Problem Definition: Develop Problem Statement

Problems must be stated in terms of underlying causes- they must be framed in a way in which they can be lead to a solution.

Problem Definition

Develop Problem Statement

An early step in both the CSD/CSS and NEPA processes is the identification of the problems to be solved and the development of a problem statement. It is critical that the statement be useful for development and evaluation of potential solutions. Problems must be stated in terms of underlying causes. For example, congestion, in itself, may not a problem, but rather a symptom of a problem. If, instead, the problem is defined as travel demand that exceeds capacity, the problem has been framed in a way that can lead to a solution-it is either possible to attack the problem from the demand side or the capacity side, or a combination of the two.

Similarly, problem statements should avoid being mode specific. Thus, for example, a problem is not the lack of light rail transit lines from point A to point B. Rather, there may be a lack of transportation options within a particular corridor where only auto transportation options exist. Solutions could include expanding opportunities for bike, pedestrian, light rail, bus, and other public transportation.

In some cases, a problem could relate to a particular type of vehicle. For example, roadway geometry that makes it difficult for emergency vehicles or particular types of trucks to gain access or to complete specific turning movements could be a significant problem in a corridor used heavily for freight movement.

Problem statements generally define the current conditions as well as conditions at the end of the forecast year, generally accepted as a 20-year planning period. Even though transportation performance may not be a problem now, future conditions may not meet local or state performance guidelines of a road segment or intersection. Projecting traffic demand 20 years in the future can be very controversial. Making sure there is agreement concerning the modeling assumptions involved in these projections is critical to the success of most urban projects because it goes directly to the heart of gaining agreement on the problems to be addressed.

While traditional problem statements focus on transportation performance issues, it is possible for them to also incorporate broader community issues such as economic development, visual identity, community character, and livability. In fact, this provides a much stronger problem statement and will more than likely help to differentiate among possible alternative solutions.
Staff from all pilot states are unanimous in their view that well thought-out, clearly communicated, and commonly understood problem statements go a long way to achieving both environmental sensitivity and project success.

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