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Utility Pole Safety and Hazard Evaluation Approaches (2020)

Chapter: Appendix D - FHWA Program Guide: Utility Relocation and Accommodation on Federal-Aid Highway Projects

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Suggested Citation:"Appendix D - FHWA Program Guide: Utility Relocation and Accommodation on Federal-Aid Highway Projects." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2020. Utility Pole Safety and Hazard Evaluation Approaches. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25923.
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Page 125
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Suggested Citation:"Appendix D - FHWA Program Guide: Utility Relocation and Accommodation on Federal-Aid Highway Projects." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2020. Utility Pole Safety and Hazard Evaluation Approaches. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25923.
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Page 126
Page 127
Suggested Citation:"Appendix D - FHWA Program Guide: Utility Relocation and Accommodation on Federal-Aid Highway Projects." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2020. Utility Pole Safety and Hazard Evaluation Approaches. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25923.
×
Page 127
Page 128
Suggested Citation:"Appendix D - FHWA Program Guide: Utility Relocation and Accommodation on Federal-Aid Highway Projects." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2020. Utility Pole Safety and Hazard Evaluation Approaches. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25923.
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Page 128

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D-1 A P P E N D I X D FHWA Program Guide: Utility Relocation and Accommodation on Federal-Aid Highway Projects CORRECTIVE MEASURES/UTILITY POLE SAFETY PROGRAMS: Section 645.209(k), reads as follows: When the transportation department determines that existing utility facilities are likely to be associated with injury or accident to the highway user ... the highway agency shall initiate ... in consultation with the affected utilities, corrective measures ... The intent of this regulation is for each State to work with pole owners to develop and implement programs to systematically remove, relocate, or mitigate hazardously-located utility poles in a reasonable, cost-effective manner. A utility pole crash reduction program as envisioned in the Federal regulations should contain the following essential elements: • Identification of hazardously-located utility poles. • Analysis of hazardously-located poles and development of countermeasures. • Establishment of a goal for removing, relocating, or mitigating hazardously-located utility poles. • Actual removal, relocation, or mitigation of hazardously-located utility poles. Ideally, the clear zone should be free of utility poles. Where poles exist in the clear zone, or where an analysis has shown that an existing pole located outside the clear zone may need treatment, many options are available. The following list has generally been considered as the desirable order of treatment: • Remove the pole and underground the utility lines; • Relocate the pole to a location where it is less likely to be struck; • Reduce the number of poles by joint use, placing poles on only one side of the street, or increasing pole spacing by using bigger, taller poles;

D-2 Utility Pole Safety and Hazard Evaluation Approaches • Warn of the presence of the pole if the alternatives above are not appropriate using warning signs, reflective paint, sheeting, or object markers placed on the poles. There is also the possibility that keeping the driver on the road is the best solution to a crash problem. This may be done by positive guidance. For example, using pavement markings, delineators, advance warning signs, and other visual cues to tell the driver what to expect and to provide a visual path through a site. Physical enhancements such as improving the skid resistance of the pavement, widening the pavement travel lanes, widening or paving shoulders, placing rumble strips on the shoulders, improving the superelevation, straightening sharp curves, decreasing the speed of vehicles, or adding lighting in areas where crashes frequently occur at night, may also diminish crash potential by decreasing the number of vehicles that for whatever reason leave the travel-way. Once specific corrective actions have been determined, it is expected implementation will be pursued through a prioritization process which takes into account resources available, replacement and upgrading planned both for the utility and highway physical plants, and overall accident potential. To be effective this corrective program must be a joint effort between highway authorities and the affected utilities. It is strongly encouraged that the utility companies work closely with the transportation departments in identifying problem areas and establishing schedules for corrective actions. Such schedules should take into consideration, wherever possible, a utility's planned activities on line up-gradings, replacements, and the like. An orderly, planned, effective process of safety improvements over time that would take into consideration the costs to both the highway user and utility consumer is preferred. The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) has a model utility pole safety program. It was developed and implemented in coordination with the affected utility pole owners. The Division Office provided invaluable encouragement and assistance. WSDOT considers the most hazardously-located utility poles to be those that are: (a) outside of horizontal curves where advisory signed speeds for the curve are 15 mph or more below the posted speed limit of that section of highway; (b) within the turn radius of public at-grade intersections; (c) where a barrier, embankment, rock outcropping, ditch, or other roadside feature is likely to direct a vehicle into a utility object; or (d) closer than 5-feet horizontal beyond the edge of the usable shoulder. A goal has been established for removing, relocating, or mitigating a certain number of hazardously-located utility poles each year. This goal applies to each company owning utility poles and takes into account the size of the utility company, the number of poles in need of attention, available funding, and other factors. Hazardously-located utility poles may be removed, relocated, or mitigated in conjunction with planned highway or • Reduce impact severity by using breakaway utility poles; • Redirect a vehicle by shielding the pole with a longitudinal traffic barrier or crash cushion; and utility projects or individually. All utility poles removed, relocated, or mitigated, for whatever reason, count toward the utility company's goal. Efforts are made to systematically address the worst poles first.

FHWA Program Guide: Utility Relocation and Accommodation on Federal-Aid Highway Projects D-3 Since most hazardously-located utility poles are on highway right-of-way, State law in most States requires the owner of the poles to pay for removal, relocation, or mitigation. If, however, the State can pay and does pay, Federal funds can participate in the cost, even up to 100 percent in some cases. A strong case can be made for moving utility poles if they are located so as to present a significantly greater threat to motorists than anything else along the road. But, if they are not, States should not ask the utility pole owners to do any more to improve roadside safety than they plan to do themselves. Questions can arise as to the amount of corrective actions regarding utility facilities that should be undertaken as part of 3R (resurfacing, restoration, rehabilitation) projects. Overall, the FHWA has encouraged and supported efforts by each State to develop and implement reasonable and effective clear zone policies consistent with the principles set forth in the AASHTO Green Book (see above discussion of "New Above Ground Installations/ Clear Zone Policies"). In this respect a number of States have adopted individual 3R project design criteria that specifically addresses the clear zone issue. Considerable judgment must be exercised in actually establishing clear roadside areas on individual 3R projects to ensure that the safety benefits are reasonably commensurate with costs. Consideration should be given to this matter regardless of who pays for the utility work. As clarified by FHWA's July 1988 final rule, which modified 23 CFR 645.107, costs incurred by transportation departments in implementing projects for safety corrective measures to reduce the hazards of utilities to highway users are eligible for Federal-aid participation.

Next: Appendix E - Utility Pole and Tree Safety Case Studies »
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In 2017, the latest year for which data are available, 887 fatal utility pole crashes occurred in the United States, accounting for 914 fatalities. These numbers were about the same as those in recent years but lower than such fatality numbers from a decade or two ago.

The TRB National Cooperative Highway Research Program's NCHRP Synthesis 557: Utility Pole Safety and Hazard Evaluation Approaches summarizes the strategies, policies, and technologies that state transportation agencies (STAs) and utility owners (UOs) employ to address utility pole safety concerns.

Specific areas of interest for this synthesis report include methods to identify problem poles and high-risk locations, pole-placement policies, strategies and countermeasures to reduce the risk of pole-related collisions and resulting injuries and deaths, and available funding sources for implementing countermeasures. Case studies were also developed for exemplary STAs and UOs, highlighting some of their utility pole safety activities.

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