The National Academies

NCHRP 20-07/Task 323 [Final]

Developing a Long-Range Strategic Plan for the MUTCD
[ NCHRP 20-07 (Research for AASHTO Standing Committee on Highways) ]

  Project Data
Funds: $60,000
Research Agency: Texas A&M Research Foundation
Principal Investigator: Gene Hawkins
Effective Date: 3/29/2012
Completion Date: 1/29/2014


The objective of this task was to develop a long-range vision (25-30 years from now) of what the MUTCD should be and develop a strategic plan or roadmap for how the MUTCD should be revised to be consistent with the vision.


The strategic plan was delivered to the AASHTO Highway Subcommittee on Traffic Engineering and, through them, to the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (NCUTCD). It was approved by the NCUTCD at their January 2014 meeting (Final Version).


The MUTCD was first published in 1935. In 1970, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) took over ownership of the MUTCD and is still responsible for it. During the 1990s, there was a significant effort to reformat and revise the MUTCD, which culminated in the 2000 edition. The 2000, 2003, and 2009 MUTCD editions represent a significant growth in size and content from earlier editions, and a general expansion in the level of detail associated with principles for the selection, design, installation, operation, maintenance, and removal of traffic control devices. The rulemaking associated with MUTCD changes has also generated significantly greater attention over the last few rulemaking activities. There were over 15,000 individual comments made to the docket for the proposed 2009 MUTCD. 

Through its history, the MUTCD has tended to be a document that has evolved as a series of independent changes to the Manual. Those changes that originate within or processed through the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (NCUTCD) are typically considered individually and comments to the docket are made with respect to individual changes. There is no overall strategic vision or strategic road map for the MUTCD against which proposed changes are evaluated to determine if they are consistent with the overall goals of the MUTCD. 
The FHWA has attempted to develop a strategic plan for the MUTCD a couple of times in the last decade. In each case, there was one meeting, with little follow-up activity. In 2009, the NCUTCD established an MUTCD strategic planning task force, which has done some work to develop a vision and strategic plan, but the effort has not progressed very far. All of these efforts at developing an MUTCD strategic plan have achieved limited success because they utilized a volunteer-based work effort. There is a need for strategic planning process that is supported by funding to provide for travel, soliciting input from a broader audience, and dedicated time for developing the necessary content. The following present a proposed concept for a NCHRP Project 20-7 effort focused on developing a long-range vision and strategic plan for the MUTCD.
The timing for a strategic planning activity for the MUTCD is fortuitous, given recent events regarding the general philosophy of MUTCD principles in the 2009 MUTCD. This newest edition of the MUTCD is more specific and provides less engineering flexibility than previous editions. Some have claimed that the MUTCD is trying to become a one-stop traffic engineering guide for the general public. The development of an MUTCD strategic plan could provide the overall guidance needed to better define the purpose, target users, and content of future editions of the MUTCD, plus better guidelines for developing future content.

Task 1: Establish a web site for distributing information and soliciting input.
Task 2: Identify critical issues affecting the MUTCD today and in the future.
Task 3: Develop initial MUTCD long-range vision and long-range strategic plan.
Task 4: Conduct meetings and workshops to solicit stakeholder input.
Task 5: Refine and revise the MUTCD long-range vision and long-range strategic plan.
Task 6: Solicit additional stakeholder input on revised materials.
Task 7: Produce final vision and strategic plan.

Some of the critical issues to be addressed by this project include the following (this is only a sample of issues and does not represent a complete list):
·         What is the purpose of the MUTCD?
·         What type of information should be included in the MUTCD?
·         How should the MUTCD be organized and formatted?
·         What is the target audience of MUTCD users?
·         What is the target audience of road users that the MUTCD is intended to address?
·         What information is needed to justify changes to the MUTCD?
·         How often should the MUTCD be revised?
·         What is the ideal process for revising the MUTCD?
·         How many individual changes are appropriate to include in an MUTCD revision?
·         How much flexibility should practitioners have when applying MUTCD principles?
·         What is the desirable process for incorporating new technologies and new devices into the MUTCD?
·         What technologies are desirable for improving the usability of the MUTCD?

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