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Implementing the High Risk Rural Roads Program

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4. State Practices for Implementation

Despite the challenges faced by the States, some have developed noteworthy practices to support the implementation of their HRRRP. These noteworthy practices, processes, and resources fall into four main categories:

Each topic area is discussed below with a narrative overview followed by a brief description of select State practices. Some States' website information is available in Appendix D. Additionally, State HRRRP contacts are listed in Appendix E.

4.1 Crash Data Collection, Analysis, and Use

The statutory requirements of program implementation indicate a comparison must be made between severe crash rates (accident rate for fatalities and disabling injuries) on the potentially eligible rural roadway and a statewide average for roadways of a similar classification.

The FHWA HRRRP guidance recognizes that many States are not in a position to provide comparable crash rates for all roadways (i.e., State-maintained and locally maintained) throughout the State. Interim methods of problem identification are allowed. Section IV of the guidance states in part, "If a State does not currently have the capability of locating crashes on all public roadways, the State may adopt interim practices that utilize the best available data resources until a comprehensive statewide roadway and crash data system is implemented." (See Appendix D for additional information regarding the HRRRP guidance).

The guidance suggests a number of other sources the States can use for exposure data in the absence of a comprehensive statewide crash and roadway data system. These include:

4.1.1 Surrogate Exposure Data

In Missouri, lane miles are used as a surrogate for traffic volumes in calculating crash rates.

The Missouri DOT (MoDOT) did not have traffic volumes available for its local rural roadways. To handle exposure, the State analyzed crashes on eligible high risk rural roads by using lane miles as a surrogate for traffic volume. MoDOT filtered the entire system of roadways (State and local) by these criteria, and then selected final routes to develop a high risk rural roads candidate list. A detailed description of the Missouri data analysis process is included in Section 5.

New Jersey developed rates per mile, then compared them to the State average.

To calculate crash rates for eligible rural roads for the HRRRP, New Jersey used centerline road miles. Fatal and incapacitating injury crashes per centerline mile are available for most roadways. The New Jersey DOT decided to use this method of rate calculation to make crash rates comparable across all classifications of roadway in the State.

The process begins with categorizing all rural roads with similar characteristics (e.g., number of lanes, shoulder widths, functional classification, and posted speed limit). Rates are then calculated for each individual segment by severe crashes per centerline mile. These are compared to the State average for that particular roadway type. If the rate is above the State average, it is flagged as an HRRRP candidate segment.

Roadways are categorized based on characteristics like shoulder width and speed limit.

Colorado DOT compares segments statewide to determine HRRRP candidates.

The location identification process in Colorado evaluates highway spots and segments against all other similar locations in the State. Colorado DOT (CDOT) analyzes the entire State crash database and gives values to segments based on crash history, factoring in lane mileage as the exposure component. Segments above a certain prioritization value (using CDOT's Weighted Hazard Index) and on qualifying roadways are candidates for the HRRRP. A secondary analysis filters for spot and intersection candidates, and the resulting locations are submitted to the CDOT regions for review.

Purdue University assists Indiana with rate calculations and GIS research.

To determine crash rates for local rural roadways, an interim measure of crashes per rural lane mile is being used. In addition, GIS layers of roadway crash and location information are being developed for all HRRRP-qualifying locally owned roadways to improve crash data analysis. Virginia focused its HRRRP on rural intersections. About half of all Virginia crashes occur at intersections, leading Virginia DOT (VDOT) to focus its HRRRP efforts on rural intersections with a history of fatal and incapacitating injury crashes. VDOT uses a statewide intersection crash rate to compare with rural intersection crash rates on major and minor collectors and rural local roadways. A ranked list of these intersections is developed and the top tier of these is targeted for Roadway Safety Assessments (RSAs) and HRRRP projects.

4.1.2 Traffic Volume Estimating

Florida uses a model to estimate traffic volume on locally owned roads.

Florida DOT (FDOT) keeps a database of fatal and incapacitating injury crashes on all public roads as well as the roadways' features. Traffic volume information is used in determining crash rates on State routes. Roadways not maintained by the State use volume information developed through the combination of a research effort and the use of the Highway Performance Monitoring System (HPMS) sites from the FDOT Transportation Statistics Office. Volume estimates are based on known or accepted AADT values on neighboring State and locally owned roadways, population densities, and other socioeconomic data.

Linear referencing is accomplished with GIS data and is used to complete analysis with geo-located crash data. A detailed description of this process is available in Section 5.

4.1.3 Traffic Volume Collection

Local agencies in Texas collect traffic volume on high-crash roadways.

The Texas DOT includes locally owned roadways for consideration in the HRRRP, but struggles with crash rate data due to a lack of traffic volume counts on locally owned roads. On rural municipal and county roadways where fatal and incapacitating injury crashes are occurring above a certain threshold, the DOT asks local agencies to gather volume data for those roads only. A crash rate can then be developed that allows equal comparison with State-owned, qualifying HRRRP routes.

4.1.4 University Support

Michigan DOT and a local university provide analysis tools to localities.

The Michigan DOT asks local agencies to submit their current roadway traffic volumes, classification, and appropriate crash data information to support HRRRP projects. The DOT provides free software to local agencies requesting it. RoadSoft was developed by Michigan Technological University's LTAP Center with DOT sponsorship. The RoadSoft organization provides tools and training to augment local agency efforts. Ten years of crash data and crash report images are also provided to the local agency to support problem identification as a foundation for HRRRP project submittals. The Michigan DOT provides a review of project submittals on request.

Photo of a rural roadway with a curve warning sign near the side of the roadway.

4.2 Project Selection

The selection of HRRRP projects has similarities to other project selection processes, but is also different due to the program's strict selection criteria regarding roadway classification and history of crashes. Procedures for HRRRP project selection vary from State to State. In some States the DOT has control over the selection process. The DOT will collect data, complete the analysis, and make project selection decisions without local participation. In other States, roadway owners from the county and municipal level as well as other stakeholders are included on a selection committee.

The research shows that project selection is a two-pronged process that first considers road ownership and then establishes what criteria will be used to select the final project.

The following three scenarios were evident where road ownership was a focus.

  1. Needs on the rural State-owned system far outstrip available HRRRP funding, and investments at the State level could result in more lives saved, so no funds are spent on the locally owned system; for example, Missouri.
  2. Federal transportation funding is rarely used for significant projects on the local system, especially for safety improvements. The decision is made that all HRRRP funds will be spent only on qualifying locally owned roads. Examples include Alabama and Washington.
  3. Qualifying locally owned roads will compete with State routes for HRRRP funding based on objective data analysis and project benefit-cost calculations; for example, Colorado.

A number of States have found innovative ways to make HRRRP project selection decisions. Three are highlighted below and discussed in the following pages.

  1. Some States have aligned project selection to match existing Strategic Highway Safety Plan (SHSP) strategies and traffic safety emphasis areas. Tying HRRRP directly to the SHSP provides synergy for both initiatives.
  2. In some States, the DOT has provided data to local agencies and given locals the authority to select projects based on their own priorities. This provides local government partners a significant incentive to get involved in the program.
  3. States have given priority to local-level HRRRP projects that shows a tie to other State safety programs. Examples include incentives for Road Safety Audit efforts and for linking HRRRP projects to the State's existing Transparency Report.

4.2.1 Tie to Strategic Highway Safety Plan (SHSP)

Iowa DOT focused on low-cost, system-wide solutions.

The Iowa DOT made the decision early in the HRRRP process to connect the HRRRP to the State's SHSP roadway departure emphasis area. The State invests in system-wide, local sign improvements on qualifying routes that could be implemented immediately to ensure rapid and effective deployment of available program funds. Currently, project selection is based on a priority system analyzing crash densities per mile, crash rates by traffic volume, and a benefit-cost ratio with counties being the only local agencies competing for funds. Projects have a maximum limit of $500,000 of HRRRP funds; each jurisdiction is limited to implementing one project per year. Iowa's application for HRRRP funding can be found in Appendix G.

The HRRRP connects to the SHSP roadway departure emphasis area.

Nevada DOT's strategies are tied directly to SHSP.

HRRRP roadway safety investment strategies in Nevada are based on the State's lane departure Critical Emphasis Area (CEA) from the SHSP. Crash data analysis for HRRRP qualifying roadways is analyzed to identify lane departure crashes, and the list is further narrowed through countermeasure analysis to determine those projects with the best benefit-cost ratios.

4.2.2 Local Road Focus

Illinois utilizes HRRRP funds exclusively on locally owned roads.

The Illinois DOT (IDOT) directs all HRRRP funding to rural local agencies using a two-pronged approach for project selection.

  1. IDOT solicits safety improvement projects from local agencies based on local knowledge of safety needs, and then ranks the proposed projects by benefit/cost ratio.
  2. IDOT also looks at statewide trends and systematic solutions to address those crash types. They approach the local agency with this information and offer assistance with Road Safety Assessments, technical assistance, and safety funding.

4.2.3 Committee Selection Process

New Jersey developed a joint State/local committee to select projects.

North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority (NJTPA), an MPO, solicits projects from local agencies in its region. Submitted projects are reviewed and prioritized by a technical review committee consisting of the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT), NJTPA, FHWA and local agencies. Each application is reviewed and graded on the safety need, construction readiness, and cost. After approval is granted, applicants work directly with NJDOT officials to fulfill Federal authorization requirements. Details are available in the New Jersey case study in Section 5.

Oregon steering committee selects HRRRP projects.

Most HRRRP safety investments in Oregon target qualifying county roadways. After all submitted project requests are screened for eligibility, the HRRRP Steering Committee considers combining similar projects regionally or statewide. Qualifying roadways with ADTs less than or equal to 400 are given special consideration.

4.2.4 Benefit-Cost Ratio

Washington solicits projects from locals and prioritizes them by benefit-cost ratio.

The Washington State DOT developed a crash analysis methodology for all roads within the State and identified priority crash "zones" for these roadways. Local agencies are eligible for funding if there is at least one qualifying zone within their jurisdiction. Qualifying zones must suffer four fatal or incapacitating injury crashes in 5 years, each within 1 mile. Local agencies propose projects which are then prioritized by benefit-cost using crash history and accepted crash reduction factors for proposed countermeasures.

In Colorado project proposals must meet a minimum benefit-cost ratio.

HRRRP projects are solicited from local authorities through the MPOs; the Special Highway Committee of the Colorado Counties, Inc.; and the Colorado Municipal League. These candidate improvement projects are selected for locations identified using the locals' own high hazard location identification system. Submitted projects are required to meet minimum benefit-cost values established by the Colorado DOT (CDOT). Project applications received by the CDOT Safety and Traffic Engineering Office are given to the CDOT region offices for comments, evaluation, and approval, since the regions have close connections to the local agencies involved.

4.2.5 Local Agency Selection

Maine solicits local agency input to choose locations and countermeasures.

Maine's project selection begins with data analysis by the State DOT staff to identify problem spots and sections of eligible roadways. Maine DOT then completes a field evaluation to confirm the data at each candidate spot or section. Once municipal and county roadway project candidates are filtered in this way, local agency input is sought to provide a local perspective on countermeasure selection. Final project selection is influenced by benefit-cost calculations, but other factors (e.g., degree of local agency interest) are used as well.

Mississippi gives priority to counties utilizing a Safety Circuit Rider.

Mississippi has agreed to fund all projects on qualifying roadways identified by counties participating in the Safety Circuit Rider program – an effort involving a safety-focused staff member providing assistance across the State. These projects may not be at the top of a statewide HRRRP prioritized list if crash data alone is considered, but they are the top problem locations within those counties participating in that program. This serves as an incentive for local agency participation in the Safety Circuit Rider program and can be used to encourage local political support for the program.

Montana promotes RSA connection to HRRRP project through incentives.

Local coordination for the HRRRP is through the solicitation process for projects. The statewide public involvement and planning process and interaction at conferences and meetings also provide opportunities for agency coordination on HRRRP issues. Montana DOT solicits nominations for safety projects directly from the counties for qualifying local system roadways. Locations of concern are identified by enforcement, local agencies, and traffic studies. Montana provides a funding incentive to local agencies that identify HRRRP-eligible projects through Roadway Safety Audits.

Michigan provides funding incentives for Transparency Report locations.

The Michigan DOT directs local agencies to a web site with fatal and incapacitating injury crash maps on the local system. Local agencies are given the option to select eligible roads and segments up to 8 miles in length. In Michigan, funding incentives are given to local agencies that choose to address locations listed on the DOT Transparency Report. Michigan DOT's solicitation letter of HRRRP projects from locals can be found in Appendix H.

4.3 Local Agency Coordination

Given that the majority of HRRRP-eligible roadways in most States are found on the locally owned road system, it is imperative to have or establish a mechanism for outreach between the local agencies and the State DOT so that local agencies can engage in the HRRRP process. State practice related to coordination with local agencies has taken the form of providing support to local government agencies' staffs as they learn about the HRRRP and consider participation. HRRRP-specific training and technical workshops in low-cost safety improvements and Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP) processes also support HRRRP efforts.

Other strategies include special coordinators at the district and local level, websites with helpful HRRRP-related information for locals, and use of LTAP centers to support coordination efforts between State and local governments.

4.3.1 State DOT Support

Alabama trained county engineers in data analysis and low-cost safety improvements. Alabama dedicates all HRRRP funding to qualifying municipal and county roadways. In the first year Alabama divided available HRRRP funds equally among the State's 67 counties as they developed a specific procedure. In coordination with relevant stakeholders, including local agency representatives, ALDOT developed a process requiring county engineers to participate in data analysis and low-cost safety improvement training to qualify for funding.

Illinois holds HRRRP-focused workshops.

The Illinois DOT has representatives who attend quarterly meetings of the Illinois Association of County Engineers Traffic Safety Committee and the Illinois Municipal League Public Works Committee. These meetings prove invaluable in considering the local perspective on safety projects and in helping to guide policy to achieve mutual goals. Each year Illinois DOT prepares a Circular Letter to solicit local agencies for candidate HRRRP projects. The letter is followed by multiple workshops around the State that include information on funding, the application process, and methods for identifying safety improvement opportunities and selecting appropriate safety treatments. Workshops have included presenters and attendees from engineering and enforcement agencies.

In addition, IDOT, FHWA, and local experts have cooperated to promote the HRRRP. Efforts have included Road Safety Assessments, visits to local agencies, and technical support for a benefit-cost spreadsheet application to analyze the cost effectiveness of potential projects.

Ohio DOT provides training.

Ohio DOT (ODOT) staff deliver safety-related presentations around the State, including an HRRRP component. ODOT makes discussion of the HRRRP a priority at quarterly district safety meetings, opening the floor to local agencies and ODOT management. ODOT created a website to support the HRRR program and to help staff and local governments learn about its requirements. It includes links to maps and other tools that identify eligible HRRR locations based on functional class and crash rates. ODOT also uses the Ohio Township Association and Ohio Municipal League to engage local agencies in the HRRRP process. In addition, training is provided to District personnel and consultants through ODOT. These outreach activities have resulted in an increase in the number of local system applications for HRRRP funds.

Minnesota's mobile forum shares HRRRP information with county engineers.

Minnesota has developed a mobile forum to educate local agencies and help them gain knowledge of the HRRRP process. The forum travels around the State, speaking mainly to county engineers—transportation partners who have a strong association with the State. To further assist the local agencies with HRRRP implementation, the Minnesota State Aid for Local Transportation Office holds meetings to discuss the program and provides HRRRP-related resources on its web site. Local agencies can access the Center for Excellence in Rural Safety web site for additional information.

Photo of a two-lane rural roadway.

California developed a web site to support HRRRP for the locals.

The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) developed a web site that provides information on eligible roadway definitions, the application process, and funding guidelines to local agencies. The web site also contains a link to a roadway classification map to assist local agencies in determining eligible roadways. All city and county public works departments are notified by email when a call for projects is announced. The local agencies are directed to the HRRRP web site and are given 3 months to complete an application. Caltrans calculates the Safety Index for all eligible projects, prioritizes them from high to low, and then funds projects up to California's HRRRP apportionment.

Colorado DOT meets regularly with local agencies to discuss HRRRP.

As a commitment to HRRRP implementation, Colorado DOT State traffic, regional, and headquarters engineers and their staffs have frequent conversations and regularly scheduled meetings with local agencies concerning the HRRRP and other local concerns. Eligible locations are reviewed with local agencies and possible mitigation measures are discussed to find candidate projects for this program. In addition, each of the six regions within the State has a safety coordinator who solicits potential projects from locals.

Georgia DOT's special coordinators navigate locals through the HRRRP process.

Georgia DOT has special coordinators for the HRRRP. These coordinators assist the local agencies in location identification, project selection, and navigating the application process. These coordinators have significant experience in letting projects, helping projects move to implementation quickly.

Iowa focuses on local safety needs by supporting a University position.

There is significant State support for the HRRRP in Iowa. State safety and NHTSA crash data program funds are used to fund a position with local agency emphasis at Iowa State University's Institute for Transportation (InTrans). The purpose is to focus specifically on local system crash data, the HRRRP, development of crash analysis tools for local use, and development and maintenance of an internet application site.

4.3.2 LTAP Support

Wisconsin coordinates HRRRP through LTAP Circuit Riders.

The Wisconsin DOT involves locals in the HRRRP through its LTAP Circuit Rider program. These traveling safety experts coordinate the HRRRP at the local level. In addition to the LTAP Circuit Riders, the DOT employs local agency coordinators in each region to provide local transportation discussions of the HRRRP.

Wyoming LTAP assists counties in needs identification.

WYDOT is utilizing the University of Wyoming LTAP center to assist with coordination and communication with counties and municipalities. The LTAP center assisted WYDOT in development of a Wyoming Rural Road Safety Program (WRRSP) through research and pilot implementation. The WRRSP assists the counties in identifying their roadway safety needs. Detailed information regarding Wyoming's local agency involvement process can be found in Appendix I.

The Wyoming Rural Road Safety Program was developed through research and pilot implementation.

4.3.3 Locals Helping Locals

Illinois DOT utilizes county engineers to liaise with smaller units of government.

The Illinois DOT established regional District offices with a Bureau of Local Roads and Streets that oversees implementation of federally funded projects. County engineers are familiar with the Federal process. These local engineers are then used as liaisons to townships or smaller municipalities to develop HRRRP projects on the local system.

4.4 Administration and Policies

In order to overcome the administrative complexities of the HRRRP, States have developed innovative contracting strategies to utilize funding quickly and efficiently. The use of public forces for labor and bulk materials purchases has allowed States to effectively "multiply" the HRRRP funds. On-call contracts have decreased the amount of time that elapses between project selection and completion. Some States have augmented DOT staffing with outside resources for HRRRP data analysis, problem identification, project selection, and administration.

4.4.1 Leveraging Resources with Innovative Contracting

Missouri DOT combined Federal and State funds to stretch HRRRP dollars.

The Missouri DOT found an innovative way to leverage HRRRP funds to maximize the safety benefit on rural roadways. Since the main elements of the roadway construction project are labor, equipment, and materials, the DOT distributed responsibility for those items in three distinct directions for a system-wide signing project:

This cooperation resulted in the completion of significant safety treatments at a fraction of the typical cost. MoDOT's letter requesting a finding in the public interest to leverage these funds can be found in Appendix J. Ohio used existing on-call contracts to implement improvements quickly.

Ohio DOT developed a funding agreement allowing the agency to implement low-cost safety improvements quickly. In 2007, ODOT received FHWA approval (through a Public Interest Finding) to use HRRRP funding on existing materials contracts. The materials are installed at eligible locations using ODOT labor. The agreement also allows ODOT to use HRRRP funding on existing electrical, guardrail, sign, pavement, and shoulder contracts where a contractor has been hired for on-call improvements that cannot be done by ODOT forces. All contracts are competitively bid and meet FHWA procurement standards.

4.4.2 Consultant Program Management

Utah hires consultants to manage HRRRP.

The Utah DOT outsources management of the HRRRP (utilizing HSIP funds) to consultants experienced in local agency crash problems, countermeasure identification, and project management. Utah uses its HRRRP funds on locally owned roads only.

The Utah DOT developed a strategy for safety investments after the introduction of the HRRRP. The DOT provides the crash data for counties with a population of 50,000 or less and the consultant manages the rest of the process. The consultant discusses which sites to improve with locals, develops construction plans, oversees project management, and assists with final inspection. To date, eight counties have completed system-wide signing improvements with nearly 2,000 signs installed.

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