Let them hear what’s in store

April 2, 2018
States may be required to unveil traffic safety plans in the future

About the author: Bill Wilson is editor of Roads & Bridges.

For years states have invested in traffic safety but for the most part have remained tight-lipped about it. Strategies are tried, money is spent and word rarely makes it past the borders.

A proposal by the American Association of State Highway & Transportation Officials (AASHTO) may change the process. Announced in mid-June, the move would require states to reveal long-term plans and what it would cost to execute them. By being more vocal, officials in Washington are hoping more can be learned.

Bruce Warner, director of the Oregon Department of Transportation and the chairman of the AASHTO Standing Committee on Highway Safety, unveiled the plan which calls for an annual commitment of $1 billion to address the nation’s highway traffic safety issues. Warner was among nine participants addressing a roundtable discussion conducted by the Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Transportation, Infrastructure and Nuclear Safety.

“If that one piece was enacted, the reporting requirement, it might be the greatest single enhancement to roadway safety because right now it’s difficult to measure whether states are being successful or not because there is no benchmarking,” Rob Dingess, director of government relations for the American Traffic Safety Services Association (ATSSA), told Roads & Bridges. “We are very pleased to see that AASHTO has moved in this direction—the idea of a significant investment in roadway safety in the actual physical upgrades to the highway system.”

Warner’s testimony focused on AASHTO’s reauthorization proposal to increase overall funding for the highway program by at least one-third to a level of $41 billion per year by 2009. The increase in funding would allow states to target more safety projects and new capacity improvements as well as reconstruction, rehabilitation and spot-safety improvements.

Warner also said all aspects of highway safety should be combined into comprehensive plans. As part of the state long-range transportation planning process, Congress should require that each state develop a goal-oriented, performance-based comprehensive highway safety component incorporating education, enforcement, emergency medical services and highway infrastructure improvements.

Behind its Roadway Safety Program (see No. 1 on the active list, p 20), ATSSA is asking for a $3 billion annual safety investment that would come from the transfer of the current 2.5 cents per gallon ethanol tax from the general fund to the Highway Trust Fund, reinstatement of interest payments to the Trust Fund and indexing of the federal motor fuel user fee.

Aside from dollar figures, both AASHTO and ATSSA have designed similar platforms. ATSSA is asking states to supply more raw spending data to the secretary of transportation.

“We did not tie the reporting into things like the state’s strategic safety plans. That’s what makes the AASHTO plan better,” said Dingess.

ATSSA agrees with AASHTO’s call for a stronger focus in the area of intersections and rural two-lane roads. The association, however, calls for states to make a heavier investment in road safety for older drivers.

But will more than one safety proposal cause confusion on Capitol Hill? Dingess doesn’t think so.

“The proposals almost build off each other,” he said. “Congress will take a look at these proposals and decide where the federal government will target its dollars. The question now is does Congress see this as a priority?”

About $1.2 billion have been invested each year in traffic safety during TEA-21. However, that number is a little fuzzy.

“Investment definitions are different. Some states may spend all of their money on three or four high-risk intersections. We just don’t know,” added Dingess.

About the Author

Bill Wilson