RSA Training Helps Virginia Reach Stellar Levels
Although Virginia has the third-largest State-maintained highway system in the country, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) has drastically reduced its construction program since 2002. Faced with older infrastructure and reduced budgets, Virginia planners and safety engineers are working together to identify locations in each of the State's systems operations regions that have critical safety and congestion problems. Through a new initiative known as the Strategically Targeted Affordable Roadway Solutions (STARS) program, the State aims to mitigate these challenges by implementing low-cost and high-benefit improvements at select locations.
The STARS program partners with State and local transportation planners, traffic and safety engineers, and operations staff to identify where safety and congestion issues overlap on Virginia roadways. The program consists of four major components: selection of study areas, detailed studies, development and prioritization of recommendations, and programming and implementation. A major focus of the STARS program is to conduct road safety audits (sometimes known as road safety assessments, or RSAs) to identify improvement opportunities. To ensure success in this critical area, VDOT has held multiple RSA trainings through the National Highway Institute (NHI).
Training with Hands-On Experience
The NHI Road Safety Audits/Assessments course (FHWA-NHI-380069) provides practical information on how to conduct an RSA, including how to select locations, build multidisciplinary teams, and execute the steps necessary to perform a successful audit. Participants learn how to improve transportation safety by applying RSAs to reduce the number and severity of crashes. The course covers such topics as the history, stages, and legal considerations related to RSAs.
According to participant feedback on the course, the most valuable part of the training is the hands-on application. During the training, participants work in teams to perform essential elements of an actual RSA. Teams analyze data, perform a field review, develop recommendations based on their expertise, and present the recommendations to the road owner for consideration. This experience provides participants with the firsthand knowledge necessary to conduct an RSA.
"We continue to receive requests for the NHI course in Virginia," says Stephen Read, Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP) manager with VDOT. "The course is very helpful to us as it provides the team approach know-how for conducting RSAs. The training has really provided us with a strong foundation for meeting the goals of the STARS program -- to reduce injuries and deaths from motor vehicle crashes."
Peer-to-Peer Visit Highlights Successes
Since VDOT's first RSA training session in 2005, the department has made extraordinary progress toward its STARS goals. VDOT has performed more than 200 RSAs, including more than 75 in the heavily congested northern Virginia region. After performing an RSA, VDOT incorporates the recommendations directly into the corresponding application for HSIP funds.
In July 2009, VDOT hosted a peer exchange with staff from the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) and the Federal Highway Administration's (FHWA) Rhode Island Division to discuss the success of the STARS program. Throughout the event, VDOT stressed the important role that the NHI training has played in the success of the STARS program. Rhode Island participants reviewed firsthand a site where VDOT had recently completed an RSA, enabling RIDOT staff to ask questions of the VDOT RSA team.
"This exchange gave us the opportunity to see how another State has innovatively dealt with its congestion issues," says RIDOT State Traffic Engineer Robert Rocchio. "And it's obvious that Virginia's program greatly benefited from NHI's RSA training. We are optimistic that we will too."
Recommendations from STARS were incorporated into Virginia's 2035 State Highway Plan, which will be released in the first half of 2010.
Becky Crowe is the RSA program manager at FHWA.
Robin Grier is the assistant division administrator for transportation and mobility planning at VDOT.