Community access-design

April 2, 2018
Public input approach resurging in the road/bridge construction industry

Traditionally, roadway design has solely been a function of engineering. The focus was to build a roadway that allowed vehicles and pedestrians to safely get from point A to point B. Now, roadway design is taking a more Context-Sensitive Design (CSD) approach. This approach entails working closely with the public to shape roadway facilities that fit within the communities served. Although this is not a new method, CSD is resurging since roadways are vital to establishing community connections—connections beyond simply moving between two points.

This community perspective is realized as many departments of transportation (DOTs) across the nation are incorporating a CSD approach into their roadway design process. This multi-discipline effort entails collaboration among planners, designers and engineers. Most importantly it engages the public early and keeps them engaged throughout the planning and design process. CSD helps create roadways that balance safety, mobility, aesthetics, economics and community values.

The benefits of applying these principles are to create public acceptance, trust and support that build positive relationships, economic viability and improve roadway project design and delivery.

“Mo.” balance

One such example is work that HNTB Corp. has done on the new I-64 project in St. Louis. HNTB provided the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) with CSD and technology services, traffic modeling and public involvement. The department sought a new highway that would better serve the community now and in the future. The highway had several issues including cracks, which went through the pavement into the roadbed, and, in the infrastructure, highway congestion and tight interchange ramps. Further, MoDOT wanted to integrate striking aesthetic and landscape features into the highway plan. Since this project was such a major undertaking, a website for the new I-64 project was created to facilitate public feedback and more timely communications about the project progress.

With MoDOT’s new I-64 project, the transportation planning process balanced maintenance considerations with aesthetics and functional requirements to ensure that the highway meets the demands of its varied users for years to come. Closely combining planning and technology expertise provided the department with a much-needed solution in not only creating an improved highway, but also an interactive means of gathering public input. Such new methods are the driving force behind the creation of a successful highway that serves the community well and fosters civic ownership and pride.

The new I-64 project is one of the most extensive projects that MoDOT has ever undertaken. Due to crumbling infrastructure, congestion and hazardous conditions, approximately 11.5 miles of roadway are being rebuilt. MoDOT is evaluating various alternatives, such as new bridges and interchanges in conjunction with design features that encompass the St. Louis identity.

Included in these assessments are roadway structures, bridges, interchanges, lighting, landscaping and design elements. This far-reaching initiative takes into account several factors. Some aspects include assessing the transportation needs for the next 50 years; maximizing highway infrastructure while limiting effects on surrounding areas; ensuring that access to surrounding locations is available during construction; and creating a highway that is uniquely St. Louis.

In accordance with provisions identified in TEA-21, MoDOT is paying special attention to pedestrian and bicycle access issues and environmental considerations. Currently, the project is in the preferred analysis phase. The project goals include:

  • Maximize traffic flow using the latest in highway design and technology;
  • Create a highway that is visually pleasing, that reflects the culture and character of the communities through which it passes;
  • Work within our existing property lines wherever possible in areas east of I-170;
  • Look for ways to incorporate better pedestrian and bicycle access across the highway;
  • Blend new landscaping with existing vegetation wherever possible;
  • Be flexible in our design work and respond to requests, inquiries and concerns as design progresses; and
  • Have communities define the roadway, rather than the roadway defining the communities.

Up-to-date interchanges

After evaluating numerous interchanges according to traffic patterns, congestion and access, a determination was made to build new interchanges according to modern-day standards. By removing hills and covers, sight distances along the highway will be improved. This will improve traffic safety by allowing motorists to see further along the highway.

Aesthetics issues, including landscaping and soundwalls, bicycle and pedestrian access and neighborhood identity are currently being discussed. Some initial alternatives that transpired during the conceptual design phase include:

  • One additional lane will be added to I -64 in each direction from Spoede Road to I-170;
  • The I-170 interchange will have interstate ramps to/from I-64;
  • All lanes on I-64, ramps, overpasses and underpasses will be 12 ft wide;
  • Vertical clearance under all overpasses, for all lanes of I-64, will be at least 16 ft;
  • Inside and outside shoulders on I-64 will be 12 ft wide; and
  • Bridges will include bicycle and pedestrian accommodations.

Throughout the design phase public input has been critical. Public involvement has and continues to provide MoDOT with a much-needed enhancement in not only creating an improved highway, but also a celebrated civic identity. Since MoDOT and the community share concerns about identity and the effects of a new highway, a partnership between the two is critical in molding the outcome. Public input is where technology has been essential. Public support efforts for the new I-64 project range from website development, public meetings and videos.

Strong participation

Since this project was such a major undertaking, a website was created to facilitate public feedback and more timely communications about the project’s progress. Essentially, the website is one of MoDOT’s communication vehicles to provide public information and involve the public in the improvement efforts. The website contains a project overview, information about events and public meetings and in-depth background material. In addition, the public can direct questions to project planners.

In addition, MoDOT created the New I-64 Project Advocacy video, which introduced the project for corporate and community leaders whose support is needed to elevate the project from simple reconstruction to an aesthetically pleasing legacy highway. The video also conveys a sense of excitement about a project of this type, which is seen as a “once in a generation” opportunity for St. Louis. The award-winning video was recognized for outstanding work in the communications field.

The collaboration between the public and MoDOT has been an integral aspect of outlining this project. Active participation has and will continue to shape how the new I-64 cultivates the community’s civic identity.

The new I-64 project is just one of many examples where transportation corridors are becoming the natural focal point or gateway for communities. Rather than solely resurfacing pavement or building new infrastructure, highways are being designed to accommodate not only motor vehicles, but also balance the user of the highway with the overall design. Through collaborative efforts environmental, aesthetics, scenery and historic elements are balanced with safety and mobility.

Success will be measured based upon how well pedestrians, bicycles, autos and transit are accommodated and the extent to which transportation enhancements accurately reflect, preserve and enhance a community’s identity.

There are five measures of success that can be applied to most projects.

Community acceptance:
The region and adjacent communities must feel the project is meeting their needs. Visual and noise mitigation, traffic calming and access are usually the most critical items identified.

Environmental compatibility:
The NEPA process is critical as it relates to CSD. Projects must conform to appropriate environmental standards. All mitigation proposals must be part of the Environmental Assessment (EA) or Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The public information process must go “hand-in-glove” with the environmental process.

Engineering and technical functionality:
The proposed solution must meet technical standards. It is critical that technical experts are a key part of the team from the beginning to insure overall project success. Many times, the technical experts are left out of this process, which can create challenges at the end of the process.

Financial feasibility:
As with any roadway project, having a financial plan that brings public and private monies together to create a successful project is important.

Partnering for economic success

Previously, economic and development issues were not considered in the same context as roadway projects; however, roadways can help define the community in a positive way and provide support for economic success when the issues are considered early. Roadway design is evolving. The process now entails looking beyond the actual construction of the roadway and taking a more holistic approach. This approach includes determining the needs, finding out what the public desires, having an open and honest discussion about what can be done and assessing the community aspects involved.

CSD Principles:

  • Balance safety, mobility, community and environmental goals in all projects;
  • Involve the public and affected agencies early and continuously;
  • Address all modes of travel;
  • Apply flexibility inherent in design standards;
  • Use a multi-disciplinary team tailored to project needs; and
  • Incorporate urban design (aesthetics) as an integral part of good design.