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Publication Number:  FHWA-HRT-21-001    Date:  Autumn 2020
Publication Number: FHWA-HRT-21-001
Issue No: Vol. 84 No. 3
Date: Autumn 2020


Guest Editorial

Creative Solutions to Today's Challenges

By any measure, 2020 tested our Nation. As if the global health crisis associated with the coronavirus wasn't bad enough, the Nation also suffered from hurricanes in the South, wildfires throughout the West, and a derecho that devastated much of Iowa.

Photo. Headshot of Nicole R. Nason, Federal Highway Administrator.

The unprecedented challenges we all faced this year forced everyone to manage circumstances we've never had to contemplate before, such as having most of our workforce teleworking. Despite the majority of Federal Highway Administration employees teleworking, agency staff across the Nation continued working hard to support our State, local, Tribal, and other Federal partners to deliver the Federal-aid highway program.

First, with each State adapting different approaches in response to the emergency to protect communities and employees, there was an immediate need to support public awareness. FHWA's division offices closely coordinated with State and local highway agencies regarding their authority to use changeable message signs for messages concerning COVID-19 during the Presidentially declared national emergency.

Next, the national health emergency brought with it increased demand for delivery of critical medical supplies and other essential goods necessary for communities to respond to the pandemic. In response to the increased demand on freight, FHWA worked with Congress to ensure that States had the authority to issue permits for overweight vehicles and loads.

Similarly, we worked with the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials and State transportation partners around the country to keep the National Network open in order to facilitate the safe, efficient, and seamless transport of critical supplies across the Nation.

Then, we found new ways to serve the freight community, such as by empowering States to temporarily allow food trucks to sell meals to truck drivers in rest areas near the highway. Despite the fact that commercial activity at rest areas has long been prohibited, we coordinated closely with States on this creative solution to use enforcement discretion to be sure America's truckers had access to food services while they were on the job working to deliver critical relief supplies to our communities. Unique challenges require unique solutions. Due to closed restaurants nationwide, our actions helped keep truck drivers safe, and kept the deliveries of thousands of products—including ventilators, medicines, medical testing equipment, and masks—arriving on schedule.

FHWA also worked with States to permit the temporary use of sidewalks and parking areas in highway rights-of-way for additional restaurant seating or other retail space. Outside the box thinking helped countless small businesses and supported the Nation's economic recovery.

Finding new ways to solve new problems was a priority for us throughout the year. The spirit of cooperation for which FHWA is known made this easier, which makes this issue of Public Roads seem so relevant. We have been pioneering creative new solutions to a host of problems for years, and this issue shines a light on some of the most interesting.

As I've said many times, transportation is a team sport. Perhaps now more than ever, our continued coordination and collaboration will be critical to our success in delivering our transportation programs and keeping America moving.

Nicole R. Nason
Federal Highway Administration