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

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Executive Summary

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. Many local roads are maintained by local agencies with limited resources and staff, making it particularly challenging to address safety issues. As such, many local agencies rely on State DOTs to provide funding, training, and technical assistance to advance local road safety initiatives. An assessment of local road safety funding, training, and technical assistance identified the current state of the practice and noteworthy practices based on the results of a questionnaire distributed to all 50 States, as well as follow-up interviews.

Local road safety programs are organized and administered differently from State to State. In many cases, they are identified, prioritized, and administered through a DOT Department or Division of Local Aid using a more centralized approach. At the other end of the spectrum, a decentralized approach organizes project development and administration at the DOT district level.

The level of responsibility and assistance to local agencies varies as much as the organization of local safety programs. The level of support provided by State DOTs can be categorized into four levels, as follows:

As the breadth of DOT involvement in local road safety issues increases, the depth of the DOTs relationship with local agencies increases as more support and services are provided.

The current state of practice and noteworthy practices by State DOTs are organized by these levels of support: resources and information, training and development, technical assistance, and project implementation. Key findings are highlighted below.

Resources and Information

A number of the State DOTs set aside funds for local safety, including Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP) funding, High-Risk Rural Road Program funding (HRRRP), State funds, or other Federal funds, such as Safe Routes to School, Section 154/‌164 transfer funds, and Railway-Highway Crossing Program (RHCP) funds for local safety. Fatality and serious injury data were one of the key determinants for setting aside funding. In other States, local road safety projects compete directly with projects on State roads. A number of challenges are inherent in data collection and analysis, particularly on local roads. Lack of exposure data, completeness and accuracy of crash data, and lack of proven data analysis techniques were among the challenges identified. Despite these issues, a variety of strategies were identified to mitigate some of the data concerns. State DOTs help locals by developing crash data analysis platforms or providing summary crash reports annually for local agencies.

Training and Development

DOTs and LTAPs provide the most training and professional development for local safety practitioners. MPOs, universities, and professional organizations conduct or provide training sessions related to data analysis, problem identification, countermeasure identification, and application preparation. One of the major challenges identified with training is some local agencies have such limited staff that it can be more productive to provide technical assistance rather than trying to train staff to independently administer a local safety program. Some States have developed local road safety manuals which provide an easy-to-use, straightforward, comprehensive framework of the steps and analysis tools local jurisdictions would need to proactively identify locations with roadway safety issues and the appropriate countermeasures.

Technical Assistance

DOTs, LTAPs, and MPOs provide technical assistance to local agencies. Unlike training, technical assistance involves conducting an activity on behalf of the local agency. The most common technical assistance States provided to local agencies is data analysis, problem identification, and countermeasure identification. DOTs use a number of approaches to help local agencies identify road safety projects for funding; however, two of the most common strategies include conducting road safety audits (RSA) and conducting systemic safety analyses.

Project Implementation

Many DOTs provide support personnel or other resources to local agencies to coordinate project implementation. Some strategies include guiding the local project selection criteria, reviewing project applications, providing stewardship and oversight, and identifying opportunities to streamline the project development and implementation process. Of particular interest are the approaches to help streamline the Federal-aid process for local safety improvement projects. The assessment identified 20 strategies to reduce the administrative burden of safety projects for local agencies, some of which included using a push-button contract process, identifying systemic safety improvements on local roads eligible for funding, and allowing local agencies to use their own labor and resources to construct small-scale projects.

State DOTs are in a unique position to provide the support necessary for local agencies to develop and implement programs and projects to save lives on local roadways across the nation. The level of support needed will vary across States and depend on the extent of the local road safety problem, the expertise of local agencies within a State and resources available for a State DOT to provide this support.

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Page last modified on October 4, 2013
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