November 2016 Vol. 4, No. 8

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Right-of-way acquisition: recommendations for change

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Difference ratios of total purchase amounts to
total appraisal amounts. Photo: MnDOT

Many urban counties and cities in Minnesota spend more than 30 percent of their transportation project budgets for right-of-way (ROW) acquisition—making projects more expensive, difficult, and time consuming. A project sponsored by MnDOT and the Minnesota Local Road Research Board (LRRB) identified barriers and obstacles that occur during the ROW acquisition process and developed recommendations for change to improve the existing process and practices.

The findings of the project were drawn from literature review, questionnaire survey and follow-up interviews, case studies, and a workshop. In total, 22 barriers were identified under the categories of project delivery, agency’s internal capability, relationship with the public, appraisal and acquisition, and legislative and other issues.

The root causes of those barriers were also analyzed, including uncooperative work environment, lack of tools and methods, distrust of property owners, and adverse effect of eminent domain law.

The project developed 25 recommendation ideas for change. Implementation of these ideas is anticipated to greatly enhance the ROW acquisition process, the authors say, but strong leadership and support from top management to implement those ideas are also required.

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‘Road Diet’ configurations reduce collisions, congestion

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The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Office of Safety added “road diets” to its Proven Safety Countermeasures list in January 2012. The Safety Office recently developed a Road Diet Informational Guide that includes safety, operational, and quality-of-life considerations from research and practice as well as design guidance. It takes readers through the decision-making process to determine if road diets are a good fit for certain corridors.

Road diets can reduce collisions, increase mobility and access, and improve a community’s quality of life. They are a safety-focused alternative to a four-lane, undivided roadway.

The most common type of road diet involves converting an existing four-lane, undivided roadway segment that serves both through and turning traffic into a three-lane segment with two through lanes and a center, two-way left-turn lane. The reclaimed space can be allocated for other uses such as bike lanes, pedestrian refuge islands, bus lanes, and parking.

Road diets have been implemented for at least two decades and are steadily increasing in popularity. More than 600 state, regional and local jurisdictions have adopted or have committed to adopting Complete Streets policies, establishing the expectation that all future roadway projects will adhere to the principle that streets should be designed with all users in mind rather than merely providing enough capacity for vehicle throughput.

The FHWA website provides guidance on road diet application, including effective use of road diets without reducing highway capacity, and road-diet-related crash modification factors for use in safety countermeasure benefit-cost analysis.

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App provides access to geotechnical asset information

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Sample of the clustering markers employed by
the GeoApp. Photo: MnDOT

A custom app has been created for use on “smart devices”—phones and tablets on iOS and Android platforms—that will allow users to easily access MnDOT geotechnical asset information in the field. Through the interactive app, users can access MnDOT foundation boring metadata and download PDF files of boring logs of interest.

The GeoApp gives users improved access to subsurface information in the field in real time. This will provide a broader benefit to consultants, contractors, local units of government, researchers, and other groups, especially when making decisions on-site and in the field (i.e., project scoping, site review, construction inspection, forensic analysis, etc.).

The project builds on efforts to create a data warehouse of geotechnical information and make it more easily sharable and useful to the engineering community. The GeoApp supplements an existing website.

The GeoApp is currently available for Android devices on the Google Play store. It can be found by searching for “GeoApp” (one word) by Allan M. Hart. The app is scheduled to also be available on the Apple iTunes store, but further development is required.

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MN2050: state of the infrastructure

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A new report from MN2050 looks at the state of Minnesota’s infrastructure. According to the report, few local jurisdictions know the specific conditions and value of their infrastructure, and no state-level agency knows the aggregate characteristics of all of Minnesota’s infrastructure. In addition, there is little consistency in the tools and systems used by the state’s asset managers.

MN2050 is a coalition of Minnesota engineering and public works organizations. It advocates for increased investment in public infrastructure, while at the same time emphasizing the good management of that infrastructure.

With financial support from MnDOT’s Office of State Aid, MN2050 retained Wilder Research to conduct statewide surveys of the asset management practices of Minnesota cities, counties, the Met Council, and MnDOT. The intent was to find and share affordable best practices with city, county, and state engineers.

The study found that just over half of Minnesota jurisdictions practice some form of asset management. In all, more than 100 different systems and tools are being used across the jurisdictions that participated in this survey to manage their different types of infrastructure assets.

Some key recommendations:

  • Make resources available, especially for smaller cities and smaller counties, to implement an asset management system.
  • Host conferences, training sessions, webinars, or other forms of education to help those who want to begin or strengthen asset management practices in their jurisdictions.
  • Facilitate the building of relationships with neighboring jurisdictions and consortiums to build regional capacity for using asset management practices and systems.

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