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FHWA Home / Safety / Local and Rural Road / Assessment of Local Road Safety Funding, Training, and Technical Assistance

Assessment of Local Road Safety Funding, Training, and Technical Assistance

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1.0 Introduction and Overview

1.1 Background

Crashes on local roads in the United States have a substantial impact on national and State programs and strategies to reduce motor vehicle fatalities. The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics reports that local roads account for approximately 14 percent of the vehicle-miles traveled in the United States but 20 percent of fatalities in 2011 (Bureau of Transportation Statistics Table 1-36 Roadway Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) and Fatality Reporting System (FARS).). According to the 2010 Census, 19 percent of the U.S. population lived in rural areas, however, rural fatalities accounted for 55 percent of all traffic fatalities. Many local and rural roads are maintained by local agencies with limited resources and staff, making it particularly challenging to address safety issues on the roads they maintain.

State Departments of Transportation (DOT) are challenged by the need to work with thousands of local jurisdictions, e.g., cities, counties, and Tribal communities, to effectively administer local road safety aid. Delivery of Federal and State safety improvement funds, as well as training and technical assistance opportunities to local governments is critical for making progress toward fatality and serious injury reduction goals.

1.2 Purpose

The purpose of this report is to summarize State DOT practices for delivering safety funding and resources to local entities for road safety improvement projects. These practices were identified in large part through a questionnaire administered to State DOTs during this assessment. This report identifies model local road safety practices that can be implemented by State DOTs, local practitioners (i.e., public works directors, transportation directors, county engineers, transportation planners, and elected officials), Local Technical Assistance Programs (LTAP), and Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) in any State.

The objectives are to:

  1. Identify the extent to which Federal and State funds, training and technical assistance are being delivered to local entities for road safety improvement projects and the challenges States encounter in distributing these resources to local agencies; and
  2. Document model practices/?processes in delivering safety resources to local entities.

1.3 Local Road Safety Challenges

In spite of the importance of improving safety on local roads, States face several challenges in distributing Federal funding to local agencies. FHWA addresses these challenges by providing on-line and face-to-face training, technical assistance, tools, and guidance to local governments. However, more work is needed to fully define the problem and identify solutions. Typical challenges include:

1.4 The Role of State DOTs in Local Road Safety

Local road safety program support is not limited to the administration of projects. Many States provide training, technical assistance, personnel support, outreach, and/or funding incentives to local agencies to improve safety.

Local road safety programs are organized and administered differently from State to State. Figure 1.1 shows various organizational arrangements DOTs use to manage local road safety projects. In many cases, local road safety projects are identified, prioritized, and administered through a DOT Department or Division of Local Aid. In other cases, State DOTs create separate entities responsible for local road safety programs that are housed in the LTAP or an MPO. In this capacity, the local safety program is centralized. A number of States use a hybrid approach where a centralized local safety program manages project identification and prioritization but the local-aid division handles project administration. Another hybrid approach uses a centralized local safety program to identify and prioritize safety projects and a district- or region-level office handles project administration. The decentralized approach organizes project development and administration at the DOT district level.

An important aspect of local road safety is assistance and support from the LTAP centers. Many States have LTAP centers that provide technical assistance to local counties, parishes, townships, cities, and towns. LTAPs provide training programs, information dissemination, technology updates, personalized technical assistance, and newsletters. LTAPs are typically housed in the DOT, within a university, or at another public agency. They vary widely in funding, resources, staff, and level of engagement in local safety issues.

Figure 1.1 DOT Local Road Safety Program Organization

Figure 1.1 shows variations in Department of Transportation Local Road Safety Program organization and typical scope/responsibilities on a spectrum from centralized to decentralized.

Source: Cambridge Systematics, Inc. analysis of Local Road Safety Assessment Questionnaire responses.

The level of responsibility and assistance to local agencies varies as much as the organization of local safety programs. Figure 1.2 illustrates the levels of DOT local road safety program support. As the breadth of DOT support in local road safety issues increases, the depth of the DOTs relationship with local agencies increases.

At the first level, DOTs provide local agencies access to the resources and information necessary for project identification, development, and implementation. The resources provided are primarily in the form of funding incentives and information is typically disseminated via web sites, local safety manuals, etc. Information may be provided in the form of a web site or local road safety manual. The Caltrans Local Road Safety Manual case study in Section 4.1 and Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) Crash Analysis Tool in Section 4.2 are two examples of Level 1 support.

At the second level, in addition to information and resources, DOTs provide training and development opportunities for local agency engineers, planners, and public/?elected officials. Training opportunities are provided in conjunction with or exclusively by the State LTAP. The Ohio DOT/?County Engineers Association of Ohio/?LTAP partnership case study in Section 4.3 is one example of the training support LTAPs can provide to local agencies.

At the third level, many States provide technical assistance to local agencies in identifying and developing local safety projects. Technical assistance often includes data acquisition and analysis, problem identification, countermeasure identification, project development, and project prioritization. States in this category often designate a local safety project coordinator at the district or regional level who is responsible for assisting local agencies directly. At this level, local agencies are assisted through the project development phase but they remain responsible for final project implementation. The Louisiana Department of Transportation (DOTD) and LTAP Local Road Safety Initiative case study in Section 4.4 and the Florida DOT District 7 local safety program case study in Section 4.5 are two examples of such support. The Ohio and Nebraska Sign Installation programs presented in Sections 4.6 and 4.7 are additional illustrations of technical assistance support.

At the fourth level, States take responsibility for project development, administration, and implementation on behalf of local agencies. The Tennessee Local Road Safety Initiative is one example of this approach (see case study in Section 4.8). The Florida District 7 Design-Build Push-Button Contract case study in Section 4.9 is another example of an approach used to implement safety improvement projects on behalf of a local agency.

While this approach has proven successful in some cases, full project implementation is not always feasible nor is it the most efficient approach for many DOTs because of the vast number of local agencies. In fact, some DOTs are prohibited by State law from performing work on roadways owned and maintained by local agencies.

Figure 1.2 Levels of State DOT Local Road Safety Support

Figure 1.2 shows four levels of State Department of Transportation local road safety support on a scale.

Source: Cambridge Systematics, Inc. analysis of Local Road Safety Assessment Questionnaire responses.

The breadth of DOT support in local road safety is correlated with the size and staff capability of local agencies. Local agencies with engineering, planning, and/or public works staff are able to benefit from Level 1, 2, and 3 support. Smaller local agencies with little or no staff, typically need Level 3 and 4 assistance. In some cases DOTs are tailoring their support with local agencies based on needs; therefore, providing various levels of support across the State as opposed to a single targeted approach.

Table 1.1 summarizes the characteristics of the support levels shown in Figure 1.2.

Table 1.1 Characteristics of Support Levels
Level of Support Focus Activities What Local Agencies Receive
Level – Resources and Information Existing available resources Direct to resources Information
Level – Training and Development Skills and tools Provide insight, teaching Ideas, solutions, tool kits
Level – Technical Assistance Problem-solving Identify specific problems, countermeasures Potential projects to implement
Level – Project Implementation Mitigation solutions Low-cost safety improvements Specific safety improvements

The aim of this report is to provide examples of agency successes in funding local road safety programs and providing support to local agencies in the form of information, training and technical assistance. While the case studies offer a spectrum of strategies, a "one-size-fits-all" methodology to deliver safety funding at the local level does not exist.

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Page last modified on October 4, 2013.
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