriate lane widths and facilities to accommodate pedestrians, bicyclists, bus stops, or landscaping for more livable communities, without needing approval from FHWA. This will enable planners and engineers to more easily design roadways in ways that enhance their community.

“This change is a part of a major push at the agency to give engineers more autonomy in highway design so they can implement transportation projects that better connect with their communities,” said Federal Highway Administrator Gregory Nadeau. “We are always seeking new ways to improve our highway system, and today is a great step forward.”

FHWA is also updating numerous design standards for highways nationwide and eliminating outdated standards and specifications. The updates will place a greater focus on flexibility to address the social, economic and environmental impacts of design. The agency also has updated guidance on bicycle and pedestrian facilities to give planners and engineers more opportunity to include these options in their designs. In many cases this will encourage engineers to design with more sidewalks in mind.

All the proposed changes will make it easier for engineers to design transportation projects more tailored to local travel conditions and provide safer, multimodal solutions that accommodate bicyclists, pedestrians, transit users and drivers.

Revision of Thirteen Controlling Criteria for Design; Notice and Request for Comment


Updated Bicycle/Pedestrian Guidance



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FHWA Press Releases

Page posted on October 6, 2015
Federal Highway Administration | 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE | Washington, DC 20590 | 202-366-4000