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Utility Pole Safety and Hazard Evaluation Approaches (2020)

Chapter: Chapter 3 - Summary of STA Survey Responses

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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 3 - Summary of STA Survey Responses." 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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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 3 - Summary of STA Survey Responses." 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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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 3 - Summary of STA Survey Responses." 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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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 3 - Summary of STA Survey Responses." 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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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 3 - Summary of STA Survey Responses." 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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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 3 - Summary of STA Survey Responses." 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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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 3 - Summary of STA Survey Responses." 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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18 Summary of STA Survey Responses A total of 46 STAs responded to the utility pole survey distributed for this synthesis report, a 92% response rate. The survey was designed to document three different categories of interest related to utility pole safety: (1) utility pole policy or placement guidelines as well as factors that may be considered in granting siting exceptions to utility poles that are inconsistent with the placement guidelines, (2) number of fatal and nonfatal collisions with utility poles, and (3) types of crash-related countermeasures that STAs consider as options for improving the safety of poles or pole locations that experience crashes or pose a high risk of collision. Officials in the utility accommodation section, crash analysis section, and/or safety engineering section of each STA responded to the survey. The project team found that a single STA official rarely could answer all three types of questions—or even attempt to respond to the wide range of questions. Therefore, respondents sometimes gathered input from other professionals in the STA. If responses were incomplete, the project team followed up with officials in other STA offices. Appendix A provides a table of state utility accommodation guidelines. One or more of the following methods was used to obtain survey responses: • Survey Monkey online questionnaire • Email correspondence • Telephone contact • Combination of email and telephone contacts. Appendix B also supplies further details on the development of the survey and on individual survey responses. Utility Pole-Placement Guidelines The responses received from STAs regarding utility pole-placement guidelines are summa- rized in Appendix B. Chapter 9 of this synthesis report is devoted to analyzing several states that enforce detailed pole-placement guidelines focused on avoiding the placement of poles in high-risk areas and thus reducing the incidence of utility pole crashes. Some of the STAs high- lighted in this discussion are in Washington State, Georgia, New Jersey, North Carolina, and an anonymous state. Another survey question asked whether the standards for utility pole placement apply equally to new poles and existing poles—and, if not, requested an explanation of the differences. In total, 18 STAs answered Yes to this question; 2 STAs responded No; and 26 STAs either did not know or did not reply to the question. According to the 46 STA survey respondents, 15 states follow the Roadside Design Guide clear zone recommendations (AASHTO 2011b). Several states impose pole offset guidelines of 30 feet, C H A P T E R 3

Summary of STA Survey Responses 19 with a program in place to review and correct pole siting in areas with high numbers of utility pole crashes. Four UOs were also interviewed, and some expressed interest in adopting a program to identify and modify sites that experience, or are at risk of, pole crashes. Exceptions to Placement Guidelines Responses to this question about exceptions to STA pole-placement guidelines fell into two primary conceptual approaches. First, some answers addressed the STA processes governing how the exception process would function. Several agencies reported that pole-placement exceptions were determined during the design process and before granting permission to UOs to install a line of poles. The most typical responses revolved around the definition of situations that would generally justify strong consideration for approval of deviations from basic pole- placement guidelines. Second, other responses cited the specific conditions that would warrant an exception for the placement of one or more poles (representing a deviation from standards of practice). Some of the most common answers explained that exceptions often were approved if pole removal would be too costly or would impose an extreme hardship. Respondents also cited another common exception justification: the right-of-way was inadequate, or the topography would not allow the UO to adhere to the guidelines (e.g., because of steep slopes or a jog in the right-of-way line). One respondent noted that an exception would likely be granted if it “does not cause a safety concern, and is in the best interest for the utility owner and the State DOT.” At least one STA stated that it would not allow poles to be placed within the clear zone in any situations. Several STAs observed that exceptions are determined “on a case-by-case basis,” and some reported that the states might require poles to be repositioned outside of the highway right-of- way if they were too close to the road. Another STA remarked that “exceptions are rarely made, because all pole placements need to meet AASHTO clear zone requirements.” Appendix B contains details on all of these responses. Utility Pole Crashes This question asked STAs how many fatal and nonfatal utility pole crashes occurred in the state in 2016. This year was selected with the expectation that complete data sets would be available to all STAs. A total of 39 STAs indicated that “utility pole” is a separate item on their crash report form; 7 STAs responded that it is not. Responses to this survey question on the number of fatal and nonfatal utility pole crashes are grouped into the following categories: • No response given (4 STAs) • “I don’t know” (16 STAs) • Combined number of “utility pole plus light pole” crashes because of a combined checkbox on the state crash report form (4 STAs) • Utility pole crash numbers that seem reasonable (19 STAs). Although 23 STAs were able to provide statistics on either crashes involving utility poles or combined crash figures for utility poles and light poles, the information was not easily acquired. Most of these STAs either (1) conducted separate data analyses to obtain these numbers for the survey or (2) de facto relied on the project team to identify the right person in the STA who could supply this information. In short, only a few of the STA safety engineers or traffic engineers had easy and direct access to these statewide numbers on utility pole crashes.

20 Utility Pole Safety and Hazard Evaluation Approaches For the states that did provide the number of fatal and nonfatal utility pole crashes, the project team could not obtain a comparable number on nonfatal utility pole crashes from every state because (1) not all states include utility poles as a separate code on their crash report forms and (2) criteria for reporting crashes differ from one state to another. Some STAs (e.g., in Florida) require reports with full crash information only if one or more people were injured or killed, but most states impose various dollar-level damage criteria for reporting, ranging from approxi- mately $200 to $1,000 for an individual crash. Furthermore, very few of the 46 STA officials responding to the survey knew offhand how many utility pole crashes occurred in their state in 2016 without conducting a separate crash analysis. This circumstance often arose because routine crash summaries were not available by type of object struck, even for states including “utility pole” as an object-struck code on their crash report forms. Several states conducted computer searches in response to the survey data inquiry, and they assembled numbers on fatal and nonfatal utility pole crashes in their state in 2016 (and/or for 2017). However, because of variations in crash reporting criteria and methods, these numbers for nonfatal crashes are not considered to be comparable between states. In addition to responses from STAs on this question, a summary of fatal collisions with utility poles and light poles (combined) is accessible from the FARS database, as shown in Table 3. It is interesting to note that of the 887 fatal utility (plus light) pole crashes in the United States in 2017, more than half (465 crashes) occurred in the 10 states that suffered the most fatalities: Florida (84), Texas (69), California (57), Pennsylvania (56), Tennessee (42), North Carolina (38), Illinois (36), New York (28), Georgia (28), and Indiana (27). These numbers from the FARS database offer a more complete picture of fatal crashes because most of the responding states did not (or were unable to) supply this crash information. Note that Table 3, like its source (the FARS database), includes the number of fatal “utility plus light pole related” crashes (i.e., a combined statistic, not just fatal crashes attributable solely to utility poles) by state. FARS combines the number of fatal crashes involving utility poles and light (luminaire) poles because some state crash forms (in about 7 of the 46 STAs that responded to the survey) combine these crashes into a single code, so true utility pole crash data counts are not available uniformly throughout the nation (NHTSA 2018). High-Crash Location Tracking This question asked whether STAs track locations with a history of utility pole crashes and, if so, how this is done. Of the STAs that responded to this question, only four indicated that they specifically track utility poles with a history of being struck: Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, and Hawaii. In addition, Alaska and Virginia confirmed that they have the potential to track utility poles with a crash history. Two of the STAs amplified their responses. The Pennsylvania DOT observed: Individual utility poles are not tracked, but we do track areas with frequently struck poles. All state road locations with at least eight hit pole crashes within a 3,000-foot tolerance over the most recent 5-year time period are identified for potential safety countermeasures. The New York DOT reported: Yes. The annual network screening process identifies sites where the number of utility pole crashes is higher than expected. A few other states explained that they have computer capabilities (e.g., mapping tools, computer sorting programs) that would enable searches for utility pole sites experiencing high numbers

Summary of STA Survey Responses 21 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 Total Percentage Alabama 31 25 12 30 22 120 2.70% Alaska 2 — 1 3 3 9 0.20% Arizona 21 10 13 10 6 60 1.35% Arkansas 11 4 2 4 5 26 0.59% California 69 81 66 70 57 343 7.72% Colorado 3 4 10 1 2 20 0.45% Connecticut 14 19 14 13 14 74 1.67% Delaware 3 7 4 7 4 25 0.56% Florida 53 71 69 86 84 363 8.17% Georgia 30 25 32 31 28 146 3.29% Hawaii 8 4 4 7 2 25 0.56% Idaho 1 2 2 — 2 7 0.16% Illinois 27 37 28 28 36 156 3.51% Indiana 25 34 34 28 27 148 3.33% Iowa 4 5 8 4 9 30 0.68% Kansas 6 2 10 5 12 35 0.79% Kentucky 12 22 17 17 13 81 1.82% Louisiana 24 16 21 21 22 104 2.34% Maine 6 7 9 4 12 38 0.86% Maryland 16 14 18 20 21 89 2.00% Massachusetts 28 23 32 19 23 125 2.81% Michigan 19 18 26 18 22 103 2.32% Minnesota 5 4 5 3 3 20 0.45% Mississippi 14 16 7 8 11 56 1.26% Missouri 13 7 11 8 13 52 1.17% Montana 1 — 1 1 1 4 0.09% Nebraska 3 3 8 4 6 24 0.54% Nevada 9 6 7 2 2 26 0.59% New Hampshire 4 3 7 5 4 23 0.52% New Jersey 24 24 34 33 21 136 3.06% New Mexico 1 1 2 4 2 10 0.23% New York 40 40 39 28 28 175 3.94% North Carolina 28 28 30 23 38 147 3.31% North Dakota — — — 1 0 1 0.02% Ohio 51 51 54 64 60 280 6.30% Oklahoma 8 8 13 11 6 46 1.04% Oregon 20 20 8 11 9 68 1.53% Pennsylvania 57 57 51 48 56 269 6.05% Rhode Island 6 6 5 4 4 25 0.56% South Carolina 20 20 14 18 19 91 2.05% South Dakota 1 1 2 1 0 5 0.11% Tennessee 37 37 27 34 42 177 3.98% Texas 78 78 74 88 69 387 8.71% Utah 4 4 4 1 4 17 0.38% Vermont 2 2 2 2 4 12 0.27% Virginia 14 14 22 11 19 80 1.80% Washington 18 18 18 14 19 87 1.96% West Virginia 4 4 8 8 11 35 0.79% Wisconsin 16 16 11 11 10 64 1.44% Wyoming — — — — 0 0 0.00% Total 891 898 896 872 887 4,444 100% Table 3. Number of STA fatal collisions involving utility poles and light poles for 2013–2017 (NHTSA 2018).

22 Utility Pole Safety and Hazard Evaluation Approaches of utility pole crashes. However, it was not clear from their responses whether these states (e.g., Alaska, Virginia) routinely conduct searches to identify locations with abnormally high numbers of collisions with utility poles. For example, the Virginia DOT responded as follows regarding whether it tracks sites or utility poles associated with a high number of crashes: No, although their locations are available and can be identified quickly with the statewide crash data tool . . . [This tool] can be used to filter and search for crashes based on the data elements in our statewide crash report. The tool includes a mapping feature that returns the crash location information when a filter is run. The Wisconsin DOT describes its process as follows: The WSDOT’s Transportation Data, GIS & Modeling office collects, processes, analyzes and reports on all the state routes and public roads, including the history of utility poles being struck. One state, Tennessee, responded that UOs in the state do indirectly identify poles that are struck, based on pole collision damage: No. Utilities (utility companies) do not track pole strikes. They do track how often a pole is replaced. Taking traffic data comparing to frequency of pole replacement is how we correlated to determine pole/ traffic incidents. Several other STAs answering this question indicated that they did not specifically track utility poles that have a history of being struck, but they offered an explanation as to how utility poles with such a history might be identified through another process. For example, several officials stated that if a site or roadway section is identified as a “black spot” (i.e., a high-crash location), then the crashes in that section of the highway are reviewed in more detail—so if numerous crashes in the high-crash site or road section involve collisions with a utility pole, then pole- related countermeasures could be considered. Identifying High-Risk Poles This question asked whether STAs have a process in place to identify high-risk poles before they are struck, based on an analysis of their placement in potentially high-risk areas such as lane drops, intersections, horizontal curves, and sites too close to the road. In this survey, 14 states described such a process: Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Wisconsin. As shown in Figure 6, some states responded that they review the following specific utility pole-placement characteristics in the identification process: • Within the allowable clear zone but too close to the road (11 states) • At or near a lane drop (6 states) • At or near an intersection (6 states) • Outside of a horizontal curve (8 states) • Too close to the road (11 states). STA Countermeasures in Use The traffic engineering or safety engineering office of an STA typically is responsible for the selection and implementation of safety measures to address locations experiencing utility pole crashes. Of the 46 states responding to the survey, the following countermeasures are most often cited as options for treating utility pole safety problems: • Guardrail/guiderail (31 states) • Crash-attenuation barrels (10 states)

Summary of STA Survey Responses 23 • Shoulder widening/paving (15 states) • Rumble strips (19 states) • Pole-visibility features (25 states) • Steel-reinforced safety poles (breakaway poles) (7 states) • Conversion to underground utilities (23 states) • Shared utility agreements (21 states). The states reporting use of steel-reinforced safety (breakaway) poles are Arizona, Florida, Hawaii, Kansas, Louisiana, New Jersey, and Wyoming. New Jersey mentioned that it uses fiber- glass poles in certain situations because they shatter on impact from a motor vehicle, reducing the chance of a severe injury to vehicle occupants, when compared to steel and wooden poles in the same site (Figure 7). Figure 6. Reported STA criteria for high-risk utility poles. Figure 7. Reported STA countermeasures.

24 Utility Pole Safety and Hazard Evaluation Approaches Funding Improvements in utility pole safety can be financed by various federal, state, local, and other funding sources. A total of 32 STAs indicated use of federal funds, and 17 of those states specifi- cally cited HSIP funding. There were 25 STAs that noted state funding as part of their safety improvement funding, including SHSP matching, state maintenance, spot safety improvement, and state safety funds. Nine STAs were aware of local funding sources as a partial match for certain projects. Four STAs reported using other types of funds for relocating utility poles. Figure 8 summarizes the distribution of funding sources for utility pole safety treatments by STAs. Local and Utility Owner Policies Of the 46 STAs that participated in the survey, 35 answered that they knew of no local agencies or utility providers that have developed their own utility pole safety policies. Nine STAs mentioned local agencies that might have developed their own guidelines, including Phoenix, AZ; Missoula, MT; Sioux Falls, SD; Dallas and Kyle, TX; and Anchorage and Fairbanks, AK. One STA responded, “Some cities and counties have changed policies to only allow underground facilities.” Six STAs were aware of UOs that developed their own safety programs or guidelines, including the Georgia Power Company, PECO Pole Relocation Program, Eversource Electric, and Austin Energy. Several states also mentioned that the National Electrical Safety Code (Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers 2017) functioned as guidelines for the in-state utility company. Figure 8. Allocated and potential funding sources.

Next: Chapter 4 - Factors Associated with Utility Pole Crashes »
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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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