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SR 73/US 321 Gateway Project

Project Abstract

The purpose of this project was to retrofit a five-lane section of roadway with extensive retaining walls into a context sensitive “gateway” approach into Gatlinburg, Tennessee. This retrofit was in response to a public discontent for a reconstruction project that did not blend into the natural setting of area near a national park.



SR 73/US 321 Gateway Project: The purpose of this project was to retrofit a five-lane section of roadway with extensive retaining walls into a context sensitive “gateway” approach into Gatlinburg, Tennessee. This retrofit was in response to a public discontent for a reconstruction project that did not blend into the natural setting of area near a national park.
The purpose of this project was to retrofit a five-lane section of roadway with extensive retaining walls into a context sensitive “gateway” approach into Gatlinburg, Tennessee. This retrofit was in response to a public discontent for a reconstruction project that did not blend into the natural setting of area near a national park.

This is one of 33 case studies included in National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) Report 642 entitled Quantifying the Benefits of Context Sensitive Solutions, published in November 2009. According to the authors, “The objective of this project is to develop a guide for transportation officials and professionals that identifies a comprehensive set of performance measures of CSS principles and quantifies the resulting benefits through all phases of project development”. The report documents a wide range of case studies in which the principles of CSS were applied. Each of these case studies was evaluated to determine the benefits of applying CSS. NCHRP Report 642 is available here.

Location: Gatlinburg, Tennessee

Lead Agency: Tennessee DOT

Contact Person: Ed Cole

Phase Completed: Construction/Operation

Source: Stamatiadis, Nikiforos, et. al. GUIDELINES FOR QUANTIFYING THE BENEFITS OF CONTEXT SENSITIVE SOLUTIONS. NCHRP 15-32. April 2009.

CSS Qualities


Project Team (make up)
The project team was led by representatives of the Tennessee DOT, with support services provided by consultants. Consultants from the firm of PBS&J were employed to provide facilitation with the citizens’ resource team and to develop context sensitive solutions for the project after consensus was reached between the DOT and the resource team. Landscape architects developed numerous renderings of the proposed project revisions as part of the public meeting presentation. A muralist painted example concrete panels to demonstrate the view expected for the retaining walls after project completion. 

Stakeholders (make up, utilization, interaction)
A 15-member multi-disciplinary citizen’s resource team (Community Based Resource Team - CBRT) was established to provide guidance to TDOT and design specialists to insure a parkway theme that blended into the scenic surroundings, and not compete with the natural environment. The team operated through a consensus process and the consultant facilitation did an excellent job of managing the process and developing a “team spirit” throughout. The team collected information for their own decision-making through design and landscape experts, provided by TDOT and the consultant. The team also held meetings to inform and gather information from the public to assist them in the design concept. 

Public involvement (types, documentation)
Eight team meetings were held by the Tennessee DOT in conjunction with the Community Based Resource Team, with the assistance of design specialists. In addition, a public workshop was held to present the resource team findings and preliminary recommendations to the public.

Design solution (process, modes and alternatives examined)
Flexibility in the design process resulted in transportation needs (increased capacity, etc.) being addressed with the recommended modifications without any design exceptions. Safety was not compromised with the new design, and was expected to be enhanced with the adoption of the median boulevard concept with turn lanes and major intersections. Some limited number of right-of-way tracts have only right in, right out access, but the impacts to these parcels was not significant.

CSS concepts
The project was initiated to retrofit a five-lane roadway section, with extensive retaining walls deemed to be inconsistent with the context of the project area.  Final recommendations included integration of themed signage, strategic placement and used of native plant species, and creative treatment of the retaining wall and parapet wall surfaces.   To create a parkway experience, the addition of a landscaped median coupled with reduced lane widths and a reduced speed limit.  Naturalized plantings of native grasses and shrubs in the median and along the walls provided a framework for a contextual solution.

Lessons learned
All parties to the CSS process viewed the end result to be a very efficient use of time and resources. The process had positive impacts on the design of the adjacent section of roadway. Use of the CSS process had the effect of reducing project development time and cost on adjacent and other future projects, resulting in a net savings in cost and time to the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT).

The community was pleased that the implemented project changes will forever reflect lasting value to the community. They were so pleased that they expressed willingness to properly maintain the landscaping on the project to assure lasting value. Since tourism is a major driver to the local economy, specific hardscape “theme elements” were developed that could easily be added within the corridor after project completion. Hardscape elements were inspired by local use of stone, and by landscape and signage for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

It was determined that although the CSS process was used to retrofit an unaccepted project into the community, the final product was anticipated to truly enhance the area, not simply be acceptable to the community.

 

CSS Principles


A fundamental aspect of the NCHRP 642 research effort was the identification of CSS principles. The principles below were developed by a multidisciplinary team and were based on previous work by FHWA and AASHTO participants in the 1998 “Thinking Beyond the Pavement” conference, and others.

For this case study, web-based surveys were developed to solicit the expert opinions of the project team on the level of satisfaction from the application of the CSS principles on the project. The analysis of the scores noted in the survey, and presented in the following table, is based on a 4.0 scale, where 4.0 is Strongly Agree, 3.0 is Agree, 2.0 is Disagree, and 1.0 is Strongly Disagree. Additional information on the data analysis, a summary of the scores for each case study, and general findings (from all case studies) is presented in the NCHRP Report 642, available here.

CSS Principle

Project Team

Use of interdisciplinary teams

3.6

Involve stakeholders

3.9

Seek broad-based public involvement

3.9

Use full range of communication methods

3.8

Achieve consensus on purpose and need

3.9

Utilize full range of design choices

3.4

Address alternatives and all modes

3.3

Maintain environmental harmony

3.7

Address community & social issues

3.6

Address aesthetic treatments & enhancements

3.7

Consider a safe facility for users & community

3.7

Document project decisions

3.9

Track and meet all commitments

3.3

Create a lasting value for the community

3.7

Use all resources effectively (time & budget)

3.4

Note: The project team and stakeholder scores are based on the survey results of a 4.0 scale (4: strongly agree; 3: agree; 2: disagree; and 1: strongly disagree)

Discussion of CSS principles


Project team’s perspective
There were six surveys completed and returned by the project team. These team members were TDOT employees and design consultants. There was relatively high agreement with opinions by all respondents that the 15 CSS principles were applied. This project exemplified stakeholder involvement through the Community Based Resource Team and the survey results supported that involvement with a score of 3.9 for “Involve stakeholders”, “Seek broad-based public involvement”, “Achieve consensus on purpose and need”, and “Document project decisions”. Also receiving high scores were the principles related to communication methods, environmental harmony, aesthetic treatments, creating a safe facility, and lasting value for the community. The lowest scores were 3.3 and were associated with “Address alternatives and all modes” and “Track and meet all commitments”.

There were eight workshops conducted by the TDOT in conjunction with the Community Based Resource Team and several design specialists. The purpose of the workshops was to establish project goals and to develop a consistent design to create a parkway theme along the corridor. Results from the Team consensus were presented at a public workshop and became the guiding principles for the project.

CSS Benefits


Surveys were also utilized to ask the project team, as well as external stakeholders in the process, about their perceptions of the benefits derived from a CSS process. As with the surveys regarding CSS Principles, the Benefits were scored on a 4.0 scale, where 4.0 is Strongly Agree, 3.0 is Agree, 2.0 is Disagree, and 1.0 is Strongly Disagree.


CSS Benefit

Measured

Stakeh.

Team

Improved stakeholder/public feedback

NA

3.4

Increased stakeholder/public participation compared to other projects

NA

3.4

Increased stakeholder/public participation

3.3

3.3

Increased stakeholder/public ownership

3.6

3.9

Increased stakeholder/public trust

3.6

3.6

Decreased costs for overall project delivery

NA

2.0

Decreased time for overall project delivery

NA

2.5

Improved predictability of project delivery

2.7

2.6

Improved project scoping

NA

2.8

Improved project budgeting

NA

2.5

Increased opportunities for partnering or shared funding or in-kind resources

3.0

3.5

Improved opportunities for joint use and development

2.8

2.8

Improved sustainable decisions and investments

NA

3.2

Improved environmental stewardship

NA

3.4

Minimized overall impact to human environment

2.8

3.4

Minimized overall impact to natural environment

3.3

3.6

Improved mobility for all users

3.2

3.3

Improved walkability

3.4

3.5

Improved bikeability

3.4

3.5

Improved safety (vehicles, pedestrians, and bikes)

3.4

3.6

Improved multi-modal options

3.3

2.8

Improved community satisfaction

3.7

3.6

Improved quality of life for community

3.9

3.5

Fit with local government land use plan

3.9

3.3

Improved speed management

3.1

3.5

Design features appropriate to context

3.4

3.6

Optimized maintenance and operations

NA

3.2

Minimized disruption

3.0

3.2

Increased risk management and liability protection

NA

2.8

Discussion on Benefit Values


Semi-Quantitative Benefits
As noted in the discussion of CSS principles, this project focused on stakeholder involvement and development of partnership between the DOT and the Community Based Resource Team.  The ultimate goal was to create a context sensitive project with minimal effect to the natural environment.   Results from the survey of stakeholder and team members indicated the success of focusing on this partnership to develop a project compatible with the natural environment and public expectations.  There were nine responses from the stakeholder group and their opinions were generally consistent with those of the project team.  The highest level of agreement, and likewise the highest scores were representative of CSS benefits that were related to stakeholder and public involvement and/or interaction with the DOT.  Other benefits that received high scores from both the stakeholders and the project team included attention to the natural environment, walkability, bikeability, and improved community satisfaction and quality of life.  It is noteworthy that the highest scores (3.9 from the stakeholders) were for “Improved quality of life for the community” and “Fit with local government and land use plan”.

Quantitative Benefits
In addition to the semi-quantitative scores obtained above, the following quantitative metrics were obtained for some of the benefits.

 

 

CSS Benefit

Metrics

Increased stakeholder/public participation

7 public meetings between TNDOT and CBRT;
1 public workshop; 1 close-out meeting

Decreased costs for overall project delivery

Estimated cost; Total cost: $35.2 million

Decreased time for overall project delivery

Stakeholder meetings held between 5-17-04 and 11-22-04;
close-out meeting on 2-23-05;
CSS enhancements extended project 18 months

Improved predictability of project delivery

 

Improved project scoping

CSS change order: $3.1 million

Improved project budgeting

 

Increased opportunities for partnering or
shared funding or in-kind resources

City of Gatlinburg was provided $1 million
for landscaping ($350,000 match); City maintenance

Improved environmental stewardship

Planting appropriate to soil moisture conditions;
Trash removal provisions

Minimized overall impact to human environment

 

Minimized overall impact to natural environment

Deer fencing was provided to minimize deer kill;

Improved mobility for all users

 

Improved walkability

 

Improved bikeability

 

Improved safety (vehicles, pedestrians, and bikes)

Landscaping design to enhance sight distance;
Softwood dwarf trees used; Boulders prohibited;

Improved multi-modal options

 

Improved speed management

Lane width decreased from 12 to 11 feet;
Raised landscaped median;
Decreased speed limit from 40 to 35 mph

Optimized maintenance and operations

City of Gatlinburg assumed maintenance responsibilities;
No sod to minimize mowing and irrigation;
Plantings requiring minimal trimming

Minimized disruption

 

Increased risk management and liability protection

 

Arnstein comparison
The surveys conducted for this case study included a set of questions that could be used to evaluate potential differences in the level of satisfaction between project team members and stakeholders. These differences in satisfaction are known as the Arnstein gap, which is a heuristic metric by which the existing quality deficit of public involvement can be measured. Arnstein developed an eight-step scale (Arnstein’s Ladder) characterizing levels of public involvement in planning, ranging from “Manipulation” of the public (non-participation) to “Citizen Control” of the process. The NCHRP 642 authors adapted this approach to assess the perceptions of stakeholders and the project team.

 

Arnstein Questions Part 1

Stakeh.

Team

I  am satisfied with the relationship we had with project team

3.7

NA

I am satisfied with the relationship I had with the stakeholders

NA

4.0

I am satisfied with the relationship I had with the interested public

NA

3.6

I am satisfied with the procedures and methods that allowed input to project decisions

3.6

3.9

Note: The project team and stakeholder scores are based on the survey results of a 4.0 scale (4: strongly agree; 3: agree; 2: disagree; and 1: strongly disagree). 

The first four questions of the Arnstein comparison section attempt to evaluate the relative view and perceptions of the project team versus the view and perceptions of the stakeholders.  There did not appear to be a significant difference between the views of stakeholders in their relationship with the project team (rating of 3.7) as compared to the relationship views of project team members with stakeholders (rating of 4.0).  Also, satisfaction levels of the stakeholders and the project team in their perception of procedures and methods that allowed input into project decisions was similar (3.6 for stakeholders and 3.9 for project team members).

 

Arnstein Questions Part 2

Stakeh.

Team

My relationship with the project team was best described as

3.0

NA

My relationship with the stakeholders was best described as

NA

3.0

My relationship with the interested public was best described as

NA

2.4

Note: The project team and stakeholder rankings are based on the survey results of a 4.0 scale (4: They allowed us to provide direction; 3: We established a partnership; 2: We established a consultation relationship; and 1: We established an informational relationship).

The last three questions of the Arnstein comparison were opinions of relationship roles of the stakeholders with project team members and the role of project team members with the stakeholders and the public.  There did appear to be feeling of serving in a participation role when the stakeholders described their relationship with the project team.  Similarly, the project team best described their relationship as that of participation when describing their relationship with stakeholders.  Project team members described their relationship with the public as a combination of consultation and participation.  This appears to be consistent with the impression that was described earlier when the role of the community resource team was noted to function as a proactive partnership; and therefore unlike the role required with the public where more direct guidance and input is required.

Overall level of success
Flexibility in the design process resulted in transportation needs (increased safety and capacity, etc.) being addressed with the recommended modifications without any design exceptions. All parties to the CSS process viewed the end result to be a very efficient use of time and resources. Use of the CSS process had the effect of reducing project development time and cost on adjacent and other future projects, resulting in a net savings in cost and time to the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT). It was determined that although the CSS process was used to retrofit a project considered unacceptable by the community, the final product truly enhanced the reconstructed roadway entering into a national park area and was embraced by the community.



The purpose of this project was to retrofit a five-lane section of roadway with extensive retaining walls into a context sensitive “gateway” approach into Gatlinburg, Tennessee. This retrofit was in response to a public discontent for a reconstruction project that did not blend into the natural setting of area near a national park.     
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