Lessons from nine states bringing ‘practical solutions’ from policy to practice

By Rayla Bellis

Smart Growth America recently concluded two years of technical assistance with nine state DOTs (Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, North Dakota, New Hampshire, Iowa, Virginia, Maine, and Delaware). The projects focused on “Accelerating Practical Solutions,” and addressed practices that hold back DOTs from consistently building lower-cost and context-sensitive projects.

SGA has developed seven white papers based on key changes DOTs are making. Topics include:

  • Updating agency administration and culture: Providing strong leadership needed to make change, and aligning internal criteria for evaluating programs, staff, leadership, and contractors with the right goals and outcomes.
  • Getting project scopes right: Tailoring projects to a well-defined understanding of the problem in order to consider a range of potential solutions. DOTs can bring in multimodal solutions early and avoid defaulting to maximum design standards.
  • Improving public engagement: Providing the leadership and guidance needed to help staff do the robust community engagement that is desired by DOTs, but can be difficult to achieve.
  • Reevaluating level-of-service: Making room for more context-sensitive projects by relaxing LOS standards in urban and urbanizing contexts, changing the weighting of LOS in comparison to other measures, and considering alternative measures in development review.
  • Addressing assumptions and expanding flexibility: Addressing the need to examine flexibility, liability, and risk, as well as past assumptions about traffic forecasts, and develop appropriate new methodology for the future to avoid overbuilt roads.
  • How to address land use and context: Designing projects based on the local development context, and working with localities as partners to encourage land use decisions that reduce the need to expand state roads in the future.
  • Prioritizing projects based on outcomes: Creating a performance-based process to rank and select projects for funding based on how well they will achieve identified goals for the transportation network.

SGA also did a six-post blog series about findings from the technical assistance to educate non-practitioner stakeholders interested in transportation issues about the big picture obstacles that state DOTs are facing in meeting today’s demands.

Rayla Bellis is a Program Manager at SSTI.