This website provides comprehensive information on context sensitive solutions, including an extensive collection of case studies. Link to http://contextsensitivesolutions.org/
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.
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.
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.
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:
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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,” 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.
FDOT officials have identified the following key lessons learned from their Traditional Neighborhood Development efforts:
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.”
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 email@example.com.
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 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.
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:
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.”
A new, more practical approach to transportation project design is helping the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) complete one of the largest capital improvement programs in its history.
“We are transforming our approach to focus on finding practical transportation solutions,” explained Nancy Boyd, WSDOT’s Director of Engineering Policy and Innovation. “Our goal is to fix more problems, system-wide. The approach is similar to FHWA’s Performance Based Practical Design (PBPD), but broader in scope, encompassing asset management and operations in addition to planning and design.”
|Practical roundabout solution: Photo: WSDOT|
Practical Solutions entails focusing first and foremost on the need for the project, rather than simply existing standards and how to meet them. Agency staff members are being empowered to think both pragmatically and creatively to come up with smart solutions using the growing body of data and technology tools available to them.
Boyd said the focus on PBPD, which her agency calls Practical Solutions, began in 2013 as part of a broader reform process instituted by the state’s transportation secretary.
For her agency, Practical Solutions is a two-part strategy that includes both least cost planning and practical design. The focus on project purpose and need is sustained throughout all phases of project development: planning, program management, environmental analysis, design, construction, and operations. The ultimate goal is to enable more flexible and sustainable transportation investment decisions.
While cost-effectiveness is a cornerstone of the approach, so is community engagement and interdisciplinary, collaborative decision-making. Local stakeholders are being engaged at the earliest stages of defining the project scope to ensure their input is included. Project design is based on the larger context – both land use and transportation requirements. The approach does not mean compromising safety, environmental compliance, or standards.
“Expanding our focus to also include planning and asset management offers especially promising opportunities,” Boyd said.
To build transparency and accountability into the process, WSDOT is required to report annually on the results of its Practical Solutions approach, including cost savings. Under the terms of the legislation, these cost savings will be put into an account that then can then be reinvested on a new set of needs, starting in 2024.
Boyd cited numerous Practical Solutions benefits besides the cost-savings. First of all, she said, engineers can be more creative when the project focus is on coming up with smart solutions. In addition, early engagement with the public helps make customer needs an early foundation of the process. And the emphasis on least cost planning helps to avoid overbuilding. It also opens up possibilities for more, smaller projects that allow for recent advances in technology to be harnessed as they unfold.
For instance, the agency reconfigured an interchange to improve connectivity and accommodate the size of vehicles using it. Annual maintenance costs were reduced by $12,500 by eliminating stop lights, and the final roundabout design avoided costs of up to $24 million compared to other alternatives.
In another instance, to cut down on accidents from speeding along a winding two-lane highway, wider pavement striping was installed to provide the appearance of a narrow road (which slows speeds} and additional reflective centerline raised pavement markings were added. The change in approach reduced the need to change the roadway prism and saved an estimated $50,000.
To help the Practical Solutions approach become ingrained, the agency’s Design Manual is undergoing major changes. Greater emphasis is being placed on multimodal solutions, demand management planning methods, operational changes rather than new construction, and off-system strategies that offer alternatives to automatically rebuilding. In addition, planners are turning more often to incremental solutions rather than always designing “all-in-one” projects. And context-sensitive solutions are becoming institutionalized even more than before.
In September 2015, the agency created a Practical Solutions Committee. It serves as a forum for learning and sharing how to deliver at the lowest costs as well as encouraging innovation and creativity in design. The committee is composed of WSDOT leadership team members as well as members of program offices, modes, and regions. It also includes representation from the Federal Highway Administration.
One of the committee’s primary responsibilities is to carry out a multidisciplinary review of its Connecting Washington funding package to identify every opportunity to embed a Practical Solutions approach. Connecting Washington funding goes to finishing projects in key corridors to preserve infrastructure and reduce congestion; improve freight mobility; support multimodal transportation options; and address critical needs for bridges.
Meanwhile, FHWA continues to do its part to advance PBPD. It has issued a final rule to reduce the number of “controlling design criteria” on highways designed for speeds of less than 50 miles per hour (mph) from the current 13 down to 2. For roads with “design speeds” greater than 50 mph, the number of criteria has been reduced to 10. It also has issued a final rule to update design standards applicable to National Highway System projects. And it has updated its guidance on bicycle and pedestrian facilities to provide greater opportunity for including these options in project design.
Handling Possible Risks, Other Insights
WSDOT is not the only state DOT that is turning to a PBPD-type approach: the practice is alive and well in Missouri, Kentucky, and Kansas, and approximately 30 additional states are implementing or planning to implement it in some form.
And yet, implementation is not without risk, including the risk of tort lawsuits arising from crashes alleged to be associated with a roadway design; and the risk of the solution not performing as expected in terms of safety and operations. To address potential risks, WSDOT consulted with agency risk management and attorney general staff and were reassured that exercising good engineering judgement is preferable and more defensible that blind application of “standards.”
Implementation of a Practical Solutions approach also presents some challenges. One has been a lack of sufficient funding for training. In addition, the agency has had to keep close watch on evolving environmental considerations, the political process, emerging tools for design and safety analysis, and the constant push for regulatory reform, any of which could affect the approach.
WSDOT has learned some lessons along the way that may be useful to other state DOTs, according to Boyd. First, the cookie cutter approach to project design is obsolete. Second, collaboration improves the quality of project’s effect on the multimodal transportation system; learning together and sharing information builds trust. Third, gaining political support for practical solutions to transportation infrastructure is essential. And finally, small fixes can make big differences.
Besides updating the Design Manual, the agency will be giving greater priority to training planning and design staff in the months ahead. Subject areas will include practical solutions/project development process training, multimodal design training, and Highway Safety Manual implementation. Further down the road, least-cost planning and cost estimating for alternatives analysis will be added.
Boyd said that her agency recently received $16 billion in new funding for additional capital improvement projects over 16 years, and implementing Practical Solutions will be an essential component of that work.
“Using the creativity and innovation of Practical Solutions, we are developing a safer and better transportation system while making our funding go further and accomplish more,” she said.
For more information about WSDOT’s Practical Solutions approach, contact Nancy Boyd, Director, Engineering Policy and Innovation, WSDOT, at BoydN@wsdot.wa.gov, or go to the Practical Solutions website.
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:
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