Prioritizing investments in improved roadway design, construction and operation can help reduce 40,000 preventable deaths and should be a top priority for Congress as it continues working on passage of a multi-year surface transportation program, the American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) told a Senate panel April 14.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, on average, more than 41,000 people have died annually on America’s roadways over the past decade. One key factor jeopardizing travelers is the inadequate capacity in the basic roadway infrastructure.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, since 1982, the U.S. population has grown 31 percent. During that same period, vehicle miles of travel rose by 88 percent; yet, total U.S. road capacity (as measured by lane miles) has increased by only six percent. More cars crowded together on roadways frustrate drivers into minimizing following distances and adopting more aggressive driving styles, ARTBA said in testimony submitted at a Senate Environment & Public Works Committee hearing.
ARTBA told senators the nation’s goal should be to develop a “zero-fatality” roadway infrastructure environment, but that it will require new thinking.
To date, U.S. transportation policy accepts the fact that we have an imperfect system and we try to reduce the unsafe consequences of that system, according to ARTBA.
“Our policy should seek to develop a transportation system that contains zero predictable crashes with severe consequences, beginning with the major networks and following with all other roadways to the extent practicable,” the association said.
This vision, ARTBA noted, will require a paradigm shift on two parallel tracks:
• The focus of reducing incidents on America’s transportation system must be viewed as reducing severity of injuries as opposed to reducing the number of crashes.
• The policy anticipates user errors and emphasizes design, construction and maintenance of a system that will be “forgiving” of errant behavior.
While the zero-fatalities goal may take years to achieve, ARTBA said there are more immediate steps that can be taken in the new authorization bill, including:
• Dedicated Funding/Performance Standards. Increased funding for safety infrastructure activities, such as provided by the Highway Safety Improvement, Rail-Highway Grade Crossing, and High Risk Rural Roads programs ensure that investments are targeted to produce a more forgiving roadway environment. These same goals can be achieved through the establishment of tangible safety performance standards that require states and other federal highway funding recipients to empirically demonstrate improved safety.
• Work Zone Safety. With as many as 1,000 fatalities occurring each year in roadway construction work zones, improving the safety of these temporary facilities is essential. Establishing policies to ensure unit bid pricing for work zone devices and safety systems is an important step to maintaining the safest possible environment for roadway construction workers and motorists. Continued federal support for the National Work Zone Safety Information Clearinghouse (www.workzonesafety.org) also is essential to ensuring the latest information on safety is available to project owners, the traveling public and construction firms.
• Passenger/Commercial Motor Vehicle Separation. Where feasible, federal policy should allow the development of truck-only lanes that will serve the dual purpose of improving goods movement and enhancing roadway safety by physically separating commercial motor vehicles from private passenger travel. The ARTBA “Critical Commerce Corridors” federal goods movement program would allow this type of development and provide a separate revenue source from new freight-related user fees to support these activities.
• Older Drivers. Designing and operating roadways to meet the needs of older drivers, particularly by considering the current recommendations and guidelines in the Federal Highway Administration’s “Highway Design Handbook for Older Drivers and Pedestrians.”
• Proprietary Products. States should be free to utilize innovative methods, or equipment that could improve safety, reduce congestion or increase the quality and durability of highways. To that end, the U.S. Secretary of Transportation should be directed to approve the use of federal funds for the purchase of patented or proprietary items to achieve these goals.
• Research. Increasing investment levels of research programs and promoting development and implementation of new technologies will significantly reduce the number and severity of crashes in a cost-effective manner. These funds also should support improved procedures and processes for collecting, organizing, tabulating, analyzing and disseminating data regarding the safe and efficient operation of the transportation network.
“As the committee continues to work to produce a multi-year reauthorization of the federal highway and public transportation programs, the broad-based safety benefits derived from long-term, stable federal investments should not be overlooked. Increased investment leads to improvement in the design, construction, maintenance and safety-conscious operations of new and existing transportation infrastructure,” the association concluded.