In 2002, there were 42,815 fatalities and over 2.9 million injuries on the nation's highways. Crashes on rural roads—roads in areas with populations less than 5000—account for over 60% of the deaths nationwide, or about 70 deaths each day. Further, the rate of fatalities per vehicle mile traveled on rural roads was over twice the urban fatality rate.”
This quote, from a General Accounting Office (GAO) report issued in May 2004 (Highway Safety: Federal and State Efforts to Address Rural Road Safety Challenges GAO-04-663), clearly shows the importance of improving safety along rural roads. Public works employees working in these areas of limited population, however, usually have few resources to deal with the problem.
Fortunately, the federal government realizes that local agencies need help to reduce crashes in their jurisdictions. Through the efforts of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), many tools and programs have been developed to provide guidance to local agencies, including the Local Technical Assistance Program (LTAP).
Funded with federal and state dollars, LTAP centers offer assistance to all local agencies and tribal governments across the nation. An LTAP center has been established in each state and is either administered by a university or state DOT. There is also an LTAP center in Puerto Rico serving 78 municipalities and the Virgin Islands department of public works.
During development of the GAO report, LTAP centers were asked to identify the five most important tools they provide to local agencies for improving safety on their roads and streets. Although the responses varied, all fit into the basic categories of training, publications, technical assistance/advice, equipment, newsletters, software, and technology transfer.
Most LTAPs offer some form of training. In addition to traditional classroom instruction, a few state LTAPs offer online training materials and course books, classes, and links to training provided by public and private partners. A few LTAPs even extend training opportunities to nongovernmental personnel.
Lindsay Nathanial, training coordinator of Colorado's LTAP said, “Our focus is on local agencies: cities, counties, and towns. However, we do not limit our classes, mailing list, or library rentals to local agencies; private companies are welcome to use our resources.”
In addition to course offerings, the Colorado LTAP Web site has links to several online training opportunities. The most relevant for improving safety along rural roads is the Roadside Design Guide, National Highway Institute course #380032C. According to the site, “This Web-based course is approximately 14 hours long and is available anytime, 24 hours, 365 days a year via the Internet. Emphasis is on current highway agency policies and practices.” There is no cost to take the course, but participants are required to purchase a copy of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials' Roadside Design Guide.
The state of Washington LTAP offers a wide range of training opportunities for both public and private sector employees involved in highway design, construction, and maintenance. Several classes are related to rural road safety such as bridge inspection, gravel road basics, low-cost safety improvements, and troubleshooting roundabout designs.
The site also lists courses provided by the Washington DOT at no cost for instate local agencies. The Roadside Safety and the Roadway Geometric Design courses could be particularly useful to public works staff responsible for designing rural roads. Registration for these classes, along with others offered by the Washington LTAP, can be done online.
On-the-road training is offered by several LTAPs. Minnesota has established a Circuit Training and Assistance Program, or CTAP. According to their Web site, CTAP uses a fully equipped van to provide onsite technical assistance and training to maintenance personnel throughout Minnesota. Some workshops offered through CTAP include gravel road maintenance, dust control on unpaved roads, and culvert installation and maintenance.