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FHWA Highway Safety Programs

5. Results of Implementation

The following sections describe success stories that resulted from the successful implementation of a LRSP.

Thurston County, WA

"This is the cover of the Thurston County, WA Local Road Safety Plan. It shows a rural road with a curve sign, a marked area, and construction."

Scott Davis, former Thurston County Traffic Engineer
Matt Enders, Technical Services Manager, Washington State Department of Transportation

"Since the Thurston County, WA LRSP was implemented, the county has seen a 35 percent reduction in fatal and serious injury crashes on horizontal curves."

This means there are approximately 20 to 30 fewer fatalities on local roads in the county. Crashes on horizontal curves made up approximately 50 percent of the fatalities in Thurston County and as a result of the LRSP, the total number of fatalities were reduced substantially.

The LRSP also improved the safety culture of the Department of Public Works and ensured safety was more ingrained into planning, selection, and programming of projects. “It helped push our organization and staff to embrace new approaches to decision-making,” said Scott Davis who was the county traffic engineer in Thurston County when the LRSP was developed and then implemented. “Safety is now a bigger consideration in all projects,” said Matt Enders from Washington State DOT who oversaw the development of all LRSPs in the State.

It has led to better planning processes. “There are now quite a few people who are committed to safety and involved in the plan,” Davis said. The plan also helped change the views of a new Public Works Director who initially did not think it was possible to reach a target zero on fatalities. After participating in the plan’s implementation, the director’s perspective changed. The LRSP lead to adoption of statewide goal of zero in the County’s Comprehensive Plan, incorporation of low-cost measures (e.g., rumble strips) into capital projects, roundabout policy, and using FHWA’s “Intersection Control Evaluation Framework” to identify optimal solutions for intersections.

Scott Davis indicated the LRSP helped the county achieve a level of continuity. To successfully implement the plan, “you need more of an organizational approach rather an individual effort,” Davis said. “There are a lot of pieces [involved in implementation] and the plan allows safety to continue long after the original organizers are gone,” he said.

When asked what would have happened in the county without the LRSP, both Davis and Enders indicated safety projects would have been done. “But we would not have looked at the issue as broadly,” said Davis. Previously the county focused more on hot spots and now uses the systemic approach to identify risk factors countywide. The Washington DOT was already moving counties in the direction of system-wide, low cost improvements before Thurston County started their safety plan. Now nearly all counties in the State have one. This has helped the State address safety issues in a larger context. For instance, problems along one corridor involved local roads owned by several counties. The LRSPs provided a way for the counties to come together to address the safety problem, said Enders.

Involvement of stakeholders in the LRSP development and implementation processes led to some impressive changes. In one instance problems of speeding along a rural corridor could not be adequately addressed by law enforcement because there was no place for sheriff deputies to pull off road. One of the strategies for rural roads was to provide law enforcement pull-outs. In another instance stakeholder involvement spawned a multi-agency study looking at an 8-mile urban corridor.

Safety is important to the people in Thurston County, said Davis. “People want to feel safe and the LRSP helps meet community needs by taking safety and making it more prominent in the decision-making process,” he said.

St. Louis County, MN

Victor Lund, PE, St. Louis County Traffic Engineer

Minnesota began development of LRSPs in 2010. Most counties started deploying low-cost, proactive safety improvements in 2012. Vic Lund, traffic engineer with St. Louis County, MN reported that:

"When you look at the results of what is happening with all the counties in Minnesota who developed and then implemented a LRSP, there was a 35 percent reduction in the fatality rate on the statewide county road system between 2012 and 2017."

For the State highway system, during the same period, he reported, the fatality rate stayed even. So, over the last six or seven years, the reduction in fatalities and the fatality rate in Minnesota occurred primarily on the county road system. Counties in Minnesota have, by and large, taken their LRSPs to heart. Lund reported there were some counties that were not on board with doing a LRSP at first, but who, in the last couple of years, have come around and supported the concept.

"This is a graph that shows the decrease in the traffic related fatalities on the county road system in Minnesota."

Graph courtesy of Minnesota DOT.

“When you look at fatal crashes on just the county road system in St. Louis County going back to 2005/2006, there was an average of about 10 fatal crashes per year. Since the time of systemically getting safety projects out onto the road, the county road system has experienced two separate years with the lowest number of fatal crashes in the last 20 years,” he said. Historically for county roads in St. Louis County, most serious injury crashes were single vehicles that ran off the road. In 2019, Lund indicated the county will probably end up with four fatal crashes, but only one of them will be a single vehicle, run-off-the-road crash, which had previously been the major cause of fatalities. The other fatal crashes involved motorcyclists and a truck/train crash.

Another outcome of implementing the LRSP has been how St. Louis County incorporated safety into design. For example, St. Louis County previously used only a 4-inch-wide edgeline whereas all projects on county State aid routes now receive a standard 6-inch wide edgeline. Another example is where St. Louis County now paves the shoulder if allowed by the cross-section and installs shoulder rumble strips on the new paved shoulder. “Rather than me pushing for the change, our construction people are incorporating these key safety strategies into their projects on their own,” he said. The improvement has been institutionalized and is probably one of the reasons why there has been a reduction in run-off the road crashes.

Lund reported he keeps his county board members up to date on what is happening with the LRSP. Typically, twice a year the St. Louis County Board hosts a “Transportation Day” workshop where the various divisions within the Public Works Department come and talk about their programs and projects. “As the traffic engineer, I get a half-hour to talk about traffic and safety and can report on our success with the LRSP. This is key to maintaining that close relationship with our elected officials thereby gaining and maintaining their political support.”

When asked about the first step that St. Louis County did when implementing their LRSP, Lund indicated that they looked at their serious crashes and identified run-off-the road crashes as the largest percentage of total serious crashes on the county road system. “We invested millions of dollars in deploying safety strategies that addressed run-off-the-road crashes by putting in shoulder rumble strips, chevron signs on curves, 6-inch-wide edgelines and other low cost, pro-active improvements,” Lund said. St. Louis County has effectively completed all the low-cost, “low hanging fruit” type projects and now they are going back and doubling down on those safety improvements at the highest risk locations by completing projects such as high friction surface treatments (HFST) on curves, reconstructing intersections located within a curve, installing left-turn lanes major through routes and constructing innovative intersections such as reduced conflict intersections.

“For me, I look at this like an apple tree. In the beginning you just pick the apples you can reach. These represent those low-cost projects that are relatively easy and quick to implement. For the next go round, you have put forth a little more effort and get a ladder out so you can reach apples in the middle area of the tree. This represents those medium cost type projects such as HFST. And finally, you must climb out of the ladder onto the tree and work your way to the top of the tree reaching for the last fruit. This represents those high cost projects such as constructing roundabouts and reduced conflict intersections,” Lund said. That is what we are doing now with our LRSP. “Our recommendation is to implement the low-cost first and then go for the costlier improvements next,” he said. He said by doing this you will likely have the best opportunity to realize significant reductions in fatalities and serious injuries early on.