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US 131 S-Curve Replacement

Project Abstract

The purpose of this project was to improve a section of US 131 due to safety and structural issues while minimizing disruption to community, addressing cultural and natural resources, and incorporating aesthetic treatments.



road curve:

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: Grand Rapids, MI

Lead Agency: Michigan DOT

Contact Person: Art Green, Development Engineer, Grand Rapids TSC, 616-451-3091

Phase completed: Construction

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)

A multidisciplinary team was formed including planners, landscape architects, archaeologists, grant program managers, real estate staff, engineers, architects, biologists, and a geomorphologist.

Stakeholders (make up, utilization, interaction)
A stakeholder group was utilized including city elected officials, chamber of commerce, Grand Valley State University (GVSU), Ottawa Indian tribe, and the Grand Rapids Metropolitan Council. Through outreach, MDOT quickly built consensus around a build alternative. Direct coordination and collaboration took place with these stakeholder groups and the public. Multiple local meetings with stakeholders, including residents and business owners, were held to discuss design issues, detours, emergency services coordination, and business impacts during construction, scheduling, and impacts to the new GVSU downtown campus.

Public involvement (types, documentation)
MDOT communications staff gave hundreds of presentations to various civic groups and associations. They also met with major employers in the area to present transportation options for employees’ commutes during construction. Options included staggered work schedules, additional bus routes, and temporary parking lots on the bus route to encourage commuters to use public transportation. Specific communication tools included: PowerPoint presentations; visualizations; facilitated discussions on aesthetics; public relations campaign; flyers / brochures; Newsletter; project web site; and toll free number for project updates.

Design solution (process, modes and alternatives examined)
The important design issues addressed the safety of the roadway. During alternatives development, MDOT considered straightening the curve entirely. Straightening the curve would have meant more building (some historic) demolition, increased cost, and disruption of a neighborhood on the verge of revitalization. After discussing these impacts with stakeholders, MDOT opted for an upgrade that would allow a 55 MPH speed limit without gutting the neighborhood. Safety concerns were addressed and incorporated through a collaborative planning process with key stakeholder groups. Community values regarding the importance of maintaining an economically viable downtown, the importance of aesthetics, and potential impacts to natural and cultural resources were assessed through ongoing intensive involvement with key stakeholder groups as well as meetings with the public, before and during the project. These values were incorporated in the final design by including additional improvements, such providing additional parking for a major downtown restaurant area from excess state owned property; constructing a walkway to accommodate pedestrian movement and a transit stop between both sides of the GVSU campus; and landscaping and sidewalk improvements with the city and GSVU. Aesthetic, cultural, and natural resource values were assessed through ongoing intensive involvement with key stakeholder groups as well as public meetings.

CSS concepts by project phase
MDOT selected an alternative that balanced the need for improved highway efficiency with the community’s desire to maintain the urban landscape. The extensive and intensive planning and coordination with stakeholders resulted in a project that was planned, designed, and constructed in less than two years, thus completing the project ahead of schedule. The resulting replacement is a safer and more efficient roadway that will serve the community for decades. The new roadway is aesthetically compatible with downtown Grand Rapids and has spurred further community improvement. In addition, enhanced pedestrian access, and protected transit stop were included in an abandoned railroad underpass to connect GVSU buildings on either side of the freeway. Additional design considerations included providing space for a future trail along the river and under the S-Curve as well as providing improved parking areas for the city, the Van Andel Arena, and the Interurban Transit Partnership (ITP) under the bridges, as well as permanent signal improvements for the detour route.

Lessons learned
A context sensitive approach led to a safer, aesthetically pleasing, more efficient freeway respectful of local land use that will serve the metropolitan area of Grand Rapids for generations. The public involvement process was critical to gaining the agreement of the community to use a total closure and detour, rather than partial closure during construction. Early and continuous stakeholder involvement resulted in smooth project implementation.

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

3.7

Involve stakeholders

3.8

Seek broad-based public involvement

3.4

Use full range of communication methods

3.6

Achieve consensus on purpose and need

3.4

Utilize full range of design choices

3.1

Address alternatives and all modes

3.0

Maintain environmental harmony

3.4

Address community & social issues

3.4

Address aesthetic treatments & enhancements

3.8

Consider a safe facility for users & community

3.9

Document project decisions

3.3

Track and meet all commitments

3.4

Create a lasting value for the community

3.6

Use all resources effectively (time & budget)

3.3

 

Discussion on CSS principles

Project team’s perspective

There were 16 respondents that were considered as team members, including the responses of the person identified as the team leader. The project team indicated that in general all principles were present, since all had a score of 3.0 or greater (i.e. agreed that at least the principle was there). The principles with the lowest scores were “Address alternatives and all modes” (3.0) and “Utilize full range of design choices” (3.1). 

 

The project included an interdisciplinary team that covered all anticipated (required) areas and it seemed to have worked well. The responses received came from team members who identified themselves as design engineers, transportation planners, traffic engineers, public relations specialists, construction engineers, environmental scientists, cultural/historical specialists, geotechnical engineers, right of way specialists, and project managers. All were involved in the design phase of the project and several were involved in project t planning and construction as well. There were at least two members that were involved in all phases of the project including long range planning. Approximately one-third of the respondents were new to CSS with 0-3 years of experience, while another third had a longer experience (over 6 years). Finally, all but two team members had more than 10 years of relevant experience.

 

As noted above, there were two principles that had a low score (3.0 and 3.1) indicating that these principles were “barely” applied. A further review of the comments provided by the team members that scored these principles with the low score did not provide any additional information to clarify the reasons for their low score.

 

On the positive side, there are four principles that the team was in agreement that were highly met. These include the “Consider a safe facility for users & community (3.9), “Involve stakeholders” (3.8), “Address aesthetic treatments & enhancements” (3.8) and “Use of interdisciplinary teams” (3.7).  This strong agreement was also highlighted in several of the comments provided. In particular, the involvement of the stakeholders and continuous and open communication with the public was discussed by several members and was noted as a significant lesson-learned from the process followed.

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

3.1

Increased stakeholder/public participation compared to other projects

NA

3.4

Increased stakeholder/public participation

2.3

3.2

Increased stakeholder/public ownership

2.7

3.2

Increased stakeholder/public trust

2.7

3.3

Decreased costs for overall project delivery

NA

2.0

Decreased time for overall project delivery

NA

2.8

Improved predictability of project delivery

3.3

3.3

Improved project scoping

NA

2.9

Improved project budgeting

NA

2.5

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

2.3

2.9

Improved opportunities for joint use and development

3.5

2.7

Improved sustainable decisions and investments

NA

3.2

Improved environmental stewardship

NA

3.1

Minimized overall impact to human environment

2.7

3.2

Minimized overall impact to natural environment

3.5

3.1

Improved mobility for all users

3.3

3.7

Improved walkability

2.0

2.8

Improved bikeability

2.0

2.5

Improved safety (vehicles, pedestrians, and bikes)

3.3

3.5

Improved multi-modal options

2.7

2.8

Improved community satisfaction

3.3

3.4

Improved quality of life for community

3.3

3.3

Fit with local government land use plan

3.3

3.2

Improved speed management

3.0

3.3

Design features appropriate to context

3.3

3.2

Optimized maintenance and operations

NA

3.2

Minimized disruption

3.0

3.3

Increased risk management and liability protection

NA

3.4

 

Discussion on Benefit Values


Semi-Quantitative Benefits
There are a few benefits that had a score below 3.0 indicating that the respondents believe that the benefit was marginally materialized. These include “Decreased costs for overall project delivery”, “Improved opportunities for joint use and development”, and “Improved project budgeting”. These answers indicate that the respondents perceive that the process resulted in longer time and higher costs for the project and had no significant effects on the project scoping.

An apparent trend of the benefits materialized is the consistent difference between the perspective of the team and the stakeholders, where for all common benefits the team scored them higher. In general, these differences are not large and it may be attributed to the fact that there were only three stakeholders that completed the survey.
Therefore, any comparisons could be conducted cautiously.

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

Several meetings with stakeholders in planning stage;
a public hearing with 125 participants; stakeholder meetings
before and during construction

Decreased costs for overall project delivery

 

Decreased time for overall project delivery

 

Improved predictability of project delivery

 

Improved project scoping

 

Improved project budgeting

 

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

 

Improved environmental stewardship

 

Minimized overall impact to human environment

 

Minimized overall impact to natural environment

 

Improved mobility for all users

 

Improved walkability

Addition of 5-foot sidewalk

Improved bikeability

Addition of 8-foot bike lane

Improved safety (vehicles, pedestrians, and bikes)

 

Improved multi-modal options

 

Improved speed management

 

Optimized maintenance and operations

 

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

3.0

NA

I am satisfied with the relationship I had with the stakeholders

NA

3.3

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

NA

3.3

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

3.0

3.3

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).


This section evaluates the relative view and perceptions between the stakeholders and the team to determine whether both have the same experience and level of satisfaction. Again the team showed higher levels of satisfaction working with both stakeholders and public. The stakeholders also showed a reasonable level of satisfaction working with the team.


There is a difference of opinion regarding the level of satisfaction between the team and stakeholders regarding the means with which input was included in the project. The team members showed a greater satisfaction with almost an even split between those who agreed and those who strongly agreed. On the other hand, the three stakeholders showed a split choice between agreeing and disagreeing and the comments provided did not allow for any further elaboration on this issue.

Arnstein Questions Part 2

Stakeh.

Team

My relationship with the project team was best described as

2.3

NA

My relationship with the stakeholders was best described as

NA

2.7

My relationship with the interested public was best described as

NA

1.7

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 question on the level of relationship between team and stakeholders showed again a slightly different perspective. The team members indicated that they viewed their relationship with the stakeholders between consultation and partnership, while the stakeholders noted that it was a partnership. The team also viewed their relationship with the public between informational and consultation relationship, with more members considering as informational. The difference noted here is similar to what one may expect where team members tend to view things slightly different and more optimistic than the stakeholders.

Overall level of success
This was an excellent use of CSS processes. The Michigan DOT worked very closely with stakeholders and the community to develop a mutually beneficial solution. There was cooperation with the community in the construction that allowed for a faster completion of the project.

Overall, both stakeholders and team members indicated that several benefits materialized as a result of the process followed. Most benefits have a score greater than 3.0 indicating that the survey participants at least agree that the benefit was achieved. There was only one benefit that had high score (equal or greater than 3.7, indicating that most of the participants strongly agree) that was “Improved mobility for all users”. This benefit indicates that the project improved mobility for the community and there is an agreement between team members and stakeholders on this aspect.


    
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