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Federal Highway Administration / Publications / Focus / April/May 2001

Accelerating Infrastructure Innovations

Publication Number: FHWA-RD-01-063
Date: April/May 2001

Thinking Beyond the Pavement with Context Sensitive Design

Ensuring safety and mobility are of primary importance when designing and building a road. Today for a growing number of highway agencies, preserving environmental, community, scenic, and historic resources at the same time is another goal that's getting top billing.

Known as Context Sensitive Design (CSD), this approach represents an important evolution in the development of highways. The initial impetus for CSD came from the 1991 Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act. CSD was then further encouraged by a 1994 American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) National Highway System Design Standards policy statement, as well as the 1995 National Highway System Designation Act. This legislation called for designs that take into account "the constructed and natural environment of the area; the environmental, scenic, aesthetic, historic, community, and preservation impacts of the activity; and access for other modes of transportation."

The movement took a leap forward in 1998, when the Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA), in cooperation with AASHTO and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), hosted "Thinking Beyond the Pavement: A National Workshop on Integrating Highway Development with Communities and the Environment While Maintaining Safety and Performance." The workshop presented several principles of CSD, including the importance of establishing a multidisciplinary team to plan projects; maintaining open and continuous communication with all stakeholders; and understanding the landscape involved, the neighboring community, and the area's valued resources before starting the engineering design.

After the Maryland workshop, Connecticut, Kentucky, Maryland, Minnesota, and Utah agreed to serve as pilot States for implementing the CSD principles developed at the workshop. FHWA's Federal Lands Highway Office is also participating in the pilot program. Each State is incorporating the CSD approach through new policies on such things as project development, staff training, and community outreach. For example, the Connecticut Department of Transportation (DOT) has held training courses for its managers and has collaborated with the University of Connecticut's Engineering Department on providing CSD training to transportation engineering students, while the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet has held workshops geared towards all participants in the project development phases. Kentucky has also presented its CSD workshop in Arkansas and Georgia and is now making plans to take the whole workshop to Montana and Utah, as well. The workshops include discussion of Kentucky's Paris Pike reconstruction project, which is an example of achieving CSD through partnerships with landowners and other community representatives. Reconstruction of this section of US 27 between Lexington and Paris became possible, ending a 20-year court injunction, after the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet committed to involving landscape architects, historic preservationists, and environmental specialists in all aspects of project development so as to minimize disruption to the surrounding areas.

The Maryland SHA has several initiatives aimed at better utilizing CSD in the development of transportation projects. These include holding community involvement skills training for SHA staff and consultants and establishing teams to review and implement project improvement strategies. The Utah DOT, meanwhile, is focusing on community outreach during the project development process and has held CSD interactive training sessions at its annual Transportation Engineers Conference. And the Minnesota DOT is using a number of visualization tools, such as 3D conceptual model building, animation, and interactive CDs, to study preliminary design alternatives and impacts and better present this information to stakeholders and customers during the decisionmaking process.

Although the pilot States have led the way, "we're now seeing other States with interest in context sensitive design," says Marvin Bell of FHWA.

The pilot States, as well as other States with CSD initiatives, will have an opportunity to share what they've learned at a workshop scheduled for September 2001 in Missoula, Montana. "Context Sensitive Highway Design: Transferring Lessons from Our Collective Experiences," is being sponsored by the Montana DOT, FHWA, and the Western Transportation Institute. For registration information, contact Meetings Northwest at 406-273-7224 (fax: 406-273-2494; email: csdworkshop@meetingsnorthwest.com). Information can also be found on the Web at www.fhwa.dot.gov/context/.

For CSD pilot State contacts, see sidebar on page 5. You can also contact Bill Fitzgerald at FHWA (410-962-0720) for more information on CSD, or visit FHWA's and AASHTO's CSD Web site at www.fhwa.dot.gov/csd/index.htm.

CSD Pilot State Contacts


Simone Cristofori, Connecticut DOT

Phone: 860-594-3155


Bill Gulick, Kentucky Transportation Cabinet

Phone: 502-564-3280

Jerry Pigman, University of Kentucky Transportation Center

Phone: 859-257-4513


Wendy Wolcott, Maryland SHA

Phone: 410-545-0365

Fax: 410-209-5010

Email: wwolcott@sha.state.md.us


Carol Braun, Minnesota DOT

Phone: 651-296-1648

Email: carol.braun@dot.state.mn.us

Timothy Quinn, Minnesota DOT

Phone: 651-296-8650

Email: tim.quinn@dot.state.mn.us


Randy Park, Utah DOT

Phone: 801-965-4190

Fax: 801-965-4564

Email: rpark@dot.state.ut.us

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