Assessment of the Self-Forming Channel Design Approach for Roadway Projects

Focus Area

Environmental Enhancements


Environmental Process






2-3 years

Research Idea Scope

Across the nation, streams and drainage channels have been severely degraded to provide drainage for land development and transportation projects.  Federal and state regulations require mitigation for impacts to channels often requiring expensive restoration techniques which are often found to be largely ineffective.  The self-forming channel design practice is a novel approach for restoring and relocating channels and providing stormwater and water quality benefits.  The practice has been implemented successfully at 26 development sites in Ohio since 2005.  Qualitative performance assessments at numerous sites and detailed channel morphology surveys, soils analysis, and hydraulic modeling at a limited number of sites (n=9) suggest that the approach is a viable management practice and can be implemented with less time, expense, and specialized experience than traditional channel restoration methods.  

The objectives of the proposed work are to critically evaluate existing self-formed channel projects and conduct new research to:

1) further quantify stormwater and water quality benefits,
2) develop formal, detailed design guidance,
3) develop practical tools to estimate costs and potential benefits of implementation,
4) assess the widespread potential for utilizing this practice on roadway projects, and
5) determine outreach and education requirements needed to build institutional capacity to implement this innovative practice in roadway projects.  

To accomplish the proposed objectives we will:

1) conduct detailed research at several project sites to measure seasonal and event based changes in physical and biogeochemical processes,
2) conduct statistical analysis of the data to develop models for predicting project costs and long-term benefits,
3) incorporate models into practical spreadsheet tools for estimating costs and benefits,
4) formally document the design process in a guidance manual, and
5) work with DOT officials to identify outreach and education needs to build capacity to design and implement the practice in roadway projects.

Urgency and Payoff

Vast sums of resources are invested by state DOTs annually to mitigate for channel impacts and conduct channel maintenance activities.  The proposed project will expand the number of design choices available for management and offer a low-cost and more sustainable alternative to current methods of channel restoration.  In many cases, implementation of this approach should result in better, more effective projects that require less long-term maintenance while providing drainage functions essential for development.

Suggested By

Dr. Jon Witter, Ohio State University 614-292-6538

[email protected]