Planning for Safer Local Roads
Data-driven safety analysis helps local agencies target transportation investments
Local entities own about 75 percent of America’s road miles. Almost 50 percent of the Nation’s roadway fatalities occur on these roads, creating a need for local agencies to invest their limited safety dollars as strategically as possible.
To help local agencies plan for the most effective investments, the Every Day Counts round four (EDC-4) data-driven safety analysis (DDSA) deployment team is advancing locally focused initiatives. One approach promotes local road safety plans (LRSPs).
LRSPs provide a framework for identifying, analyzing, and prioritizing roadway safety improvements and strategies on local roads. These plans are tailored to local issues and needs. The process results in a prioritized list of issues, risks, actions, and improvements that can be used to reduce fatalities and serious injuries on local road networks. The plans are so effective in identifying and addressing local safety issues that they’re included in the Federal Highway Administration’s proven safety countermeasures.
“The major value of these plans for local agencies is awareness of where the safety issues are,” said Rosemarie Anderson, FHWA transportation specialist and DDSA team member. “The LRSP development takes local agencies through a step-by-step process of identifying emphasis areas and selecting countermeasures based on the data.”
Anderson also emphasized that, where possible, agencies should coordinate their LRSPs with their State Strategic Highway Safety Plan.
“When projects in an LRSP align with the State Strategic Highway Safety Plan, they are more likely to qualify for Highway Safety Improvement Program funding,” Anderson said.
County Plans in Washington
Some local agencies may believe they don’t have enough quality data to draft a plan, but LRSPs are scalable and can usually be created with on-hand data and other information.
In Washington, for instance, 33 of the State’s 39 counties have developed their own LRSPs of varying length and complexity, depending on staff resources.
“They don’t have to be overly complicated,” said Matthew Enders, technical services manager for the Washington State Department of Transportation. “We have lots of counties with simple and short plans, but they still walk through the basic steps and see the benefits.”
In a survey on Washington LRSPs, 100 percent of respondents reported that the effort was useful for identifying safety priorities (38 percent reported “very useful” and 62 percent reported “somewhat useful”).
Creating a plan can help focus safety efforts and priorities for an agency, especially a local one. “If you have a written plan, even if it is a few pages, it becomes an organizational document,” said Scott Davis, traffic engineer for Thurston County (WA) Public Works. “Then the effort isn’t reliant on an individual. And if someone new comes in, they have all the information they need from the get-go.”
This also helps agencies justify investment decisions. “It has changed the way we communicate with the public and even our own staff,” Davis said. “We’re doing a lot of work systemically across our system now, which is a newer approach. When we get questions from our commissioners or citizens about why we choose certain locations, we’re able to show them the plan and justify our decisions. We’re being proactive.”
Local Plan Pilot
The EDC-4 DDSA team is partnering with the National Association of County Engineers (NACE) to deploy the use of LRSPs and help local agencies develop plans. The partnership launched a pilot project focusing on 26 counties in California, Colorado, Florida, Nevada, Ohio, and Wisconsin. The pilot provides agencies with a blended learning experience that includes technical assistance, a series of webinars, and a hands-on workshop where participants leave with a draft plan in hand.
“Our goal is to get several counties within each State to develop plans through the pilot,” said NACE Executive Director Brian Roberts. “Those agencies can then be spokespersons to convince their peers that there is value in investing time in a plan. If we can demonstrate success stories using a simple approach, people will be more comfortable starting their own.”
The idea is to provide local agencies with a flexible, proven tool to help get people home safely. “LRSPs work,” Roberts said. “And any time you have a plan, it helps you.”