By Michael Marti, PE
Though no one understands better the challenges inherent in providing safe and cost-efficient streets and highways, road managers are too often excluded from the process of deciding how critical research dollars are spent.
Not in Minnesota, however. There, city and county engineers are asked each year to submit problem statements to a special body created solely to address their unique informational needs.
In 1959, the state legislature established a Local Road Research Board funded by the state gas tax, which provides about $2 million annually. Though administered by the state DOT's Research Services Section, the board doesn't operate out of an office or employ a staff. Its 10 members are appointed by the state Transportation Commissioner:
- 4 county engineers
- 2 city engineers
- 3 state DOT employees
- 1 University of Minnesota employee
Funding levels are recommended by two screening boards that operate separately from the research board. They may set aside up to one-half of 1% of county and city state aid funds:
- A board of county engineers with a representative from each state DOT district.
- A board of city engineers with a representative from each state DOT district.
After city and county engineers have submitted their proposals, the research board reviews, selects, and approves or rejects them. The state DOT, universities, and consulting firms conduct the research, and the board monitors the progress and approves the final deliverables.
In addition to funding research, the board provides actionable solutions. A Research Implementation Committee publishes reports and field guides, conducts seminars and workshops, produces videos/DVDs, and provides other technical assistance. More than 200 projects have been conducted over the last 15 years, most focusing on design, construction, maintenance/operations, environmental compatibility, and implementation.
All of the following are available for free at www.lrrb.org.
Best Practices: Managing Interaction between Local Authorities and Major Traffic Generators
An interactive Web-based tool for negotiating road use with wind farm, ethanol plant, power plant, and other developers. Resources and links include permit application forms, successful sample repair agreements, research into the legalities of charging for road use, damage calculator, interviews with engineers who've gone through the process, statutes and guidelines, and news articles. All graphics: Minnesota Local Road Research Board
How About a Roundabout: The Minnesota Experience
DVD and brochure address history, design features, navigation, and how to accommodate pedestrians and bicyclists.
Pavement Management Systems: Better Data/Better Decisions/Better Roads
A toolkit consisting of a DVD, brochure, workshop/training, and resource guide that summarizes the technical attributes of the pavement management software used by Minnesota cities and counties.
Project Memorandum Writer (see below)
Web-based tool walks users through the process of developing a project memorandum (PM) that meets state and federal environmental regulations.
|WRITING A PROJECT MEMO IS AS EASY AS 1-2-3|
A free online tool for documenting federal environmental requirements.
Former U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters labeled the Project Memorandum Writer developed by Minnesota's Local Road Research Board “a very successful grassroots effort.”
Just as TurboTax prompts users through the twists and turns of tax code, this Web-based tool walks users through a three-step process for developing a project memorandum (PM) that meets federal and state requirements.
Screening. To find out whether the tool is appropriate for a proposed project, the user answers the question, “What, if any, environmental documentation must I complete to access federal funds?”
After responding to about 10 questions, the user is granted permission to access the tool or directed to the Minnesota DOT's Division of State Aid to confirm eligibility and/or the type of documentation required.
Generating the memo. Users provide project details including type, purpose and need, alternatives considered, and design.
Saving the output to a word-processing program for editing, printing, and submitting to the Division of State Aid for final approval.
Assistant Director Rick Kjonaas would like the tool to become paperless so users can complete, submit, and receive approval of a project memo entirely online. Users would be able to include attachments such as photographs, maps, coordination letters from resource agencies, and other information. Future versions could generate forms that can be used as part of resource agency coordination or other types of environmental documentation, such as Environmental Assessments.
Although such changes would require Federal Highway Administration approval and modifications to the program, he and Division Director Julie Skallman are determined to make them happen.
“We're committed to using technology to make our customers' job easier,” she says.Use the Project Memorandum Writer to ensure your memo satisfies federal requirements for environmental review. Go to http://www.dot.state.mn.us/stateaid/sa_pmwriter.html.
Minnesota Seal Coat Handbook
First released in 1998, this 2006 update addresses process advances such as improved emulsions and includes chapters on fog sealing, chip sealing for recreational trails, and frequently asked questions.
Roads & Loads: Finding a Balance
Through interviews with three stakeholder groups — users (trucking industry), designers/managers (local governments), and owners (elected officials) — this DVD explains how vehicle weight and weather affect pavement: how roads are designed and built, how weight limits are measured, and what happens when loads consistently exceed design. It delivers this message: “For goods and services to be delivered economically, they need to be delivered efficiently with large trucks that consume road life. Therefore, roads need to be built properly and funded adequately.”
Street Sweeping Best Practices
Policies and a decision-making process for developing the most efficient sweeping operation. In addition to a comprehensive overview of equipment and technologies, the report explains environmental regulations and how to select budget-appropriate equipment based on sweeping frequency.
Rural Road Safety Solutions Workshops
When Minnesota announced a Toward Zero Death initiative in 2003, two workshops were developed to leverage the experience of city and county engineers and maintenance professionals. The first, for managers and engineers, focused on creating a culture of safety; the second, for maintenance professionals, highlights 10 daily activities that increase safety.
Because not all best management practices (BMPs) perform the same function or provide the same removal efficiencies, two resources were developed: a scoping-level decision tree for selecting the appropriate solution; and an Inspection & Manager Resource Guide, designed to easily supplement the Minnesota Stormwater Manual, that focuses on maintenance practices, including a “to-do” step-by-step checklist for maintaining BMPs to ensure they achieve the desired treatment goals.
Minnesota Retroreflectivity Toolkit
Assessment and maintenance methods, resources, and examples of sign inventories, policies, and signing agreements with other agencies.
Traffic Sign Maintenance/Management Handbook
Best practices for removing unnecessary and ineffective signage based on federal retroreflectivity requirements.
OPERA: Research Funding Available
Designed to stimulate innovation in methods, materials, and equipment, the Local Operational Research Assistance (OPERA) Program focuses exclusively on maintenance.
—Marti (email@example.com) is a principal with SRF Consulting Group Inc. in Minneapolis and principal investigator for Minnesota's Local Road Research Board Research Implementation project.