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Road Management & Engineering Journal
Copyright © 1997 by TranSafety, Inc.
February 1, 1997
TranSafety, Inc.
(360) 683-6276
Fax: (360) 335-6402

Wyoming Adopts New Breakaway Gate for Winter Weather Road Closures
"Pipe Bursting" Allows Replacing Pipes with Only Small Excavations in Roadway
Institute of Transportation Engineers Published Report on Road Safety Audits

Low Volume Road Safety

The three million miles of low volume roads under the control of over 35,000 local government agencies in the United States constitute 70 percent of roadway mileage but carry only 15 percent of all traffic. Serious accident rates on such roads are much higher than those for higher volume (usually federally funded) roads--2.41 accidents per million vehicle miles traveled on low volume roads versus an average of 1.56 for higher volume roads.

Local road districts are increasingly held liable for accidents caused by substandard roads. Local officials, chronically short of resources and expertise, can protect themselves by demonstrating that:

1. They have identified safety problems on their roadways and formulated solutions for them, and

2. They have moved with reasonable speed to correct those problems.

Eugene M. Wilson, of the Department of Civil and Architectural Engineering at the University of Wyoming-Laramie, wrote a monograph entitled "Improving Safety on Low Volume Roads" to provide information to local officials on how this may be done. He defined low volume roads as those carrying under 5,000 average daily traffic (ADT) but at least 400 ADT. About 60 percent of such roads are unpaved.

Wilson mentioned some road hazards particular to low volume roads that local agencies should consider when formulating their safety plans: narrow lanes and shoulders; short sight distances; numerous roadside obstacles; lack of proper drainage; inadequate crash protection devices; insufficient guardrails; multiple accesses; and inadequate signage, traffic signals, and advisories. In addition, low volume roads often do not have enough right-of-way to allow expansion to add such features as turnouts and turn lanes or wider lanes and shoulders. Local highway agencies must deal with all these problems associated with low volume roads while they address common safety issues of both high and low volume roads: work zones, nighttime travel, and hazards presented by sharing roadways with bicyclists, pedestrians, and animals.

The main focus of this article was on innovative funding of low volume road upgrades. Among many special-emphasis federal programs (e.g., the Forest Timber Bridge Initiative, the Federal Transit Administration, and the Watershed Protection Program), Wilson recommended three:

  • Section 402 highway-related safety grants are administered by the governor's office. Section 402 funds are for "improved safety data collection and programming systems, special problem studies and analyses, training and technical guides, and purchasing equipment to improve safety problem identification and countermeasure selection."
  • The Hazard Elimination Program provides 90 percent federal funding for highway improvements. "Typical projects include intersection improvements; pavement and shoulder widening; guardrail and barrier improvements; crash cushion installation; roadway alignment modification; and signing, pavement marking, and delineation improvements."
  • The Rail-Highway Crossings program assists with improving railway crossing on public roads.

  • Individual states provide a similar variety of special-emphasis programs. Where money is not available, expertise, equipment, or at least the sanction of higher officials may be. Local officials should seek the widest possible range of cooperation.

    The author recommended contacting the local government coordinator in your state department of transportation or asking the Local Technical Assistance Program coordinator for information on innovative funding sources. Wilson's article described success stories from local road districts that uncovered unusual funding sources for their road upgrades.

  • When the city of Sandy, Utah found it could save 4 percent a year on its insurance premium by developing an approved computerized roadway sign inventory and maintenance program, all 67 of its public works employees (not just the 3 employees of the transportation department) devoted part of their time to doing so. In three months, they had identified and corrected all deficient regulatory and warning signs--41 percent of their total inventory or 915 signs; and in six months, an inventory system was in operation.
  • Through Federal Highway Administration safety project programs, Sheridan County, Wyoming took advantage of 80 percent funding and the Army Corps of Engineers to protect a county road by stabilizing a stream bank. The project also improved safety by providing a wider clear zone along the roadway. The Corps designed and administered the project, which took 24 months to complete.
  • Sheridan County and the City of Sheridan, Wyoming are using money from the Abandoned Mine Lands (AML) program to pave and reconstruct several of their roads. These funds are to help communities affected by mining.
  • The first step, Wilson emphasized, is planning: inventorying the road system, identifying problems, and developing a plan to remedy those problems. Then comes the task of making innovative use of funding and human resources. Taking the steps to develop and carry out a well-designed highway safety plan will help protect local government agencies from legal liability Moreover, it will help improve safety on millions of miles of low volume roadways.

    Copyright © 1997 by TranSafety, Inc.

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