The National Academies

NCHRP 15-19 [Final]

Application of Context-Sensitive Design Principles

  Project Data
Funds: $125,000
Research Agency: CH2M Hill
Principal Investigator: Timothy Neuman
Effective Date: 1/7/2000
Completion Date: 8/31/2002

Background: "Thinking Beyond the Pavement: A National Workshop on Integrating Highway Development with Communities and the Environment" was held in May 1998, sponsored by the Maryland State Highway Administration, the Federal Highway Administration, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, and 39 co-sponsor organizations. Participants representing 40 states and the District of Columbia identified seven qualities of excellence in transportation design and eight characteristics of the process that would yield excellence. These qualities and characteristics came to be termed principles of " context-sensitive design." Many barriers to context-sensitive design were identified during the workshop, including rigid segmentation of responsibility during project development, failure to consider the full range of design alternatives, and lack of clear communication between the stakeholders and the transportation agency.

In September, 1998, a National Training Steering Committee was created to oversee pilot efforts to institutionalize context-sensitive design principles in five state departments of transportation (DOTs): Connecticut, Kentucky, Maryland, Minnesota, and Utah. It was agreed that each of these 5 states would proceed with a policy review and a training program tailored to its individual institutional needs but that the 5 states would benefit from frequent exchange of information about the design and progress of these pilot efforts and that all 50 states would then benefit from understanding the experiences of these 5 states.

Although the context of the transportation facility should be considered throughout a project's life (i.e., throughout planning, design, construction, maintenance, and operation), NCHRP Project 15-19 will focus on project development, including planning, preliminary design, and final design. Consideration should be given to ensuring that decisions and agreements made during project development are honored during later phases of the project.

Objective: The objective of this research was to develop a concise, easily readable guide that state DOTs and other transportation agencies can use to incorporate context-sensitive design principles into their transportation project development work. The guide is applicable to a wide variety of projects that transportation agencies routinely encounter. While the guide is primarily written for transportation agency personnel, it will also help other stakeholders better understand the issues.

Status: The revised final report has been published as NCHRP Report 480.

Tasks: Accomplishment of the project objective required the following tasks: (1) Review relevant materials to identify approaches for adopting context-sensitive design principles, barriers to adoption in a transportation agency, and ways to overcome those barriers. Augment this review with a targeted, concise survey of state DOTs and other organizations, and follow-up interviews as appropriate. The survey should identify any relevant legislative initiatives and their effectiveness. (2) Meet with each of the five pilot states and perhaps with other transportation agencies to learn how each is integrating context-sensitive design into its existing project development processes. (3) Review the terminology that has been used (e.g., thinking beyond the pavement, flexible design, context-sensitive design, place-sensitive design), and identify language that best expresses the intent of context-sensitive design to the public and engineering community. (4) Develop a guide to context-sensitive design that highlights the advantages of context-sensitive design, identifies potential disadvantages, describes a range of approaches for adopting and applying context-sensitive design principles in the project development process, documents how barriers to context-sensitive design are being overcome within state DOTs, and illustrates context-sensitive design through case studies identified during Tasks 1 and 2. (5) Submit a final report that documents the entire research effort and includes the Task 4 guide as a stand-alone document.

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