US 12 Chehalis Safety Study

January 08, 2013

When WSDOT began to conduct a crash analysis study on a 12-mile corridor of US Highway 12 near Chehalis, Wash., the Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis knew it had an opportunity to solve a problem close to home. The tribe had suffered fatal and injury crashes at a US 12 intersection near the reservation. Kayloe Dawson, PE, a member of the tribe’s Planning Department, said its 2010 Long-Range Transportation Plan called for improving the safety on near the reservation. The tribe embarked upon an innovative collaboration with WSDOT to study crashes along the corridor, with Dawson leading the tribe’s portion of the study and John Donahue, PE, serving as the WSDOT lead.

Dawson specifically wrote the use of the new Highway Safety Manual into the tribe’s RFP for the project. He had learned about the manual during college and had encountered it on a couple of projects. He knew the US 12 study presented an opportunity to test the manual’s data-driven approach to investigating safety performance.

“I really liked the quantitative approach to reducing crashes by addressing contributing factors, and I like how the manual guides highway safety professionals to that level,” he said. “The segment is a priority in the community, and we are exploring ways to apply lower-cost safety measures on a local system at various intersections.”

KAI worked with the tribe to apply the Highway Safety Manual and the principles of NCHRP Report 613, Guidelines for Selection of Speed Reduction Treatments for High Speed Intersections, to generate a range of cost-effective and efficient countermeasures that prioritized potential short- and long-term improvements along the corridor.

Donahue, Assistant Planning Manager for WSDOT’s Olympic Region, said the tribe’s collaboration and the incorporation of the Highway Safety Manual both were a natural fit for the safety study. This collaboration has received national attention.

“The Highway Safety Manual provided a more detailed examination of some of the issues in the reservation’s vicinity, and it added a consideration of the manual’s procedures that hadn’t been done on that corridor before,” he said.

Donahue said WSDOT’s safety-study process continues to evolve and the department is looking for ways to incorporate new approaches such as those promoted in the manual.

“In my opinion, the Highway Safety Manual really lends itself well to the development of an incremental approach of short- and long-range strategies. Countermeasures, like those in the NCHRP report, provided examples of the near-term, lower-cost and cost-effective solutions,” he said. “Ultimately it was a good blend of those qualitative, lower-cost approaches and items that are applicable to the Highway Safety Manual.”

These chosen solutions will provide the best return of our limited safety dollars, since project selection will reduce the frequency and severity of crashes through targeted solutions, Donahue said.

The lower-cost improvement measures will be considered first, while the state also evaluates some of the higher-cost measures, although improvements have not been scheduled at this time, he said.

In the long run, use of the Highway Safety Manual in the US 12 safety study will be part of the programming and project development approach for WSDOT to use in its analysis and prioritization process, Donahue added. “It’s given us an opportunity to consider how we might employ tools provided in the Highway Safety Manual in other areas, absolutely. We’re looking at that now and I think it’s an exciting opportunity,” he said.

Both Dawson and Donahue agreed the process made the study stronger and encouraged an array of different perspectives that wouldn’t have been there otherwise. Dawson said the project shows that tribes, agencies, and other organizations shouldn’t be afraid to invite other entities to participate in such studies.

“The tribe’s first priority is to see safety improved on the corridor as it affects the local community. Even though the state had recently done a broader study, the tribe’s perspective or focus is on a smaller area,” he said. “I believe that the tribe’s willingness to fund and facilitate the study, and also to help fund future improvements, shows the tribe’s commitment to improving safety in this area.”

Donahue said the study provided an invaluable learning opportunity for WSDOT as well.

“Something we’re thinking about going forward is securing study partnerships like this up front because it leads to stronger buy-in,” he said. “The collaborative nature of an effective partnership in the course of a corridor study naturally leads to better outcomes.”

This article is one of a four-part series about safety performance measurement tools. Please use the links below to navigate to the other articles:

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