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Reducing Rural Road Runoff Crashes: A Joint Effort Across Pennsylvania

March 21, 2022 09:00 AM
By: PennDOT Bureau of Innovations

​PennDOT, Pennsylvania's Local Technical Assistance Program (LTAP) and local officials across the state are teaming up in the ongoing effort to tackle the vexing problem of rural roadway departure crashes.

According to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), every year, nearly 12,000 people die in crashes when their cars leave the travel lane on a rural road. That's 30 people every day.

Roadway departure crashes are a major problem on all public rural roads. Nationally, 50% to 60% of them happen on state networks. That means more than 40% occur on locally-owned roads, according to FHWA.

As an FHWA Every Day Counts Round 5 (EDC-5) innovation Pennsylvania selected to pursue, the Reducing Rural Roadway Departures initiative involves LTAP contacting municipalities to offer training and assistance dealing with this critically important safety issue.

Michael Dudrich, transportation planning specialist in PennDOT's Bureau of Planning and Research, said that between 2011 and 2019, 363 local officials attended training classes on techniques to improve local road safety. The classes were updated in 2019, and since then, 72 more local officials have attended.

From the PennDOT perspective, Gavin Gray, acting PennDOT chief engineer and former chief of the Highway Safety Section, notes that all roadway departure crashes have increased since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. On the state highway system, Gray said, the use of systemic treatments like rumble strips and high friction surface treatments as well as use of FHWA's proven countermeasures should yield more positive results in the future. 

In addition, Gray said, "the new Strategic Highway Safety Plan has lane departure crashes as an emphasis area for the next five years because it's our leading contributing element to infrastructure-related crashes."

Patrick Wright, a traffic engineer with Pennoni, an engineering consulting firm that works with LTAP, provides training at LTAP classes as well as writing articles and hosting webinars aimed at helping municipal officials deal with roadway safety issues.

"We are constantly reviewing the training…," he said. "We are making sure we are getting the latest and most accurate information (to the students.)"

As examples of the success stories generated by LTAP, he pointed to work LTAP did with North Londonderry and North Lebanon townships, both in Lebanon County.

John Dubbs of Londonderry Township stands outside smiling.
John Dubbs, Assistant Roadmaster for North Londonderry Township
John Dubbs, assistant roadmaster for North Londonderry, turned to LTAP for help with a troublesome curve on Hoffer Road. After studying the crash data, Dubbs turned to Wright for help.

"At one supervisors' meeting, we were getting complaints from residents that they felt they continually had people leaving the roadway and tearing up their yards," he said. "LTAP is a huge resource. Every question you come up with, there is an expert (to help)."

With LTAP's assistance, the township considered rumble strips, but noise to nearby residents was an impediment. LTAP helped with a pavement assessment as well, but ongoing maintenance concerns gave the township pause.

"We actually doubled up on curve warning signs, put on either side of the street and added post delineators," Dubbs noted.

He praised LTAP for the thoroughness of its advice.

"We always get a big packet when getting assistance from LTAP with recommendations and advice on how to do everything," he said. "On this one, we got the flip side if we didn't install the rumble strips and what the downside was, and we had the information that helped us make the decision. It's more than just 'we recommend this,' but here is the positive and negative of everything we discussed."

Ed Brensinger sits in a piece of heavy equipment
Ed Brensinger, Roadmaster in North Lebanon Township
In North Lebanon Township, Roadmaster Ed Brensinger turned to Wright and LTAP for help with a curve on Kimmerlings and Kochenderfer Road.

"We had seven incidents on that turn in a two-month time frame that was really concerning," Brensinger said.

Wright did a curve analysis and developed recommendations.

"On both turns, we added signage with advisory speeds and additional chevrons," Brensinger said. "We determined that in addition to signage, we needed to do something for skid resistance …," he said. "We had a paving contractor come in with a milling machine and milled off half an inch and scarified it.

"Since we changed the signage and scarified the road, we have not had any incidents at that turn," Brensinger added.

He is also very supportive of the LTAP training classes. They include background information on curve safety, how to study a curve following federal and state regulations, signing requirements, and examination of other curve safety features such as shoulder edge drop-offs, drainage issues, and removal of fixed objects.  Hands-on training examples with photos, videos, and local Pennsylvania examples highlight the curve course. As new information became available, such as the FHWA guide "Low-Cost Treatments for Horizontal Curve Safety 2016", the course was updated.

A course on Roadside Safety Features provides information and resources for municipalities to understand the importance of roadside safety and to be able to determine the most appropriate countermeasures. While not a design class, it focuses on practical applications of roadside safety concepts, such as roadside hazard identification and improvement, hazard removal and relocation, pavement markings, delineators, and chevrons, and higher cost barrier improvements. Information is also presented on guiderail warrants, types, and end treatments.

"We were well satisfied with the LTAP program, and we want to get guys lined up  for more," Brensinger said. "Our goal is always to keep guys going to things. There is a wealth of information in those classes; Patrick is a good instructor."

For information on available courses, visit LTAP's website.

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