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Public Roads - November/December 2015

November/December 2015
Issue No:
Vol. 79 No. 3
Publication Number:
Table of Contents

Along the Road

Policy and Legislation

Along the Road is the place to look for information about current and upcoming activities, developments, trends, and items of general interest to the highway community. This information comes from U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) sources unless otherwise indicated. Your suggestions and input are welcome. Let’s meet along the road.

FHWA Launches National Tunnel Inspection Program

The Federal Highway Administration recently published the final rule for standards that will serve as the foundation of the Nation’s first tunnel inspection program. The new National Tunnel Inspection Standards (NTIS) are modeled after FHWA’s successful bridge program established nearly 50 years ago to ensure the safety of U.S.bridges.

FHWA’s new tunnel inspection standards require annual reports on tunnel conditions and inspection findings, such as the partially lit “DO NOT ENTER” sign in this tunnel.

Previously, FHWA provided guidance on inspections but had no means by which to require tunnel owners, such as State departments of transportation or other transportation agencies, to inspect tunnels. In addition, tunnel inspection methods have varied widely. The NTIS outline requirements and call for annual reports on tunnel condition information and inspection findings. The requirements include routine inspections of tunnels on all public roads, along with reporting data to FHWA; training and a national certification program for tunnel inspectors; and the timely correction of any deficiencies with tunnels.

With the new program, FHWA also will compile an inventory of the Nation’s tunnels and begin to develop a national database similar to the National BridgeInventory.

To support the implementation of the standards, FHWA developed several guidance documents and manuals. The agency will offer training for State and local engineers on how to conduct highway tunnel inspections, including what elements to inspect and how to code and record the results.

For more information, visit The final rule can be viewed at

Technical News

New York Publishes Report on Living Snow Fences

The New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) released a report that explains the design, installation, and maintenance of its living snow fences, a form of passive snow control. Living snow fences--rows of vegetation such as trees, shrubs, or corn--help mitigate blowing and drifting snow, which can create hazardous driving conditions and increase the cost of highway maintenance.

Living snow fences disrupt wind patterns, causing blowing snow to be deposited in designated areas around the fence and away from the road. The vegetation performs the same function as wooden or plastic snow fences but offers potentially longer life cycles, more aesthetically pleasing features, and better returns on investment.

Living snow fences, like this line of shrub willows along I–81 near Preble, NY, help protect roads from drifting snow, which can cause hazardous driving conditions.

According to NYSDOT, this research, which includes case studies featuring four demonstration sites, provides new insights on the structure and snow-trapping potential of living fences over time. The study identified key factors, such as height and porosity (the amount of open space within the snow fence), for successful implementation that have implications for the design, feasibility, and effectiveness of living snow fences.

NYSDOT incorporated information from the study into its guidelines and protocols over the course of the project. Researchers also created, tested, and revised a benefit/cost analysis tool. Example scenarios modeled using the tool showed that rows of shrub willows and other types of vegetation can reduce the cost of snow and ice control. The tool also demonstrated other benefits of living snow fences, such as reduced crash rates and improved travel speeds.

The full report is available at

Transportation Research Board and NYSDOT

Public Information And Information Exchange

FHWA Collects New Data To Bolster Bridge Inspections

FHWA recently began collecting new data elements that will help the agency more closely monitor the condition of bridges across the country. Traditionally, inspectors reported one overall score to rate the condition of a bridge’s surface. That one score would have to reflect both the severity of a problem and whether it is widespread or confined to a small area of the bridge deck. Under the new system, required in the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act, inspectors now will provide a separate rating for each square foot of the deck and its other elements, including joint seals. Dividing bridge components into smaller, more manageable elements ensures that engineers understand and report the extent of deterioration, which helps them make more informed decisions about repair, preservation, and replacement.

Over the last decade, even as the total number of bridges in the Nation’s inventory increased by nearly 15,000 bridges--from 595,668 to 610,749--the percentage of bridges classified as structurally deficient dropped from 13.1 percent in 2005 to 10 percent in 2014.

State DOTs will continue to provide the data to FHWA’s National Bridge Inspection Program. FHWA provides funding to assist States in replacing, rehabilitating, and preserving bridges. Through Federal inspection regulations and the oversight of State programs, the agency helps ensure the safety of the Nation’s bridges.

FHWA has started collecting additional data to better monitor the condition of bridges, such as this one being checked by an inspection team.

Connect Historic Boston Project Breaks Ground

USDOT’s Under Secretary for Policy, Peter Rogoff, joined Boston Mayor Martin Walsh and other officials recently for the groundbreaking of the Connect Historic Boston project. Construction is underway on the project, which will improve pedestrian and bicyclist access to Boston and various local historic sites.

Connect Historic Boston is an initiative between the National Park Service and Boston’s Public Works and Transportation Departments. The $23 million project will use a $15.5 million Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant. The TIGER program funds transformative projects that help communities keep pace with expanding and diverse travel needs.

“Connect Historic Boston will make it easier for residents and visitors alike to get around easily and reduce their reliance on local roads,” says Under Secretary Rogoff. “We anticipate that this project will dramatically improve Boston’s historic areas and inspire similar projects in cities across the country.”

The project reconstructs and widens an inadequate, aging system of paths and sidewalks along Joy Street, Constitution Road, and the Blackstone Block, between Haymarket and Faneuil Hall. The new bike trail around downtown will feature buffered, protected bike lanes, special paving to separate the trail from the roadways and pedestrian walkways, and two-lane tracks for cyclists. The trail also will better connect cyclists with other paths and transit stations throughout the area.

For more information, visit

NHTSA Releases Crash Data Related to School Transportation

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recently released a fact sheet on the number of people killed annually in crashes related to school transportation. These crashes are ones that involve, either directly or indirectly, a school bus or similar vehicle transporting children to or from school or related activities.

School-Transportation-Related Crashes (DOT HS 812 170) presents 10 years of data, from 2004 to 2013. The fact sheet includes data aggregated by age group, time ofday, fatalities, impact point and crash type, vehicle maneuver, and person type (such as driver, passenger, orpedestrian).

Between 2004 and 2013, 340,039 motor vehicle crashes resulted in fatalities. Of those, 1,214, or 0.4 percent, were classified as related to school transportation. Those crashes accounted for 1,344 fatalities--an average of 134 people killed per year. Occupants of school vehicles accounted for 8percent of the fatalities, and nonoccupants (pedestrians, bicyclists) accounted for 21 percent of the fatalities. Most--71 percent--of the people who lost their lives in these crashes were occupants of other vehicles involved.

Over the same period, there were 327 school-age children (defined in the fact sheet as age 18 or younger) who died in school-transportation-related crashes. Of these, 54 were occupants of school transportation vehicles, 147 were occupants of other vehicles, and 116 were pedestrians. About two-thirds of the school-age pedestrian fatalities resulted from strikes by school buses or vehicles functioning as school buses.

The fact sheet is available at

FHWA Awards Grants for Pricing Pilot Programs

FHWA recently announced nearly $3.4 million in grants for States and local agencies to explore innovative new pricing approaches to reduce traffic congestion, overcrowding of transit systems, and parking shortages during peak travel times. The grants are part of FHWA’s Value Pricing Pilot Program to fund the study of new pricing methods.

Since its creation more than two decades ago, the Value Pricing Pilot Program has funded more than 50 cutting-edge projects to tackle congestion in major metropolitan areas. Many of those approaches, such as high-occupancy toll lane conversions, have become commonplace nationwide.

The Tahoe Transportation District received a grant for a parking pricing project to help address uncontrolled parking in the congested areas along State Route 28 near Lake Tahoe, NV. Ad hoc parking creates dangerous travel conditions and unsafe pedestrian access to popular beaches and recreation areas.

The grants support five forward-looking projects in California, Nevada, and Texas. Three projects are located in California. One aims to reduce drive-alone trips on the campus of the University of California at Berkeley. Another will provide user incentives in San Francisco to shift travel times and routes away from overcrowded Bay Area Rapid Transit stations to improve system performance. The third grant goes to a project in Los Angeles to evaluate “cordon pricing,” which involves charging vehicles for entry into congested areas.

In Nevada, the Lake Tahoe Transportation District received a grant for a parking pricing project to minimize car travel through the most congested areas around the lake. Grant funding will also support a pay-as-you-drive insurance pilot managed by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute. This pilot will charge users according to mileage driven instead of a flat rate.

For more information, visit

MassDOT Launches Program To Give Youth Transit Passes

Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) Secretary and Chief Executive Officer Stephanie Pollack recently announced a year-long pilot program to provide monthly transit passes at a reduced cost to up to 1,500 youth between the ages of 12 and 21 in the cities of Boston, Chelsea, Malden, and Somerville.

The partnership between the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) and the cities is designed to expand the number of student passes available through some middle and high schools to a larger population of young people within the transit agency’s service area.

The program was developed by a working group of MassDOT, MBTA, youth advocates, and municipal partners who met for 8 months to discuss the transportation access needs identified by the youth. The pilot will measure costs to the MBTA and the benefits to the youth, including their ability to access jobs, school, and civic opportunities. To measure the program’s impact, participants (and their guardians) must sign consent forms agreeing to anonymous data collection on their use of the transit system.

The passes will be administered by municipal partners rather than by schools. The youth pass is a LinkPass valid on local buses and the subway system and will cost $26 a month or $7 for a 7-day pass (7-day pass availability depends on the city partner). Residents between the ages of 19 and 21 must meet needs-based criteria by demonstrating enrollment in high school, a GED® or other education program, job training, or a State or Federal benefit program.

For more information, please visit


Caltrans and Partners Complete $1.1 Billion Presidio Parkway

FHWA recently celebrated the opening of San Francisco’s long-awaited Presidio Parkway with State and local officials. The $1.1 billion project was a joint effort between the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), the San Francisco County Transportation Authority, the National Park Service, and other partners. The project relied on $363 million in Federal funds, as well as $152.5 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and a $150 million Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act loan.

Since work began in 2009, the Presidio Parkway project replaced Doyle Drive, a 1.6-mile (2.6-kilometer) segment of SR–101 linking the city to the Golden Gate Bridge, connecting Marin and San Francisco Counties, and providing a major regional traffic link between the peninsula and North Bay Area counties.

Built in 1936, Doyle Drive outlasted its useful life, was seismically deficient, and no longer met highway standards. Though planning for this project began in the 1950s, the vulnerability of this important route became strikingly apparent during the Loma Prieta earthquake in1989, which killed 63 people, injured thousands, collapsed segments of I–880, and caused widespread traffic problems for months.

The Presidio Parkway, shown here adjacent to the coastline, is a critical link between San Francisco and Marin Counties and the Golden Gate Bridge.

The Presidio Parkway offers drivers a spectacular regional gateway between the Golden Gate Bridge and downtown San Francisco, and USDOT’s Build America Transportation Investment Center highlights the project as an example of a successful public-private partnership that can serve as a model for other projects. The center is a resource for State and local governments, developers, and investors seeking innovative financing strategies for their transportation infrastructure projects.

New Criteria Will Improve Prioritization of Capital Projects

An independent Project Selection Advisory Council in Massachusetts recently published new recommendations for the evaluation and prioritization of proposed capital projects. The council worked for 18 months to develop a new process for selecting transportation investments, and submitted recommendations to MassDOT. Throughout the period of its work, the 8-member council held 12 public meetings and 6 public hearings across the Commonwealth.

The Massachusetts Legislature established the council in 2013 and charged it with developing a uniform, data-driven, and transparent approach to scoring and ranking capital transportation projects for funding. The new process, which MassDOT will begin to implement immediately, seeks to ensure that transportation dollars are spent in a multimodal and strategic manner and are distributed in a regionally balanced way.

The recommended evaluation process applies to two types of projects: (1) modernization projects, which replace and rehabilitate existing transportation assets, and (2) capacity projects, which add new transportation capacity or expand existing connections. Projects will be ranked according to a weighted formula that takes into account cost-effectiveness, economic impact, environmental and health effects, mobility, safety, social equity, and system preservation.

The Project Selection Advisory Council’s report has been filed with the Legislature, and implementation of the criteria will begin with the development of the fiscal year 2017–2021 capital investment plans for MassDOT and the MBTA. The council will continue to advise and assist with implementation of the recommendations.

For more information, visit