Capacity: Providing Highway Capacity in Support of the Nation’s Economic, Environmental, and Social Goals
Overall research program goal: To develop approaches and tools for systematically integrating environmental, economic, and community requirements into the analysis, planning, and design of new highway capacity.
Challenge of Providing New Highway Capacity in an Environmentally, Economically, and Socially Responsive Manner
By 2020, the U.S. population is expected to have grown approximately 20 percent over the 1998 level (Bureau of the Census 1999). Automobile vehicle-miles traveled (VMT) will increase as individuals take advantage of the opportunities and enjoy the benefits afforded by a strong economy. Truck tonnage is expected to double in the same time frame (from 8.9 billion to 16.8 billion tons1) to meet the need for goods demanded by the growing population and economy. Increased international trade will mean more products flowing through the nation’s borders and ports, which must be served by efficient highway connections. At the same time, trends such as e-commerce and just-in-time manufacturing will continue to result in more trucks on the road carrying electronically ordered goods and serving as mobile warehouses for industry.
Results of FHWA study, available at www.ops.fhwa.dot.gov/freight/wefa.ppt (Slide 18).
proposed in Chapter 5) will increase the effective capacity of the current system. But these measures will not come close to meeting the capacity needs resulting from the expected increase in VMT. There is already and will continue to be a need for additions to the highway system. For example, although lane-miles of roads increased by only 3 percent between 1980 and 1999, this figure still represented an average of almost 20,000 new lane-miles per year during that period. This new highway capacity does not encompass only completely new roads on new land, but often includes expanded capacity on existing roads. However, capacity expansion sometimes involves impacts on new land, such as when a bypass is built or a road must be relocated because of environmental, aesthetic, community, or historic concerns.
At the same time that customers require new highway capacity, they also demand a healthy environment and livable communities. Frequently, these needs are regarded as conflicting because of understandable concerns about the adverse impacts of highway construction. In its early days, the highway program focused on efficiency, mobility, uniformity, and safety. Critics of this earlier approach cite a number of adverse impacts: once-thriving communities severed by highways that disrupt their cohesiveness and often spell their demise; wildlife habitats disturbed, with unforeseen negative impacts on local species and ecosystems; highway runoff polluting adjacent waters with oil, fuel, metals, and salt; vehicle emissions causing significant regional air pollution and contributing to global warming; highways that detract from rather than enhance historic, cultural, community, and aesthetic values; increased crashes on high-speed through-streets in communities previously accustomed to a lower volume of slower traffic; and the disproportionate bearing of impacts of this sort by communities of lower socioeconomic status. In recent years, the highway program has focused more on providing context-sensitive design, mitigating environmental impacts, and enhancing community values and involvement. Indeed, it is now generally recognized that the highway development process must address all of the concerns mentioned above—efficiency, safety, aesthetics, environment, and community values—in an integrated and balanced manner.
Highways yield tremendous benefits to society. They are part of the essential infrastructure for a strong economy, providing access to jobs and making an array of goods and services available to all sectors of society in an efficient manner. They offer access to cultural and natural resources and allow family and friends to maintain frequent face-to-face contact despite the great distances that may separate them. All of these examples represent material con-
tributions to the ideal of the United States as a land of opportunity. New highway capacity is needed to maintain and promote economic productivity, and highway transportation has a real role to play as an enabling agent in the attainment of many quality-of-life and social equity goals that remain to be fulfilled. However, building highway capacity is a long-term investment that requires significant lead time. Excessive delay in addressing the need for new capacity would result in serious long-term negative impacts of an economic and social nature. A sizable increase in the cost of transportation due to high levels of congestion would affect markets, jobs, and availability of goods. Transportation costs and bottlenecks could constrain the growth of existing industries and the development of new ones, just as increases in population are creating demand for both the products delivered via highways and the jobs created directly and indirectly by the highway transportation industry. Restricted mobility can constrain the economic, social, and cultural opportunities of all sectors of the population, but it most severely affects the less advantaged members of society.
As these examples show, the nation’s highway system represents but one of many systems—including natural, social, political, and technological systems—that interact with each other to form the complex fabric of social and economic life. The planning and design of highways must therefore be performed with adequate attention to how these systems interact and influence one another. Highways can respond to as well as promote economic development. They can adversely affect or enhance the natural, social, and aesthetic environments. They can limit or create opportunity and reduce or enable social interaction. Much remains to be learned about these interactions. Research and experience have yielded some understanding of the impacts of highways on air and water quality, noise levels, habitats, and neighborhoods. But there are far more unanswered questions than solutions in all these areas and others, such as environmental justice, land use patterns, long-term economic impacts, and safety trade-offs involved in context-sensitive design.
Many of the existing methods, tools, and organizational approaches used in constructing highways are modified versions of those used to create the Interstate highway system. They have not been adequately modernized to account for dramatic changes in travel patterns, travel behavior, land use development patterns, technology, social behavior, environmental protection policies, scientific knowledge, and highway user needs. Moreover, differing regulations, tools, and methods are often employed both among and within states. As a result, the various analyses performed are not integrated with each other. In
addition, most solutions addressing social and environmental concerns are developed as mitigating measures after the design work has been completed.
Meeting the demand for additional highway capacity will require innovative methods, tools, and organizational approaches to transportation planning, design, and environmental analyses and documentation. Analyses will need to be performed in an integrated manner and occur earlier in and throughout the highway development process. Box 7-1 describes how the state of Kentucky used such an approach to address capacity needs in a rural area.
In addition to demanding that highways be planned and designed with consideration of a broader range of performance requirements, the public and industry want the new capacity to be provided much more rapidly. They do not wish to wait 10, 20, or 30 years for capacity that was probably needed yesterday. Performing highway planning and design more rapidly while conducting more detailed analyses of a broader range of issues and impacts presents a daunting challenge to highway agencies.
The committee recognizes that there are more than technical aspects to this problem; political, ideological, and emotional elements figure strongly as well.
Widening of Paris Pike, Kentucky
Paris Pike, a road running through the bluegrass horse country of Kentucky, had become a dangerous route because of the increased traffic on the small, two-lane facility. When the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet sought to widen the road, it met with opposition from local residents who were afraid the road expansion would alter the “country road” character of the facility. By working together with the residents, the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet was able to design a safe facility that retained and enhanced the aesthetics appropriate to its location. Public involvement included participation in traffic counts to verify actual traffic volumes, development of proposals for design elements, and voting on specific changes. Use of special materials and methods, such as wood for guardrails, dry-laid stone walls, and designs that retained significant landscape features, enhanced the overall aesthetics of the facility.
Source: AASHTO Success Stories website: www.transportation.org/aashto/success.nsf/homepage/overview.
Unfortunately, these nontechnical elements have frequently led to a standoff whereby neither the economic and mobility needs of a community nor its environmental, social, and aesthetic requirements are being met. Better tools will not eliminate these nontechnical problems, but without such tools the goal of addressing the full range of requirements for highway transportation is extremely difficult to fulfill. While efforts must continue in such areas as streamlining regulatory procedures and identifying the public will through the political process, research can provide the tools needed to realize the desired outcomes identified through these processes in the most effective manner possible. The current need for a better way to provide highway capacity, together with the possibilities offered by new technologies, represents an opportunity to meet customer needs more objectively than through a purely political process.
The committee proposes that F-SHRP exploit this opportunity by developing a systems approach to highway development that integrates environmental, social, and economic issues into the highway development process. Ideally, these issues should be addressed throughout the highway life cycle, from initial conception through operation of the facility. This research topic is focused on the preconstruction stages of the highway development process; however, coordination with the proposed research on highway renewal (see Chapter 4) and nonrecurrent incident management (see Chapter 6) will ensure that these considerations carry over into the construction and operation stages.
This research will incorporate what is already known about environmental, economic, and community impacts, as well as the pursuit of new knowledge in selected areas (which could include institutional issues, land use patterns, and secondary and cumulative impacts of highways). The knowledge thus gathered will be integrated and applied by means of a set of tools that can be used collaboratively by highway practitioners (in public-sector agencies and private firms) and stakeholders (including private citizens and interest groups) to analyze the issues and impacts associated with providing new highway capacity, and to implement the results of these analyses in planning and designing highways that are more responsive to economic, environmental, and community needs.
Meeting the Challenge of Providing New Highway Capacity Through a Future Strategic Highway Research Program
How providing highway capacity in a way that is more responsive to environmental, economic, and community requirements meets the first of the criteria
set forth in Chapter 1 for selecting the strategic focus areas for F-SHRP was described in the preceding section: it is an issue that bears on national transportation goals and is of continuing concern to highway agencies. The other two F-SHRP criteria—appropriateness for a SHRP-style program and the effectiveness or expected impact of the research—and how the proposed research meets these criteria are addressed in this section.
Appropriateness for a SHRP-Style Research Program
The appropriateness criteria for F-SHRP apply well to this topic. A research program of critical mass and continuity is certainly required to integrate so many diverse issues—environmental concerns, economic analysis, community involvement, and aesthetics—and develop a suite of tools that applies the results of analysis of these issues to the highway development process. Coordinating such a wide array of disciplines and stakeholders will require substantial time and resources. While research is currently being performed in many related areas (air quality modeling, control of highway runoff, noise, and habitat, for example), little effort is being made to integrate these areas with each other and into the highway development process. As a result, practitioners have a collection of tools that do not fully address the challenges they face. While many stakeholders are involved in this area, public-sector responsibility is critical since the public sector owns the highways and since many of the issues addressed under this topic—especially environmental and community impacts—pertain to social goods that cannot be advanced effectively by individuals alone.
Effectiveness or Expected Impact of the Research
While the challenges in this area are significant, there are opportunities for significant benefits from the application of both advanced technologies and institutional improvements. The principal impact of this research will be the provision of new capacity where it is needed, along with all the economic and quality-of-life benefits derived from that capacity, in a way that responds to the full range of customer requirements: highways that are aesthetically pleasing, enhance historical and community values, and contribute to a healthier economy and environment.
These types of benefits are difficult to quantify. However, using one set of estimates for selected environmental impacts—specifically the costs of road dust, highway runoff, and road noise—a 5 percent cost reduction due to more environmentally sensitive design would translate to savings of approx-
imately $180 million per year.2 There are other potentially quantifiable benefits from better highway planning and design and many nonquantifiable benefits related to enhanced aesthetics, public involvement, and community values.
A focused effort over the proposed time period should produce implementable results. Implementation barriers are likely to be institutional, economic, and political, such as the need to build consensus among organizations with different philosophies and goals, address the cost of acquiring new technologies, develop or modify regulations, and train personnel. Involvement of stakeholders from the outset of the research and development will help address these barriers. The committee believes the research community has the capacity to perform the proposed work, although some disciplines that are not traditional components of highway research, such as social science and data management, will have to be involved as well.
Proposed F-SHRP Research
Major Research Objectives
The proposed research program has three major objectives:
To develop an integrated, systems-oriented approach3 to meeting this multifaceted challenge;
To use the many potential tools and technologies for applying this approach in a systematic way throughout the highway development process; and
To address the institutional issues surrounding highway development.
What is entailed in achieving these objectives and how the objectives are addressed by the proposed F-SHRP research are examined in this section.
Developing an Integrated, Systems Approach
The development of integrated, systems approaches to strategic highway challenges is an important characteristic of F-SHRP. Integration of environmental, economic, and community goals into the planning and design of highways is the central focus of this research program. Addressing institutional issues will help identify those goals and facilitate the implementation of plans to achieve them. Tools and technologies will enable analysis, planning, and design. But the real intellectual challenge, and the most significant practical contribution of this research, will be the integration of fields of knowledge and analytical techniques that have tended to exist independently.
Integration of analysis across such areas as air quality, water quality, habitats, noise, community impacts, aesthetics, safety, and economics requires a common rationale and framework that can link the various performance measures used in each of these areas. Such a framework will be important for analysis of the secondary and cumulative impacts of providing new highway capacity. In examining these impacts, it will be necessary to address issues of land use and sprawl and of areawide, as opposed to site-specific, environmental impacts. Moreover, as noted earlier, all these analyses should be integrated earlier into the planning and design processes to promote an emphasis on preventing rather than mitigating environmental impacts—in fact, on seeking to improve the environment through the transportation system. There is relatively little knowledge about how to accomplish these goals, which is why this research is so urgently needed.
To perform such integrated analysis, it will be necessary to bring representatives of many disciplines together: engineers, environmental scientists, landscape and other architects, safety experts, economists, and others. For example, designing roads that are more compatible with local ecology, culture, and history may have particular implications in such areas as materials, geometric design, and wildlife crossings. Integrated analysis also implies the need to consider trade-offs among different goals. For example, context-sensitive designs may raise safety issues, and in some cases, regional economic benefits must be weighed against local community impacts. The research should include development of an analytical framework that encompasses these disciplines and issues to the extent possible and that can be used to analyze various types of benefits and costs and the trade-offs among them. Box 7-2 describes how
Context-Sensitive Design on Route 235, Maryland
Expansion of a governmental facility and new private-sector development required that the capacity of MD-235 be increased from four lanes to six. The project area included urban, commercial, and park environments, and both pedestrian use and business visibility had to be considered. The goals of the project were to create a green boulevard and a pedestrian-friendly environment, maintain sensitivity to the surrounding business environment, mitigate the impact of overhead utilities, reduce the impact of paving, enhance the visual image of the area, and give proper attention to environmental mitigation and reforestation issues. The Maryland State Highway Administration worked with citizens, public officials, and other stakeholders in a collaborative process involving a wide range of disciplines: civil, structural, and traffic engineering; landscape architecture; and environmental sciences. Once completed, the project will meet all the goals identified at the outset and serve the needs of the various users and stakeholders. The integrated process used to plan and design the project enhanced not only the results obtained, but also the way in which the various disciplines approached their respective responsibilities.
Source: AASHTO (2001).
the state of Maryland integrated analysis of various issues into a new capacity project.
Using Tools and Technologies
Studies and analytical frameworks are ineffective if they are not embodied in tools that practitioners can readily apply. The strategic focus of this research— providing highway capacity in support of the nation’s economic, environmental, and social goals—implies a need for data; simulation and prediction models; and analytical, planning, and design tools. The following are examples of the tools and technologies needed:
Integrated electronic data collection, management, and analysis methods and technologies that can make use of the Global Positioning System (GPS), satellite imagery, digital photography, video logging, geographic information systems (GIS), and electronic document management systems.
Integrated highway planning, design, and environmental processes and technologies that encompass national, regional, statewide, and local transportation planning processes and impact analyses. The technologies include workstations and software that offers predictive models for travel demand, land use, demographics, air and water quality, and secondary and cumulative impacts. An example for design activities is computerized processes for context-sensitive design that integrate data collection, data management, alignment development, 3D/4D visualization, project management, document preparation, and public participation. An example for environmental functions is analysis techniques that are integrated into the planning and design processes, as well as the technology needed to facilitate such integration. Priority areas of environmental impact to be addressed include air, noise, and water; ecological, community, social, economic, and land use impacts; environmental justice; hazardous waste; and aesthetics.
Expert systems for highway planning, design, and environmental analysis, along with technical assistance and training needed to use these systems. Examples are tutorial software to guide users through the analyses, and review and documentation processes for planning, design, and environmental work.
Better tools for highway planning, design, and environmental program and project management, such as software that computerizes the program and project management work.
Automated quality control and assurance methods and tools, such as software that integrates quality control and assurance into planning, design, and environmental analysis.
Communications technologies to facilitate project coordination and public and stakeholder participation.
Advanced technologies such as expert systems, GPS, GIS, and advanced simulation software can make the tools developed under F-SHRP faster, more effective, and more user-friendly. The tools developed will be adaptable to different user needs, so that various locales will not be forced to conduct a “one-size-fits-all” analysis. In addition, the research should address potential implementation barriers and incentives, such as the cost of new methods and tools, needs for training and expertise, and participation of the private sector (and possibly public-sector agencies other than transportation agencies) in the technology development and implementation processes. The tools will also be designed for collaborative use, building on lessons learned from the research on institutional issues (discussed below). Various public-sector agencies, private-
sector firms, interest groups, and members of the public should be able to use the tools to work together on defining objectives for highway development, contributing to design concepts, and evaluating alternatives and trade-offs. Box 7-3 describes how the state of Florida used technology and institutional change to improve its highway development process.
Given the complexity of the issues involved, the tools produced through this proposed research cannot be expected to provide absolute or definitive solutions. Many of the tools will be educational and demonstrative in character, presenting best practices, widening the spectrum of potential options, and demonstrating possible outcomes and implications.
Addressing Institutional Issues
Institutional issues, broadly understood, affect this research area in a number of ways. First, the organizational structures of most state DOTs were established during the Interstate highway–building era. Although they have served the transportation field well, they have not evolved at the same pace as the issues they must be used to address. New organizational approaches are
Efficient Transportation Decision Making, Florida
As in many states, Florida’s highway development process was lengthy, involved certain stakeholders too late in the process, and overly segmented the various stages of development. To improve the process and the resulting highways, the Florida Department of Transportation worked with its partners to develop an improved transportation decision-making process. All relevant agencies are now brought into the process at an earlier stage to identify issues and needs, create a team that will coordinate activities throughout the project, and allow permitting activities to move forward concurrently. Continuing opportunities for public involvement are provided, including access to project information through an interactive database that uses GIS technology to allow all stakeholders to share information and understand how others have arrived at their conclusions. The new process improves communication, streamlines the highway development process, and produces a facility that is acceptable to all stakeholders.
Sources: Florida Department of Transportation (2001); AASHTO (2001).
needed to enable state DOTs to respond quickly to changing demands. In addition, highway development must be coordinated with local jurisdictions and neighborhoods so that local, regional, statewide, and national transportation goals will be met. Even international concerns come into play, since the transportation system in many regions must support increased international goods movement at ports, airports, and borders.
Beyond transportation agencies, many other public and private organizations are involved in highway development. Federal and state environmental quality agencies, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and other public agencies have authority over environmental compliance aspects of highway development. Economic and community development agencies, county commissioners, public works departments, and mayor’s offices are involved. Interest groups concerned with the environment, conservation, endangered species, history, archeology, social justice, safety, and business opportunity are all stakeholders in the highway development process.
An ongoing challenge for the institutions involved is effectively facilitating public participation through processes that are open, fair, educational, and productive. Box 7-4 describes how Connecticut used visualization technology to meet this challenge and improve the decision-making process.
Visualization Technology on Route 20, Connecticut
At public meetings, the Connecticut Department of Transportation (Conn-DOT) received mixed reactions to the widening of Route 20. Many citizens supported the idea; however, some members of the public opposed the widening because of concerns about how the new capacity would affect property owners, safe access to a nearby school, and the overall aesthetics of the area. ConnDOT used a computer-generated animated “drive-through” of the proposed changes, as well as modifications superimposed on still photos, to show the neighbors how reconstruction would affect the facility, including improved visibility for drivers, the relocated school driveway, and landscaping. This opportunity to visualize the changes helped alleviate public concerns, build broader support for the project, and provide a facility that met the needs of all citizens.
Source: AASHTO (2001).
The goals, philosophies, operating methods, and constituencies of all the above groups are quite diverse—in some cases even conflicting. One task for this research program will be to study examples of how these institutional challenges have been successfully addressed and to develop guidelines for best practices. As in the travel time reliability research described in Chapter 5, social science research methods can be applied in this effort. Important questions to be addressed include the following: What methods are most effective for arriving at consensus about highway project or program objectives among the diverse institutions involved? How can communication be maintained among these institutions throughout the development process, especially when changes to original plans may be necessary? How is public involvement best achieved? What kinds of expertise and training do DOTs need to handle the institutional aspects of the highway development process more effectively?
Proposed Research Tasks
As noted earlier, this F-SHRP research will involve formulating a systematic, integrated approach to highway development, together with accompanying tools and technologies, that can be used by highway practitioners and stakeholders to provide new highway capacity in a way that meets a broad set of performance requirements. To this end, the research will focus on the following tasks:
Synthesize and assess the status of analytical methods and tools. Various analytical models and approaches already exist in such areas as water and air quality impacts, land use impacts, safety, aesthetics, and travel demand. Their strengths and weaknesses should be identified, as well as specific gaps in analytical capacity (for example, the need for analytical approaches to assessing the secondary and cumulative impacts of highways or to determining historical and archeological values).
Develop analytical approaches. Using existing analytical methods as appropriate and formulating new ones as needed, one or more analytical frameworks for integrating engineering, environmental, economic, and community requirements will be developed.
Perform research on institutional issues. This task will include identifying the goals, incentives, and requirements of the diverse institutions and stakeholders involved in highway development; describing institutional philosophies and cultures; identifying best practices (e.g., for institutional coordination, communication, public participation, and collaborative decision making); demonstrating and testing new methods; and developing guidelines for
implementing best practices and for identifying and meeting educational and training needs.
Develop tools and methods for planning and design. Using the results of the institutional research and the above analytical frameworks, methods for systematically addressing new highway capacity needs in an integrated fashion throughout both the planning and design phases will be developed. Tools using appropriate technology will be developed as well to support these methods through data collection and analysis, simulation and prediction, visualization, and other activities that contribute to highway planning and design.
Develop guidelines. Guidelines for effective use of the methods developed and the best practices identified will be produced. These guidelines will include human resource (expertise and training) requirements, as well as documentation of model operation.
Relationship to Other Work
Other Research and Technology Efforts
The research proposed in this chapter is highly dependent on ongoing efforts in other highway and environmental research programs. Environmental and planning research at FHWA and in NCHRP, as well as environmental work sponsored by the Environmental Protection Agency and performed in university programs, should be integrated, as appropriate, into the analytical methods and planning and design tools developed under F-SHRP. Related work is also being conducted under an NCHRP project that involves reviewing nearly 20 technologies in the following five categories to ascertain their usefulness for addressing environmental considerations in transportation planning and design: geospatial databases, remote sensing, transportation impact modeling, decision science, and visualization/simulation. Another NCHRP project is focused on developing a guidebook to assist transportation professionals in using current techniques for assessing the social and economic effects of transportation projects.
Other Strategic Focus Areas in F-SHRP
This research area complements the highway renewal research described in Chapter 4. While the research described in this chapter is oriented primarily toward providing new capacity, its outcomes can also apply to renewal efforts, which may present opportunities to improve the aesthetics and safety
of a highway and mitigate undesirable environmental and social impacts. Rapid construction methods developed for highway renewal may also be useful in building new capacity. Finally, knowledge gained from the safety and travel time reliability research described in Chapters 5 and 6, respectively, can be integrated with the outcomes of this research topic.
Administrative and Implementation Considerations
As with the other research topics proposed for F-SHRP, the importance of involving all relevant stakeholders in the conduct and implementation of this research cannot be overemphasized. These stakeholders include state, federal, and local government agencies with responsibilities in such areas as transportation, environment, historic preservation, community development, economic development, and safety; private-sector firms that often perform the environmental analysis, planning, and design work for public projects; interest groups of various types; and private citizens and community groups. In addition, the institutional research is likely to yield information that could significantly affect the education and training of transportation and other professionals. Therefore, universities and training professionals will need to be engaged in this aspect of the program.
AASHTO American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials
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