Elements of a Succesful Process

This is a summary of highway planning process, including public involvement advantages and tools of communication. The following summarizes the five basic stages in highway planning and development.

Summary of the Highway Planning and Development Process

    Stage--Description of Activity
  • Planning--State DOTs, MPOs, and local goverments identify transportation needs and program project to be built within financial constraints.
  • Project Development--The transportation project is more clearly defined. Alternative locations and design features are developed and an alternative is selected.
  • Design--The design team develops detailed PS&Es.
  • Right-of-Way--Additional land needed for the project is purchased.
  • Construction--The State or local government selects the contractor, who then builds the project.

In other words, a successful highway design process includes the following:

  • Early and continuous public involvement throughout the project
  • The use of visualization techniques to aid the public
  • Early and continuous use of a multidisciplinary design team
  • The application of flexible and creative design criteria

Some of these elements are discussed in the following paragraphs.

Public Involvement

A successful highway process includes public involvement. To be effective, public involvement must be sought from the beginning, during the definition of need for the project. The public should be involved while there are the greatest opportunities for changes in the design. This will result in a smoother and faster process.

Public input can also help in assessing the characteristics of the area and determining what physical features are most valued by the community, thus having the greatest potential for impact. Knowing the features of an area are valued may help designers avoid them altogether and reduce the need for mitigation and the likelihood for controversy. After working with the community to define the project and assess the physical character, continuous public involvement is important to gain input on possible alternatives.

Identifying community values, defining the project need with the public, gathering information on the area, and solving design conflicts with the public necessitate a proactive public involvement effort going far beyond the usual presentation of welldeveloped design alternatives at formal public meetings and hearings. For example, by using a workshop meeting format early in project design, highway designers can ask members of the public to identify types of design features that they find appealing or unappealing. In September 1996, the FHWA and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) issued Public Involvement Techniques for Transportation Decisionmaking, which describes a wide variety of these innovative public involvement techniques.'

Visualization Tools

The most effective communication between two parties takes place when both speak the same language. This can be achieved in design using illustrations that show the public what a project will look like before it is built. Increasingly, computergenerated visualization tools are being used for this purpose. Designers can communicate conceptually what they are planning for an area, and citizens can react with a certain degree of confidence that they understand what is being communicated to them. Lower end computer systems use a photograph taken of the existing project area and superimpose a drawing, using computer graphics, of what the new construction will look like. Visualization tools, such as these, help the public gain a better understanding of the proposed improvement project.

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