FHWA Proposal Would Allow States More Flexibility With Design Standards

Highway construction
A crew works on a highway. The proposed rule would allow states to undertake resurfacing, restoration and rehabilitation projects on all National Highway System roadways. (John Sommers II for Transport Topics)

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The Federal Highway Administration published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would allow state departments of transportation more flexibility with design standards when repairing highways and interstates.

FHWA’s notice, published in the Federal Register on Nov. 24, proposes revision to the design standards and standard specifications that apply to new construction, reconstruction, resurfacing, restoration and rehabilitation projects on the National Highway System.

The proposed rule would allow states to undertake resurfacing, restoration and rehabilitation (RRR) projects on all National Highway System roadways, including interstates.

Additionally, the proposed rule would incorporate the latest versions of design standards and standard specifications previously adopted and incorporated by reference, and would remove the outdated versions of these standards and specifications.



“The FHWA proposes to provide regulatory relief to states to address the immediate repair needs of our nation’s roadways without compromising safety and efficiency,” Federal Highway Administrator Nicole Nason said.

Under FHWA’s existing design standards, state departments of transportation are required to meet new construction standards on freeway RRR projects, unless a design exception is approved. In the past, the agency has expressed that the application of standards other than those used for new construction projects might compromise safety and would not be appropriate.

The Federal Register document notes that, over the years, research has contributed to a better understanding of the relationship between geometric design features and crash frequency and severity. Rather than concentrating solely on meeting dimensional design criteria, this proposed change would allow states to develop RRR projects based on project-specific conditions and roadway-performance metrics.

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“Therefore, to improve the efficiency of developing RRR projects on existing freeways, FHWA proposes to allow state DOTs to adopt procedures or design criteria, as approved by FHWA, that would enable the state to undertake RRR projects on freeways without utilizing design exceptions,” the Federal Register document states.

According to the NPRM, state and local agencies should select design values based on factors such as safety, mobility, cost, and human and environmental impacts.

“FHWA also encourages the use of flexibility and a context-sensitive approach to consider a full range of project and user needs and the impacts to the community and natural and human environment,” the document states.


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The proposed changes are not anticipated to adversely impact safety and will not materially alter the budgetary implications of grants and loan programs.

FHWA will accept public comments on the NPRM until Dec. 24. The agency also is seeking data on the percentage of RRR freeway projects developed by states that use a design exception because the project could not meet a new construction standard, the number of employee hours spent developing each design exception, the average hourly compensation of employees involved with design exceptions, reasons for requesting exceptions and cost savings associated with proposed exceptions.

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