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Context Sensitive Solutions

Case Studies

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Listed below are examples of success stories, best practices, and/or innovative tools/approaches. This section will grow as entries are submitted or links to other sites with useful examples are provided. If you believe your agency has utilized a best practice/approach that others could learn from, please submit a short description to AASHTO (including any pertinent links) on the Share Info with AASHTO form. Please note that currently submissions are only being accepted from governmental entities.

ContextSensitiveSolutions.org

This website provides comprehensive information on context sensitive solutions, including an extensive collection of case studies. Link to http://contextsensitivesolutions.org/

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Colorado DOT

I-70 Mountain Corridor Project CSS Process

A collaborative process to ensure broad stakeholder involvement and consideration of environmental as well as community concerns has proven to be a key element in advancing a suite of multi-modal solutions for the Interstate 70 Mountain Corridor in Colorado.

On March 11, 2011, the Colorado Department of Transportation announced completion of the final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) for a range of improvements to the 144-mile I-70 Corridor, a vital east-west interstate connection west of Denver and across the Rocky Mountains. This was the agency’s second attempt at a solution for the corridor, after a previous draft environmental document generated public opposition.

The PEIS is a Tier 1 NEPA document that looks at a variety of solutions for the corridor. The preferred alternative – which was developed through wide-ranging stakeholder collaboration – includes a menu of short-term and long-term multi-modal highway and transit solutions to improve transportation through the corridor, while incorporating numerous agreements for consideration of natural resources, wildlife habitat, historic resources, and community concerns.

The preferred alternative identified in the document includes three main elements: non-infrastructure components that can begin in advance of major improvements; an advanced guideway system (AGS) element that is dependent on further study and funding; and a range of highway improvements. The alternative is to be implemented in stages, ranging from a minimum program of local transportation improvements that can be addressed in the shorter term, to a maximum program of improvements – including potential for AGS – to meet projected capacity needs through 2050.

Stakeholder Collaboration

The preferred alternative is the product of years of collaboration among multiple stakeholders working alongside CDOT to identify transportation solutions to address growing congestion and projected future demand for travel along the corridor. It was developed by a group known as the “Collaborative Effort” – including representatives from local governments; highway users; and transit, environmental, business and recreation interests; as well as state and federal agencies.

Governor Signs the Collaborative Agreement

Colorado Governor Signs Collaborative Agreement. Photo: Colorado DOT

The Collaborative Effort team worked in conjunction with another group of stakeholders who were focused on incorporating CDOT’s commitment to context sensitive solutions as part of the corridor project. As part of that effort, CDOT worked in cooperation with seven counties; 27 towns; two National Forests; one ski corporation; six ski resorts; and thousands of residents, business owners, truckers, and commuters. The group developed a Context Sensitive Solutions Guidance that was used in developing the PEIS and will be followed for all future (Tier 2) projects in the corridor.

The CSS Guidance includes a commitment to form collaborative “Project Leadership Teams” on all corridor projects. For the Corridor PEIS, the Project Leadership Team formed task forces to address cultural resources issues, environmental issues, and community value issues. The task forces developed potential mitigation strategies for impacts to resources for incorporation into the PEIS.

Several memoranda of understanding and agreements were adopted outlining commitments, including:

  • A Landscape Level Inventory of Valued Ecosystem Components (ALIVE);
  • Stream and Wetland Ecological Enhancement Program (SWEEP); and
  • Section 106 Programmatic Agreement for consideration of historic resources.

Comprehensive CSS Guidance Website

The CSS Guidance for the corridor is housed on a comprehensive, interactive website. The site includes a context statement and core values developed by the CSS team, outlines the collaborative decision-making process to be used, and includes background information, maps, plans and legal commitments, as well as additional tools to implement CSS throughout the corridor.

The CSS Guidance also provides design guidelines, including overarching principles as well as more targeted engineering design criteria, areas of special attention, as well as aesthetic guidance to ensure a consistent vision for the corridor projects.

For more information on the CSS process for the corridor, link to the I-70 Mountain Corridor CSS website, and to the PEIS Appendix A, Context Sensitive Solutions. The entire PEIS – including technical reports and appendices – can be downloaded at http://www.coloradodot.info/projects/i-70mountaincorridor/final-peis/final-peis-file-download.html. For additional information on the project, contact CDOT’s I-70 Mountain Corridor Environmental Manager Wendy Wallach at wendy.wallach@dot.state.co.us.

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Florida DOT

Florida DOT Develops Traditional Neighborhood Development Handbook to Integrate Design Flexibility and Context Sensitivity

The Florida Department of Transportation has used the Traditional Neighborhood Development approach to help communities integrate land use and transportation to achieve increased livability when compared to Conventional Suburban Development, or “business as usual.”

For state DOTs, the challenge to transition from Conventional Suburban Development to Traditional Neighborhood Development often arises when the roadway standards engineers are required to meet for state roads do not provide the flexibility needed to design context sensitive solutions.

Traditional Neighborhood Development typically includes a range of housing types, a network of well-connected streets, public spaces, and a variety of amenities within easy reach of housing.

In 2001, recognizing the need for greater flexibility in design and engineering standards to pursue Traditional Neighborhood Development solutions for communities, Florida revised its “Manual of Uniform Minimum Standards for Design, Construction, and Maintenance for Streets and Highways” (last rev. 2013), commonly known as the “Florida Greenbook.”

The addition of Chapter 19, Traditional Neighborhood Development, in 2011 to the Florida Greenbook formalized the state’s endorsement of context sensitive approaches to transportation and land use as standard practice. Chapter 19 focuses on network functionality and design standards that support communities. To supplement Chapter 19 and describe the why and how of Traditional Neighborhood Development, Florida DOT published the “Traditional Neighborhood Development Handbook” (2011) providing best practices and facilitating proper design for communities.

Though Florida DOT maintains Chapter 19 and the Traditional Neighborhood Development Handbook, implementation is at the local level. The Florida Greenbook was produced through committees made up of local representatives (e.g., public works directors, consultants, and engineers) while the Traditional Neighborhood Development Handbook was developed over time by experts. The two documents work together to implement the approach.

Lessons Learned

FDOT officials have identified the following key lessons learned from their Traditional Neighborhood Development efforts:

  • Balance: It is not easy to balance building state DOT roadways with the needs of the places those roads runs through. Having an established program that supports Traditional Neighborhood Development allows state DOTs to build roads and provide transportation, while simultaneously supporting communities to survive and thrive along roadways.
  • Justification: Standards like Chapter 19 and guidance like the Traditional Neighborhood Development Handbook help provide justification and backup for decision-making, such as when an engineer or lawyer needs clear direction on what is supposed to be done and can be done in a given situation. It is important to have roadway standards that match Traditional Neighborhood Development for successful implementation.
  • Economic Development: Realizing the potential for streets as economic development. Traditional Neighborhood Development is how you build roads that make money for your community, not just roads that move money through your community.
  • Barriers: Without Chapter 19 or the Handbook, many attempts at Traditional Neighborhood Development were running afoul of existing standards. It can be onerous for an engineer to have to apply for design exceptions every step of the way. With Traditional Neighborhood Development in the Florida Greenbook, the pathway is smoother.
  • Context: Providing Chapter 19 and the Traditional Neighborhood Development Handbook is one way a state DOT can show it understands the issue of context and encourage communities to consider the issue of matching streets to land use to create complete streets.

There is a common belief that roadway engineering standards are entirely based on safety (e.g., “a 12-foot lane is safer than 10-foot lane”) and apply to all conditions, and that deviations are unsafe. As a result, the flexibility that Chapter 19 and the Traditional Neighborhood Development Handbook provides may be initially received with skepticism by engineers and other community stakeholders.

To help stakeholders learn about the benefits of this flexibility, DOTs and local communities benefit from continued dialogue and discussion to understand the advantages of Traditional Neighborhood Development and to gain support and buy-in at all levels. Working through the changes together with emergency response, public works, and other local government stakeholders builds trust. The collaboration informs state DOTs about where locals are coming from and demonstrates that the state DOT is looking out for their interests.

“The Traditional Neighborhood Development Chapter and Handbook let folks build safe, complete, walkable streets that are normally difficult to do under conventional standards,” said DeWayne Carver, Florida DOT’s Chapter 19 technical expert. “If you want to encourage and permit traditional neighborhood development (new or old), then you need thoroughfare standards to match. The TND standards can help us save the great urban places we have in our state by putting the right roadway design in the right place.”

Current Efforts and Next Steps

Like Florida, other state DOTs are also embracing Traditional Neighborhood Development. North Carolina DOT has TND Street Design Guidelines and Massachusetts DOT completely rewrote their guidance for their entire department and highlights Traditional Neighborhood Development case studies in an online toolbox. Others, like Mississippi DOT and Vermont DOT, are implementing complete streets policies and moving towards similar programs.

At Florida DOT, officials have met with internal and external partners to determine what needs to be done differently to implement a complete streets policy. This will likely include a change in state standards to more closely align with Chapter 19 and the Traditional Neighborhood Development Handbook for locations that can use the approach.

The Florida DOT recognizes that Chapter 19 and the Traditional Neighborhood Development documents will soon be ready for revisiting, especially once Florida state standards are updated with complete streets policy. Committees that include local representatives will again be involved early to discuss and implement any needed updates to the Handbook.

For more information on Florida DOT’s Chapter 19 and Traditional Neighborhood Development Handbook, contact DeWayne Carver, State Bicycle/Pedestrian Coordinator, Roadway Design Office/Florida DOT at dewayne.carver@dot.state.fl.us.

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Ohio

In Ohio, Road Projects Beautify Communities through Aesthetic Design

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Transportation officials in Ohio have adopted new guidelines to ensure that projects across the state are attractive and compatible with local surroundings.

Tim Hill, Administrator with ODOT’s Office of Environmental Services, said the aesthetics approach “will help build some consistency to the look and feel of our transportation system across Ohio” without a major cost burden to the program.ODOT’s Aesthetic Design Guidelines are intended to provide a consistent approach to integrate aesthetic design principles on bridges, retaining walls, noise barriers, traffic signals, lighting, signs, and landscaping.

This approach “applies equally to the smallest bridge replacement and to our largest projects,” Hill added.

The guidelines describe aesthetic design principles, how they fit into the state’s Project Development Process, and how they should be applied on specific projects. The guidelines also include checklists, a summary of standard “baseline” treatments, and case study examples of treatments on projects across the state.

What Are Aesthetic Treatments?

The guidelines establish two ways that aesthetics can be incorporated into highway design:

  • “Baseline treatments,” that use standard engineering and construction specifications to install features that are attractive, suitable for the intended purpose, and generally cost effective, or
  • “Enhanced treatments” that go above and beyond the typical roadway design.

Baseline treatments are to be used in projects where special consideration is unnecessary or cost-prohibitive. ODOT has selected a palette of baseline features that are “geared toward establishing the aesthetic ‘background’ [and] are crucial to creating cohesive, uncluttered, and visually appealing transportation corridors.”

Baseline treatments include such things as plain or minimally adorned concrete retaining walls, bridge fascia, or parapets; bridge girders in simple colors; color chain link or other simple wire fencing along rights-of-way; and painted and galvanized supports for highway signs and lighting.

ODOT intends for the cost of baseline treatments to be routinely included in the overall project construction cost and therefore no additional justification would be required. According to ODOT, baseline treatments are intended to “raise the bar” from an aesthetics perspective by creating a consistent look and feel to Ohio’s transportation system statewide without substantial cost increases.

Enhanced treatments, alternatively, are called for where there is a need for “bold, eye-catching, and memorable aesthetic elements.” Specifically, enhancements should be used in circumstances such as areas where an aesthetic theme exists or special aesthetic treatments were agreed upon as a result of stakeholder outreach or public involvement. Also, enhanced treatments can be the result of environmental commitments related to aesthetics or where a local public agency sponsors the enhancements.

The guidelines caution that enhanced treatments can cost significantly more and take more time to install, and therefore should be approached through effective planning and due consideration. All enhanced treatments are approved through a central office committee that provides oversight to ensure the appropriate us of aesthetic treatments.

Implementation Advice

Planners and designers use the ODOT guidelines to identify planning, placement, maintenance, and cost considerations for a variety of baseline and enhanced treatments for bridges and roadways. The guidelines are intended to help develop an aesthetic treatment plan, but planners and designers also would need to use ODOT’s design manuals for engineering specifics.

The guidelines recommend forming an interdisciplinary team to create a vision for a particular transportation corridor. This vision would include the needs and goals of the various communities and landscapes along the corridor. Development of such a corridor vision results in a cohesive, unified design for the entire length of a corridor.

The aesthetic considerations—both baseline and enhanced—should be in keeping with the vision and principles established for each transportation corridor. The aesthetic principles depend on the type of corridor, such as urban, suburban, or rural. The visual design elements seen either from the roadway or from the community should be harmonious and compatible with the surroundings. These visual design elements include line, form, color, shape, pattern, texture, and relief.

ODOT uses a Project Development Process to manage projects from concept through completion, and documentation of baseline aesthetic treatments is prepared by the design team during the appropriate development stages. If it is determined that enhanced treatments are to be used, appropriate options will be evaluated by the design team. The selected treatments continue to be reviewed through various stages of project development, including funding assessments, preliminary engineering, environmental reviews, contractor selection, right-of-way acquisition, and construction.

Aesthetic Treatments as Mitigation

In some projects, aesthetic treatments are selected as a way to mitigate the environmental impacts of a project. This could include impacts to historic properties that are addressed under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act and public parks addressed under the Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act. Such mitigation measures are carried through as environmental commitments and must be completed and accounted for by ODOT.

The Guidelines provide several examples of enhanced aesthetics constructed as an environmental commitment. These include:

  • the aesthetic textures used on a retaining wall installed near an historic property,
  • an historic bridge relocated and refurbished as part of a multimodal trail,
  • design incorporated into the abutment of the redesigned Third Street Bridge in Dayton, highlighting the history of an historically underserved community, and
  • landscaping elements along a relocated and refurbished highway that is adjacent to Hocking Hills State Park.

Lessons Learned

ODOT has learned some lessons both in implementing aesthetic treatments and creating guidelines for future projects.

To make the most of a project’s aesthetic vision, the guidelines recommend engaging local communities by holding charrettes and other stakeholder meetings. This allows citizens to share their ideas about aesthetics to the project team, which ODOT can put into practice within the project’s budget.

“Aesthetic enhancements typically come at a higher cost for both construction and maintenance,” according to the guidelines, so project planners should select enhanced treatments that strike a balance between budget and aesthetics.

A project to upgrade the interchange between I-70 and I-75 near Dayton provided an opportunity for ODOT and the local community to include aesthetic treatments that would be fitting for a major gateway interchange. Landscaping design provides beautiful, distinct features and hardy, low-growing species were selected to reduce the need for irrigation and mowing. Concrete curbs were constructed around some landscaped areas for visual effect but in lower, flatter areas the curbs impeded drainage and the beds became oversaturated. ODOT has worked on remedies including the installation of French drains under the curbs and making small curb cuts.

The Dayton project also includes attractive aviation and space-themed pictographs on the flyover ramp piers and retaining walls. While some pictographs work well visually, designers learned that those that have no contrasting colors or are too small can be challenging for travelers to notice at freeway speeds.

Ohio’s design guidelines could be used by other transportation agencies to develop their own aesthetic approaches. ODOT referenced aesthetics design guidelines issued by a number of other DOTs, including Maryland, Minnesota, Nevada, and Rhode Island.

“Over time, ODOT will continue to evaluate the look and feel of our system and make adjustments to this guidance as needed,” Hill said. “We are excited to see these guidelines implemented across our state.”

For more information, link to ODOT’s Aesthetic Design Guidelines, or contact Tim Hill at Tim.Hill@dot.ohio.gov.

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AASHTO Best Practice Award Winners

AASHTO Best Practices in Context Sensitive Solutions Competitions

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Links to Additional AASHTO Case Studies

AASHTO/FHWA Peer Exchange: Context Sensitive Solutions. Documents and presentations from the September 2006 peer exchange on context sensitive solutions are posted on AASHTO’s Center for Environmental Excellence Website. The peer exchange, held in Baltimore, Md., was sponsored by the AASHTO Center for Environmental Excellence in conjunction with the AASHTO CSS Task Force and the Federal Highway Administration. Over 260 participants from 46 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and Nova Scotia participated in peer exchanges, discussing the issues and challenges to implementation. During concurrent breakout sessions sixteen projects were presented to highlight the success of CSS. Participants had the opportunities to meet with other state representatives to initiate state action plans to further implement CSS within their state and agency. Project links are listed below:

Small Urban Projects

Rural Projects

Design-Build Projects

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Links to Additional Case Study Compilations

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Featured Case Study

  • Case Study Photo

    In Ohio, road projects beautify communities following ODOT's Aesthetic Design Guidelines

    Read Case Study >Photo: Ohio DOT

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