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FHWA Home / Safety / Local and Rural Road / Implementing the High Risk Rural Roads Program

Implementing the High Risk Rural Roads Program

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1. Introduction

In 2007, 57 percent of traffic fatalities in the United States occurred on rural roads.

Many rural roadways lack shoulders and clear zones that can provide an area of recovery for roadway departures, which is the most prevalent crash type on these roadways. Speeds tend to be higher in rural areas, and driver behavior issues (e.g., alcohol involvement, safety belt usage) are more evident.

The difficulty in addressing rural road safety is immediately evidenced by the number of miles of rural roads in the United States – nearly 3 million. Additionally, jurisdiction of these roadways varies across the nation. State DOTs maintain some portion of these roads, but the vast majority is owned, maintained, and operated by thousands of local governments.

1.1 High Risk Rural Road Program

SAFETEA-LU established the Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP) as a core Federal-aid program beginning in FY 2006. The purpose of the HSIP is to achieve a significant reduction in traffic fatalities and serious injuries on all public roads. Over $1.2 billion is authorized annually through FY 2009 for the HSIP. The High Risk Rural Roads Program (HRRRP) was established through a set-aside from each State's apportionment of HSIP funds for construction and operational improvements on high risk rural roads. The set-aside is a total of $90 million per year nationally and is applied proportionally from the States' HSIP apportionments.

High risk rural roads are defined as those roadways that are functionally classified as rural major collectors, rural minor collectors, or rural local roads with a fatal and incapacitating injury crash rate above the statewide average for those functional classes of roadway, or likely to experience an increase in traffic volume that leads to a fatal and incapacitating injury crash rate in excess of the average statewide rate.

Potentially qualifying roadways are those functionally classified as:
  • Rural Major Collector
  • Rural Minor Collector
  • Rural Local Road

Projects may be selected on any public HRRRP-eligible road to correct or improve hazardous road locations or features. Under this program improvements are restricted to construction and operational improvements as outlined in 23 U.S.C. Section 148(a)(3)(B), included in Appendix A, which shows a sample list of eligible construction and operational improvements. In addition, as stated in the December 24, 2008, HSIP Final Rule 23 CFR Part 924.11(c)(2), HRRRP funds can only be used for construction and operational improvements on high risk rural roads and the planning, preliminary engineering, and roadway safety audits related to specific high risk rural road improvements.

The HSIP Reporting Guidance, dated May 15, 2009, requires the HRRRP portion of the report to show basic program implementation information, the methodology used to identify locations, and the overall effectiveness of implemented projects, including a list of projects. This reporting should be consistent with the reporting for other projects that use general HSIP funds. The States must submit the reports to their FHWA Division Administrator no later than August 31st of each year.

1.2 Purpose

The HRRRP was developed to help States implement solutions on the lower functional classes of rural roadways, a segment of the system often overlooked. Given the HRRRP potential to improve rural road safety, the low obligation rate has been a significant concern to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), proponents, and stakeholders of the program. FHWA embarked on a research project to identify the difficulties States faced in implementing the HRRRP as well as lessons learned and noteworthy practices the States wished to share. This research formed the basis for this document. Research discussion topics are included in Appendix B.

This document is intended to help the States optimize the use of their HRRRP funding through lessons learned, identifying common challenges, and reviewing noteworthy practices. It incorporates the results of stakeholder feedback and research to illustrate challenges and noteworthy practices for HRRRP implementation.

The document is structured into six major sections. Section 2 introduces the traffic safety problem on rural roads through crash data analysis and comparisons. Section 3 examines common challenges faced by States as they implement the HRRRP. Sections 4 and 5 showcase noteworthy practices in select States as they implement their HRRRP. At the end of the document, Section 6 provides an overall summary of the findings on HRRRP.

1.3 Obligation of HRRRP Funds

The HRRRP was established under SAFETEA-LU legislation with funding beginning in FY 2006. All 4 fiscal years of available funds have now been apportioned to the States for obligation. The final year funds, for FY2009, were made available to the States on October 1, 2008. Only 44 percent of funds available have been obligated by the States as of September 31, 2009.

Figure 1 is a graphical representation of total apportioned funds available to each State for obligation. The amount of funds apportioned varies from State to State. About half the States were apportioned less than $5 million for HRRRP. Another 22 States were apportioned between $5 million and $10 million, and 4 States received over $10 million in HRRRP apportionment.

Figure 2 represents the obligation rates of apportioned HRRRP funds by State. A few States have made significant progress in obligating funds, but the national obligation of HRRRP funds is low. Twenty-three States have yet to obligate even one quarter of their available funding. Another 12 have obligated between 25 percent and 75 percent of their apportionment, and 15 States have obligated over 75 percent as of September 30, 2009. Of those, six have fully obligated their HRRRP funding: Alaska, Colorado, Kentucky, Mississippi, Nevada, and Oklahoma.

Map indicates total HRRRP funds available for obligation by state.
Figure 1: HRRRP funds available for obligation.
Source: USDOT FHWA Office of Safety

Map indicating the percent of available HRRRP funds obligated by state.
Figure 2: Percent of available HRRRP obligated as of September 30, 2009.

Source: USDOT FHWA Office of Safety

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